Anyone who’s shopped for a sex toy knows that searching for a safe, beautiful, well-designed toy can sometimes mean wading through a sea of products plagued by off-putting marketing, questionable safety, or both.
But quality sex tech is out there, and some of the most exciting offerings come from women working to make the industry more approachable.
A new way to vibe: Dame
The products: Dame offers two very cute vibrators meant for clitoral stimulation: The the teeny Fin ($75) which sits between two fingers, and the Eva II ($135), which is worn hands-free thanks to “flexible wings that tuck under the labia while [it] sits on top.” Both can be used alone or during sex.
The story: Dame is brainchild of Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman. Fine, who holds a masters degree in clinical psychology from Columbia University, tells Mashable she met Lieberman, a mechanical engineer and MIT alum, in June 2014 upon learning that each had separately planned to start her own sex toy company.
Fine says their combined talents – her interest in branding and market research and Lieberman’s interest in designing a safe, high quality toy – led them to launch an Indiegogo campaign for their first vibrator Eva in October of 2014. By late February of the following year, Fine says Dame shipped its first round of products. It’s since expanded its line, launching Fin in November 2016, and a redesign of its first vibrator, the Eva II, in November 2017.
For Fine, running a sex toy startup is the culmination of a long-time interest in sexuality – she’d originally planned to become a sex therapist – and a desire to bring something to market that she felt was more women-focused in its messaging than what was currently on offer.
“None of [those products] even really resonated with me and how I felt these toys should be branded,” she says. “You still see a lot of them with women in lingerie, taking off their high-heels. It often has a very male gaze that’s hard to deny in their branding. It just never related to me or how I felt about masturbation or using a toy.”
Plus, Dame wanted to build a sex toy that was well-made in an industry where Fine says products are largely unregulated.
Case in point: A vibrator she once owned actually caught fire after its battery shorted out.
“It was kind of epic, I’m not gonna lie,” she jokes. “I think I bragged about it. But it’s because the products aren’t well made, and people don’t value it, and there’s no regulation when there should be.”
In keeping with a focus on quality, both of Dame’s vibrators are designed in-house, made with medical-grade silicone, and are water resistant.
The company plans to launch three new designs in 2018.
Aesthetically pleasing essentials: Maude
The products: Maude’s line includes rise. condoms ($12 for a 10-pack), two forms of lubricant (both $25), and the vibe. massager ($45).
The story: “Maude is very much a gender inclusive or unisex brand,” says CEO Eva Goicochea. “We aren’t a women-for-women company, per se – we’re more of a women for everyone company.”
Before launching the company alongside her co-founder, CPO Dina Epstein, in early April, Goicochea says she spent more than 10 years working in branding, including a stint at clothing retailer Everlane.
She befriended Epstein, an industrial designer who’s worked for lingerie retailer Kiki De Montparnasse and for sex toy retailer Doc Johnson, and together they decided to launch Maude, a company that sells minimalist products for the bedroom.
Two years later, the product line features lubricants — “an absolute must-have,” says Goicochea — housed in chic Aesop soap-like bottles and artfully packaged condoms.
Another bedroom essential? A vibrator!
Says Goicochea: “When you look at the orgasm gap, women often have to go to a sex shop to get a toy…That’s a really uncomfortable experience, it’s over-assorted, it’s confusing, you don’t really have any options that are minimal. Everything’s quite bright and loud. And we were like, this is an absolute must-have for many people in order to have an orgasm, so why isn’t it created and treated like an essential?”
Maude’s sleek, gray version is made with FDA-approved silicone.
Lube innovation: Pulse
The products: A warming lubricant dispenser ($229), two varieties of lube sets (both $29.95) and lube samples ($5).
The story: For a product often considered an integral part of sex, the user experience associated with lube is decidedly lacking. Pulse founder Amy Buckalter decided to give the experience a much-needed update after experiencing it firsthand.
“I had entered into menopause, was using a lot more lubricant, and I couldn’t believe [the more] I thought about it how archaic the entire user experience is for the 21st century on a variety of levels,” she says.
Suspecting she wasn’t alone in feeling this way, Buckalter turned to a wider audience for confirmation. More than 400 survey responses later, she knew she was onto something. So in 2013, she left her 25-year career in branding for the sporting goods industry and became sex tech entrepreneur.
Enter: the Pulse Warming Dispenser, a small bedside machine that heats and dispenses lubricant into the palm of its owner’s hand. No rifling through bedside drawers, no bottles to open, just hold out your hand and get back to business.
The dispenser works with either of Pulse’s two lubricant offerings — one water-based, one aloe-based. And unlike lubricants that promise a warming sensation delivered via chemical, Pulse warms the old-fashioned way.
Buckalter has big plans for the technology behind her product – she’s says she’s hoping to expand her business to build warming technology for other types of lotions used in body care and baby care.
Exploring new things: Unbound
The products: Though Unbound’s shop has traditionally featured sex toys, fetish products, lubricants, and more from a range of outside brands, the company is shifting to selling only its own line of products. This includes three pink vibrators (priced from $17 to $99), three types of lube (priced from $15 to $35), personal wipes ($16) kinky toys (from $14 to $24), a dildo ($29) – plus jewelry, accessories and more.
Unbound also offers quarterly subscription kits filled with products from its house line.
The story: When Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez was diagnosed with cancer in her early 20s, she tells Mashable that the experience “changed the way I saw the world,” specifically her views of women’s sexuality.
“When I was going through radiation treatment, my doctors told me that I would never have children, but they didn’t talk to me at all about how that would affect my sex life,” she says. “As I got older, I kind of realized how marginalized female and non-binary individuals are when it comes to their sexuality being a core health issue as opposed to just a nice-to-have.”
So in hopes of challenging that narrative, she launched Unbound, a sex-toy retailer that doubles as a destination for writing from sex workers, sex educators, and company staffers. Topics covered in its in-house publication, Unbound Magazine range from erotic massage tips to an explainer on the SESTA and FOSTA bills opposed by many sex workers.
And while the shop initially launched with products from other companies, Rodriguez says the company’s own line is quickly becoming its core product.
She says: “Most recently our predominant focus is on making best-in-class products that are really affordable and accessible to the everyday consumer and also creating a lot of content that helps bridge that educational gap that we see the public schools kind of retreating back from teaching.”
But what sets Unbound apart is its subscription model – an offering Rodriguez says performs well with men and with older couples.
“We found that for couples, especially those that were married and in an older demographic, they were really curious about the category but suffered from decision and choice fatigue,” she says. The boxes — themed sets featuring full-size products and sent every three months — meaning her customers can test out products they might not have selected on their own.
The entrepreneurs behind these companies are far from the only women freshening up their industry. In fact, there’s a large community of women working in all areas of sex tech.
This post is part of Mashable’s Masturbation Week. May is National Masturbation Month, so we’re celebrating by exploring the many facets of self-love.
BY LAURA VITTO MAY 07, 2018