The Great Destigmatization: Breaking Down Barriers to Good Health

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Consumer views are shifting, tech is increasing access, and “vice” industries are booming. The “Great Destigmatization” is picking up steam, disrupting billion-dollar markets in the process.

New views. Younger consumers are flipping the script on periods, skincare, and mental health. Embracing authenticity and opening up on social media, their shifting attitudes are shaking up industries:

  • Big Pharma has branded acne as a stigma for generations, but now startups like Starface and Club Psora are disrupting the $6B pimple and blemish market, zits and all.
  • More than any other generation, Gen Z and millennials are destigmatizing mental struggles like anxiety and drug addiction, driving the billion-dollar digital mental health boom.
  • Breaking bloody taboos, Gen Zers don’t shy away from discussing their periods. Responding in kind, brands like Kotex, Thinx, and Aavia are refreshing menstruation marketing.

The telehealth effect. Digital health and DTC are making things a lot less awkward. The pandemic catalyzed this movement, widening the range of care we can access from the comfort of our home.

  • DTC men’s health brands hims and Ro boast over $1B in funding, helping men (who tend to avoid the doctor) tackle touchier things like ED and hair loss.
  • Bringing sensitive subjects out into the open, brands like Kindra ($4.5M) and Seven Starling ($2.9M) help women navigate menopause or postpartum depression.
  • Addressing substance abuse and addiction, virtual rehab providers Workit Health ($118M), Wayspring ($75M), and Quit Genius ($64M) have raised millions to expand their digital reach.

The rise of vice. As consumers look for ways to cope with pandemic-driven stressors, vice industries are exploding. Though VC has long avoided investing in “bad industries,” firms like Vice Ventures are breaking the mold.

Squeamishness is old-school. Say hello to sex toys like Maude ($5.8M) and Cake ($4M), and sexual therapy apps like Kama ($3M). Tying pleasure into wellness, even porn is getting a makeover — Dipsea, Ferly, and Quinn deliver erotica in podcast-sized bites.

And health isn’t just becoming explicit, it’s illicit. No longer just party drugs, psychedelics like ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin are having a moment, poised to revolutionize mental health and addiction.

Punchline: Consumers are coming to understand that avoiding taboos often comes back to bite in the long run — we’re only human, after all. That’s why Catharine Dockery, founder of Vice Ventures, wants more VCs to elevate companies that help promote harm reduction:

“If people just keep brushing it under the rug, then it’s not helping… deeming all vices [as] terrible without understanding what they are, where they come from, or why people use them, isn’t helping our society whatsoever.”