How Well-Designed Homes Support Healthy and Satisfying Sex Lives

published Feb 14, 2019
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Credit: Kath Nash

We should all be thinking about sex more.

Because sex is something so private and personal, we tend to not give it the consideration that we proffer to other areas of our lives and our homes. Many people understand that, in the case of a home office, if your chair isn’t comfortable, or the screen is too bright, you’re not going to feel good about working. Or if you’re trying to eat better, you might put your healthy snacks on the counter, or make sure your fridge is stocked with fruits and veggies. We understand, on some level, that it’s possible to design a home that supports your personal priorities and goals. So what does a home built for a healthy and satisfying sex life look like?

I’m not the only one trying to answer that question. In the past year, a handful of sex-forward companies have been expanding into the home decor space. The biggest splash came in June 2018 when the period underwear company Thinx branched out into bedding with a $369 blanket designed for period sex. The price tag caused quite a stir. (A representative for Thinx told Apartment Therapy it sold out of the period sex blanket and have no plans to launch again.) More recently, the sex essentials brand Maude added a scented candle—”burn. massage candle no. 1“—to its line of personal massagers, lubricants, and condoms in November. And in January 2019, sex toy company Dame Products launched Pillo, a wedge-shaped pillow intended multilaterally for both sex and living. CEO and co-founder Alexandra Fine told Apartment Therapy that the team at Dame designed Pillo to prop up your body during sex, but also asked themselves during the creative process if it would be just as helpful in supporting someone’s back while they were reading. Dame didn’t invent the idea of the wedge-shaped sex pillow, but it’s clear the team has found a way to elevate it. Fine said she uses her Pillo as a meditation cushion, and that she’s heard from customers who use it as a lap desk for their laptops, or even to eat on.

Pillo (Image credit: Dame)

A New Mindset Around Sex

Sex and sexuality have long been taboo topics. Younger generations are becoming more open and tolerant—tale as old as time—but if you look at the way sex essentials are marketed today, there’s still a shadow of shame. In contrast, this new crop of companies sees their goods as a natural extension of life at home. In other words, for them, your vibrator has more in common with with your toothbrush than a pair of handcuffs.

“If you look at the typical consumer experience around sexual health, either in a drug store or sex shop, it’s the last frontier for personal care. Products are poorly marketed and designed, over-assorted, and either taboo or clinical, pink or purple, hyper-aggressive or highly gendered,” said Eva Goicochea, co-founder and CEO of Maude. With its line—from the condoms to the candles—Goicochea said Maude is trying to give consumers people-first products that make them feel comfortable. “Sex is human and everyday and we think the products should feel that way, too.”

Fine seems to agree. “We wanted to have a product that leaned into the wellness and holistic aspects of your sex life,” she said about Pillo. “This isn’t a compartmentalized thing, this is something that’s a part of your whole life, and therefore, we think our products should also be about your whole life.” Dame employed design as one way to show consumers its sex pillow was different than anything else in the sex market—and that it’s a totally natural part of life at home. “We knew right off the bat, we weren’t going to make one that looked like a heart, or lips,” Fine said. “Most of them are black and red. Like a lot of shiny black. Very dungeon feeling. Which is silly, because this isn’t a kink product. I’m not opposed to making a kink product one day. But [wedge pillows] are commonly suggested by sex therapists for people who are looking to improve their sex lives, especially if there is any reason you’re having physical ailments.”

Fine explained how Dame looks to the beauty space and kitchen and bathroom appliance manufacturers for inspiration on how to normalize its products. “Like, what is OXO making?” she said. “Ultimately, these are tools that generally women are buying, that they want to use every day, that are just going to improve their day to day lives. So we look at how are they marketing? What is the feel of those products? Even for our vibrators. They can be really similar, in that they’re products that you clean, that touch your body, or touch your food. Vibrating toothbrushes are kind of similar—how are toothbrushes doing it?”

Even companies who produce bedroom basics like linens—the very canvas that most sex happens on—won’t outright say the “S” word. “If you look at any of these bed companies, or the mattress companies, or the bedsheet companies, they’re always hinting at the other thing you do in your beds,” Fine pointed out. “I think a lot of corporations and institutions just feel like they can’t talk about sex. And now I feel like recently people realized, ‘Alright, if we don’t talk about sex, then we’re pushing it to the shadows, we’re letting the conversation and the actions happen underground.’ We need to be having open, public conversations about sex, this way people can learn from other people’s experiences.”

Not that it’s always bad to speak about sex in a whisper. Sometimes it’s necessary. “Many people have issues about sex, and inhibitions, and shame or guilt,” said Dr. Megan Fleming, a New-York-City-based sex and relationships expert. It’s wise to keep in mind the comfort of others—and what’s age-appropriate for children—when you’re discussing sex or incorporating obviously sex-related objects into your home, especially the public spaces like the living room, Fleming suggests. But keeping sex behind closed doors, proverbially, might not be the best for your own mental health. “Anytime you feel like you need to stow things away or hide them for the cleaning lady, I think it could induce feelings of shame, versus just empowering yourself to be loud and proud in your sexual expression,” Fleming said. “I think it’s a balancing act between owning and not feeling any shame, and at the same time, being mindful of who’s in your space.”

Make a Change at Home

Once you’re ready to make sex a priority in your head, you can begin to make sex a priority in your bedroom, too.

“Ideally, I say, you want to keep your inner sexy pilot light on,” said Fleming. “So you’re, in a sense, always simmering. It’s not just having a desire to have sex now, or in an hour, but just overall, I’m embodying feeling sexy, feeling good in my body.” Fleming suggested that outward reminders—anything from artwork to toys to furniture—can be helpful in keeping sex top of mind, around the clock. “It’s something that’s external, but it sort of helps you to feel sexy, or reminds you that sex is a priority for yourself and your relationship,” she said. Fine agrees: “I find that when I have a really beautiful space to meditate, I am so much more likely to get my butt down and do nothing for 10 minutes and meditate. I feel like that’s the same for your bedroom.”

Those external reminders might be more symptomatic than prescriptive at times; if you have a small space without much room to hide your sexier possessions, they’re going to be out on display by default. Fine told me that’s something Dame kept in mind when designing Pillo. “Let’s be real. We’re New Yorkers. Who has room to store anything? Why should you have to store them? There’s no reason that wherever you’re putting your sham every night, you can’t just put your [sex] pillow there too. It’s the same thing,” Fine said.

When it is time to get down to business, your environment plays an important part of setting the mood for good sex. Fleming thinks you should begin with ridding the space of distractions, including turning off the television, putting away your phone, and masking any reminders of chores you need to finish. “The foundation of arousal is relaxation,” she said. “How are you going to relax when you look around your space and there are piles, there’s clutter, there’s a reminder of all the to-dos and the lists. You might look up and be like, oh my god, the ceiling needs to be painted!”

Your physical senses matter, too, as Goicochea pointed out. “Lighting, sounds, and smells are all part of setting the mood,” she said. “In fact, people have sex more often in hotels than at home because, beyond being relaxed, there’s so much consideration for the design of the environment.” Goicochea told us Maude teamed up with the fragrance design studio Joya to infuse the Burn massage candle with ingredients that would create arousal and elevate your mood—landing on a blend with warm notes of amber, cedar leaf, and tonka bean, and bright scents like lemongrass and rosemary. Fleming agrees that aromatherapy is great at setting the mood for sex, and in terms of your other senses, she advocated for partners to pay attention to the texture of their sheets and blankets, as well as the sounds happening around them—including creating a sexy playlist, if that’s your thing. Also temperature, like if the room is too hot or too cold.

Above all else, everyone I spoke to for this story mentioned that lighting—whether that’s candlelight or a dimmer switch—is crucial in the bedroom, and something you should pay attention to and control. “I think having sex in the dark is really challenging, and having sex in bright light… you know, for me it’s hard to not look down and judge the angle I’m seeing my own body at,” Fine said. “But with a little bit softer light, I’m a little bit softer on myself.” Fine suggests installing a dimmer switch, but admitted that she and her partner only have a basic on/off switch in their room, so they take an old school approach: “We’ll take a t-shirt and put it over the lamp to get more of an orangey effect,” she said.

Something else that came up a lot in my conversations about designing spaces for sex was buying furniture with your unique flavor in mind. “If you’re really into bondage, or you’re really into being handcuffed, and you’re looking for a bed frame, it can’t just be a straight headboard—you need something with holes in it, you know?,” Fine said. “Your sex life is an important part of your life, and why wouldn’t you consider it when you’re buying your furniture?”

Both Fine and Fleming suggested paying attention to the height of your bed and mattress, too, and finding the right dimensions for you and your partner. “If you like to bend over the bed, that’s a thing worth considering because it’s going to impact your life,” Fine said. Fleming expanded that line of thinking to chairs, both in the bedroom and elsewhere in your space. “Maybe you need to look for one that doesn’t have arms on, if you want to straddle it,” she said. “It could be fun to think about.”

The Bedroom and Beyond

The bottom line is this: Dedicating both physical and mental space to your sexuality can be an important part of your overall wellness. It’s as important as anything else you do at home. Maybe even more so, because home tends to be the main place where sex happens.

“I do think there’s something about the home that is so core to our sexuality,” Fine said. “Our homes are where we grow our families, and sex is how we have those families, and I definitely think creating a physical space that helps you cultivate love with your partner is going to lead to a healthier relationship, and and just flow outside of the home.”

And yet—as natural as it is—healthy, satisfying sex doesn’t happen by accident.

“Sex is just something we all value intrinsically, but we don’t actually really invest in it. We don’t really spend the time or effort or money,” Fine said. “I think sex is often this thing we all feel like, when it’s good it’s just supposed to naturally happen. Like, you don’t have to try or something. And that’s not true.”