The future of sex tech is female, affirmed Make Love Not Porn CEO Cindy Gallop to an engaged audience of entrepreneurs, writers, and researchers in New York City. At a sex tech panel held at Knotel Flatiron, Gallop, along with Polly Rodriguez, co-founder of Unbound, and Janet Lieberman, CTO of Dame Products, discussed how cultural stigma shapes the business of pleasure and limits female sexual expression around the world.
In 2016, there are more woman-run sex tech startups than ever. Female sexuality is finally being highlighted as a subject worthy of attention, and yet, sex tech startups aren't able to get the funding and advertising they need to change lives with their products. Many investors are squeamish about getting into bed with sex tech, SBA loans and payment processing vendors are nearly impossible to secure, and major sites refuse advertisements that are sexual in nature. And yet, through the help of crowdfunding, word of mouth, and a few rogue investors willing to take a chance, sex tech is still poised to be the next big thing.
During a two-hour panel conversation, Gallop, Rodriguez, and Lieberman shared both personal and professional experiences while fielding questions from the audience about the sex tech market, sexual expression, and female pleasure in the 21st Century. These are five powerful statements from the event that highlight the social and financial issues in sex tech, and their proposed solutions.
1. Porn Isn't The Problem, Sexual Stigma Is
As Cindy Gallop stated at the beginning of the night, "The issue isn't porn, but that we don't talk about sex." Mainstream — and often misogynistic — pornography has become the de facto sex ed for millions of people because sex isn't openly discussed in a majority of cultures. Because of this, a lot of people have no idea what "real world sex" can be. Gallop emphasized a "global need" for the socialization of sex. Bringing sexuality out of the dark and into the light will lead to a decrease in stigma surrounding sex in general, in addition to de-stigmatizing non-normative or alternative sexual practices.
2. Create The Market You Want To See In The World
Polly Rodriguez described going to "a terrible [sex] shop on the side of the highway" when she was younger that was run and patronized by men. The entire encounter felt extremely uncomfortable and unwelcoming, she explained, and so she never went back. When faced with a dearth of female-friendly space to buy sexual products, Rodriguez didn't wait to see a change in the culture around her before creating her company, but instead became the change she wanted to see. One of Rodriguez's goals with creating Unbound, a sexual subscription service with the goal of closing the orgasm gap, is to offer a safe place for women to explore their desires without being judged or ogled at while doing so.
3. We Need A New Vocabulary For Sex
"We have no socially acceptable vocabulary" for sex, noted Cindy Gallop, and even the very way we talk about sex is patriarchal. Words and phrases like "finger bang," "slam," and "pound" are imbued with an aura of subjugation and violence — often directed at women. At Make Love Not Porn, Gallop and her co-conspirators made a concerted effort to use language that is more female-friendly and gender fluid. The anal sex section on their website, for example, is described from the receiver's point of view and called, "Ow Ow Ow Hey Now."
4. Too Many Companies Profit Off Women's Shame
After years of working in consumer electronics development, Janet Lieberman was inspired to start Dame Products after seeing how sex toys weren't held to the same standards as other electronics. Some don't come with a manual that explains how to use them, and others cost hundreds of dollars and can break at any moment. An antidote to these shoddy products, Dame Products strives "to design well-engineered sex toys, to heighten intimacy, and to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind." And with their first release, the award-winning Eva, they are doing just that.
5. Sexual Values Need To Be Taught At A Young Age
It has been scientifically proven that sexual education is the answer to dispelling myths about sexuality, but the kind of sex ed that leaves off at STD stats and how not to get pregnant isn't enough. Viewing sexuality as a multi-faceted and healthy part of every human being's life is a necessity to chip away at taboos, said Gallop.
Rodriguez described the heartening experience of a mother writing in to Unbound, asking when it might be an appropriate time to buy her daughter a vibrator. Although there is very real sex negative stigma out there that will require years to combat, there is, nevertheless, progress. Because of sex-positive activists and folks like the sex tech entrepreneurs on this New York City panel, it's clear that cultural attitudes towards female sexuality are slowly beginning to shift — even if it may be at a glacial pace.
Images: Courtesy of Knotel; Giphy (5)