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Winner Stories March 3, 2022

Josephmark on The Wheel of Foreplay and the Future of Sextech

Wheel of Foreplay is a fun remote experience for encouraging healthy and consensual sexual play between partners and individuals. In our latest Winner Story we spoke to leaders at Australian venture studio Josephmark and The Future of Sex Lab on crafting this experience, and where the sextech industry is headed.

Webby Winner for Health & Wellness in Virtual & Remote, Wheel of Foreplay is a fun online resource for encouraging healthy and consensual sexual play between partners and individuals. Created by The Future of Sex Lab, a joint venture between Bryony Cole and Australian venture studio Josephmark. Presented in the engaging bright colors of up-and-coming illustration trend, dopamine design, The Wheel of Foreplay game is a unique way way to explore intimacy with your partner safely, and was designed to open up conversations about sex players may not have ever entertained before. 

Featured in the Webby International Index, The Wheel of Foreplay invites users to spin packs filled with different cards to inspire fresh ideas they can use with their partners. A great merger between design and execution, the Wheel of Foreplay was perfect for couples and even singles trying to navigate quarantine.

We spoke with Alex Naghavi, Executive Creative Director at Josephmark and Bryony Cole, Future of Sex Founder and CEO about creating this virtual game, and where the future of sex tech is headed.

 

Wheel of Foreplay jumps out for its engaging and fun design. Can you speak to your exploration process when selecting such a stand out visual language and how it helped create the kind of experience you wanted for users?

Exactly! We wanted to make people smile, to get in the mood, to be inspired to try something new and shake it up. The characters, the typography, the color palette, the language (“stay home and bone”) all play into this.

We had a suspicion that a game called ‘Wheel of Foreplay’ was going to spark intrigue from the name alone, but in order to surpass expectations and ensure the game felt fun, delightful and different, we needed to create a visually appealing and engaging design language.

Inevitably, illustration was going to be a big part of that. We were already familiar with Egle Zvirblyte’s cheeky, sex-positive style – so when we were first envisioning the concept of the game, Egle’s illustrations were front and center. The style of the game hints at the retro vibes inspired by the game’s namesake (Wheel of Fortune), paired with vibrant animations and quirky characters that inject a bold, original and compelling take on the positivity of healthy sex.

 

It was important that the brand felt fun and playful, whilst also accessible and welcoming. For a lot of people, sex is still a taboo subject, so we wanted to make sure the experience felt warm and inviting, friendly and approachable, while also giving us a cheeky wink. 

It might seem like just a bit of silly fun, but we do hope we make people feel like they can bring down their walls, have fun, and bring a little levity to what has been a tough couple of years in COVID.

What were some of the challenges of creating a project that can be considered “NSFW” or taboo themes and topics? 

In the work we do with the Future of Sex Lab there is always an underpinning mission to “normalize the conversation.” We want to ensure people don’t feel overwhelmed when broaching the topic of sexuality, and that the experience feels approachable and offers permission to strike up conversations in the physical world.

For Wheel of Foreplay, using fun and whimsical illustrations make topics like sex and intimacy accessible, and a digital game is a fun entry point for deeper conversations.

Mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest typically enforce heavy censorship around anything remotely sexual, in particular anything to do with female sexuality (legit!). The result is that porn and sex education get thrown in the same bucket, missing an opportunity to share products and services that could meaningfully enhance our lives and further stigmatizing the topic. 

So the challenge becomes, how do you make a taboo topic engaging without relying on the explicit nature of the topic or defaulting to tropes like pinkwashing which feels like a stripped-down, sanitized version of sex?  

While building our own digital property allowed for more freedoms than relying solely on a platform like Instagram, the social media challenge remains; how do you reach your audience when you can’t advertise on these platforms? 

For Wheel of Foreplay navigating online censorship meant leaning into an artistic and playful approach that on first glance doesn’t look sexual and wouldn’t alert any censorship bots on social.

Consent is a major part of the Future of Sex Lab’s brand ethos, and a major part of the Wheel of Foreplay. Can you talk about how consent informs this and your other projects?

We believe all sexual wellness and sextech companies have an opportunity and a responsibility  to provide consent education. The state of sex education globally is still so poor that brands can do a public service by integrating sex education into their experience. Demonstrating the principles of consent though our projects is something we bake in from the beginning whether it’s a podcast episode or a sex game.  It’s a bit of a ‘practice what you preach’ moment.

Consent extends beyond the bedroom and into all negotiations and interactions in our lives. As we move into the future, Web3 applications which aim to recreate physical experiences will pull consent even more into focus as immersive platforms tackle the inevitable issues of sexual harassment and assault in virtual environments. 

Australia actually had a major win for consent this week, mandating age appropriate consent education in every school, for every grade, from 2023 onwards. It’s brilliant to see the push for more holistic sex education with consent at the core.

Wheel of Foreplay also stands out for its great copywriting. How do you balance creating a voice that it is lighthearted, freeing and informative, without sacrificing the importance of the subject matter?

The great thing about writing for a cheeky game is that everything has its light and shade. With Wheel of Foreplay, we had opportunities to be playful without being condescending, much more tongue-in-cheek. We did also have opportunities to be condescending… but in a sexy domme way. Our tone of voice really fed into the illustrations, brand and mood of the game.

We started by talking about what experience we wanted to create, and what we wouldn’t compromise on with our words. We wanted to take players (and their play) seriously, without it ever feeling too serious. Ironically, that was key to making the game so bombastic and playful. Some cards, you use. Others, you laugh at, and have a conversation about that brings you closer. We played with different styles and tones in the copy to create a truly mixed bag of options that would surprise, challenge and delight everyone.

We talked about what’s already out there, and what needs aren’t being met. There aren’t enough sex games that meet the mood of today’s players (including single people, app-daters and remote sex-havers). It was important to balance casual, naughty, retro terms with fresh, funny, modern and disarming phrasing that grounds Wheel of Foreplay in the here and now. 

Back to consent for a sec: We wanted to use the wording in the game to normalize asking for active, ongoing, explicit consent. Not as something that pauses or interrupts sex, but layers in to make it even better. That’s why every single tip in our consent page doesn’t feel like just a consent tip. “Listen to each other.” “Read body language”. “Talk together afterward”. They’re just things that’ll lead to better, hotter, more connected sex. 

In the game, we invite players to weigh and play with different elements to find the perfect balance. Ultimately, we did the same with our copy – and had just as much fun.

We love that the Wheel of Foreplay is planning future pack releases with even more fun and furtive activities. Besides these additional options, how do you see the Wheel of Foreplay evolving over time?

We kicked off Wheel of Foreplay as a digital platform in order to be able to reach as many people as possible when everyone was trapped inside during the pandemic. With the world now gradually opening up and communities and couples being able to gather in-person, we’re excited by the possible pathways Wheel of Foreplay can take. Perhaps you’ll be able to get your hands on a card game version you could spin up on date-night, or add a deck to your office’s Secret Santa? Because we’re all about foreplay, we won’t give too much away right now, but it’s valuable to note that we’re joint venture partners in The Future of Sex Lab. FoSA’s Lab identifies, develops and launches ventures at the intersection of technology and sexuality – to disrupt, innovate or enhance sex education, intimacy skills, gender identity, medicine and beyond. If Wheel of Foreplay piqued your interest, just wait to see some of the creative pursuits we’ve been busy cooking up.

Wheel of Foreplay won a Webby Award for Health & Wellness. Did creating this experience give you more insight into what’s possible with sextech and how it fits into future conversations around wellness?

The main insight was the reaction to Wheel of Foreplay! Hitting 1.3 million plays in the first week, really drove home that people are hungry for more non-explicit but entertaining content around sex. 

Cultural channels of engagement, whether it’s a game, the hype of mainstream media shows like Euphoria or high-end department stores stocking sex toys, are shifting public perception of sex as something that is gross, dirty or to be silenced to something that is normal, part of the wellness conversation and not a one-size-fits-all response.

As the culture shifts to embrace a more nuanced and less judgmental attitude towards sex, we know that this is only the beginning for the industry.

What do you hope Wheel of Foreplay and the Future of Sex Lab’s work communicates to the industry?

It’s ironic actually because for a clued-on investor, the sex industry is not only a gigantic financial opportunity, but a social opportunity, too. It’s a chance to improve relationships, improve health and shift culture to a place of greater connection and respect for one another. 

Both Wheel of Foreplay and the Future of Sex Lab work to reposition sextech as something more than the externally-perceived idea of “smutty”. Sextech is about inclusivity: it enables people with disabilities to participate in self pleasure. It’s safety: better tools and methods for sexual health reporting. It’s health: increasing mental health and well-being. And yes, surprise!, it’s also pleasure: why is everyone so against orgasms?! 

When obtaining funding and support for a venture in sextech, so much of it comes down to the right partnership and people. Our first pitch was to YouPorn and they loved it.

The challenge of finding the right people and right finances in the industry is actually what lead us to launching the Future of Sex Alliance; we’re in the middle of establishing an investment community especially for founders and startups in sextech. 

The idea is to connect those with great ideas within the vertical, with those who have the capital to fund them. Our goal is to bring those two often separated parties together in a seamless way through our investment app, coming soon. We want to break down barriers in understanding, acceptance, learning, and of course, investment.

We’re here to shift the culture and conversation of sextech into one that celebrates connection, respect and pleasure. We’re here and we want to be your partner. Now go home and bone!

26th Annual Webby Awards

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