It takes two to tango, to get jiggy with it, to make whoopie, to do the deed — so why is it that porn, sex toys, media messages, and even dialogue about sex is often catered to the needs of only one gender (men, ahem ahem)? To help change the sex industry to be a more positive and empowering space for women, two Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs, CEO Alexandra Fine and CTO Janet Lieberman of the company Dame Products, are breaking boundaries, tearing down taboos, and opening up conversations.
According to a press release, Dame Products creates sex toys for women to "de-sensationalize toys for sex and close the 'pleasure gap' — a common disparity in sexual satisfaction seen most frequently in heterosexual sex."
"Our mission is, in quotes, 'To make the world a happier place, one vagina at a time,' " Fine told A Plus. "Female sexual pleasure has been shamed for years, so it is no surprise that women are four times more likely than men to say that 'sex is not at all pleasurable.' In order to help women plus their partners experience more pleasure, we create products [designed based on feedback from focus groups and scientific research] that enhance intimacy as unobtrusively as possible — augmenting natural motions in order to seamlessly enhance organic interactions … "
Using Indiegogo in 2014, Fine and Lieberman broke international records by creating the first-ever crowdfunded sex toy called Eva. On November 3, they broke yet another record by putting their second invention, Fin, a wearable vibrator ring, on Kickstarter, ending Kickstarter's long-standing ban on sex toys.
Fine explained to A Plus why breaking this barrier was so significant, and why we need more female entrepreneurs and voices in this male-dominated industry.
"Our decision to reach out to Kickstarter to implore them to allow us onto their platform was an extension of our mission to make conversations about sex, and sexual pleasure, more mainstream, and to treat quality sex toys made by thoughtful makers like any other consumer product that is so intentionally made."
Selling sex toys in commerce spaces like Indiegogo and Kickstarter not only encourages open dialogue about sex and sexual pleasure — which is empowering for women, whose needs all too often go unheard — but helps destigmatize the topic. This is important because stigma is the likely cause for lack of regulations on these types of products, and "subpar consumer electronic standards."
"The more you treat a topic like it's taboo, the more taboo it becomes," Fine told A Plus. "First of all, by bringing sex toys out from the shadows, into the light, we're able to address them like we would any other consumer product and, by doing so, hold them to the same higher standards. Second, making sexual pleasure an active conversation is crucial in ensuring that people understand their own sexual pleasure and ultimately allowing us to close the pleasure gap ... [Fin] is helping close the pleasure gap because it was designed with both partners in mind. While this product is great for solo play, we also took our tester's partner's feedback into account when designing."
Equally important as the design is the fact that Fine and Lieberman are women creating for women: “Women know what women want!”
"Of course, every woman is different, but it's a lot easier to make a product for yourself based on knowledge than it is to make it for another based on assumption. I also think that when men make products designed for women, they add their gaze into the mix. How they would want a woman to use a sex toy. This tends to lead to overly sexualized women in ads or graphic images on the packaging — or even worse — butterflies and obnoxious colors."
But breaking into a male-dominated industry, and then a male-dominated online commerce space, has not been without its challenges. Fine told A Plus she's faced the same obstacles most females encounter in any male-dominated industry: "Other people giving me unsolicited advice, mansplaining things to me, telling me that X isn't possible when X is clearly possible. It is always hard to know for sure if people are treating you a specific way because you are a woman, though. At the end of the day, we all face a lot of obstacles."
It's clear that their hard work has been worth it, though, as customers' responses to the products have been overwhelmingly positive. Fine told us that their first invention, Eva, became a No. 1 crowdfunded sex toy, creating no doubt that there is widespread interest for these types of products.
When asked what other changes she'd like to see happen in the sex industry to make it more inclusive for women, Fine had this to say: "I think there is a cycle here worth mentioning. If we change how we view the industry, then different people will enter the industry. So, I would like to get the world's attention on it. We need to be able to run ads, like everyone else, and we should be regulated, like everyone else. I would like to be able to run ads on Facebook and use the word vagina in an email without getting flagged .... like what porn uses the word vagina anyways :)."