The female orgasm has long been a bit of an enigma, like the elephant in the [bed]room everyone knows about. Four times more women than men say that sex is “not at all pleasurable,” and some have never experienced the Big-O at all.
Tired of faking it and over the patriarchal sex-toy industry, Janet Lieberman and Alexandra Fine decided to take matters into their own hands – literally – and founded the femme-forward line of sex toys, Dame, in 2014. Based in Brooklyn, the duo combined their engineering and sexual psychology backgrounds to create well-engineered sex toys that break the stigma around female sensuality. They designed their inaugural product, Eva, a pint-sized lavender hands-free clitoral vibrator, to “close the pleasure gap,” one vagina at a time. With its sleek millennial branding, direct-to-consumer approach and niche product design, the duo is proving the power of the pussy from both an economic and cultural standpoint. What started as a crowd-funded Kickstarter has grown into a lucrative enterprise, with an expanded product range – currently sold-out site wide – and a growing community around sexual empowerment. Here, they invite us to their offices to talk vagi-nomics, breaking the pleasure taboo, and making good sex for all the new normal. To all the phallocentric advocates out there: Dame’s toys are grabbing back and they’re cumming for you.
COOLS: How did Dame come to life?
Janet Lieberman: I’d been a sex toy user for years, and, one day, three things occurred to me. First, that I had lower expectations for this product category than I did for other consumer electronics. Second, that there was no reason I shouldn’t be getting the same reliability or value for my money. And third, I had the background and experience to be able to make that happen – I was an MIT-educated mechanical engineer who’d been working in consumer product development for 7 years.
Alexandra Fine: I’ve had a lifelong fascination with human sexuality. I got my MA in Clinical Psychology at Columbia with an emphasis on sexuality, but ultimately decided that I wanted to take a more tactical approach to helping women achieve sexual pleasure. The idea behind Dame Products was to make toys for sex that would close the pleasure gap (or the notion that 4x more women than men say that sex is “not at all pleasurable” in the process.)
COOLS: Hence creating a line that’s for women by women?
AF: The sex toy industry has traditionally been run by men. This means that the majority of sex toys have been based on assumptions about female sexuality, rather than observations. We hope to change this.
COOLS: And how are you changing it?
JL: You can tell by the “novelty” categorization that the consumers’ needs haven’t always been taken seriously. But these aren’t novelties; most women in the US have used a vibrator. These are widely-adopted, regularly-used consumer electronics, and we want to see them treated that way.
The better you understand the consumer and the use case, the better you can design for it, so it helps to be women-owned-and-operated. For example, we focus a lot on intimacy in our design; trying to make products that enhance experiences without feeling like they’re a second or third person in the room.
COOLS: And you’re putting female pleasure back in the driver’s seat? There’s so much taboo around female sexuality. How are you shifting that conversation?
AF: First of all, we hope to open up this subject for conversation. By being open, and very natural, when talking about sex, we hope to lead by example. It’s amazing how just talking about something calmly, intelligently and relatably, rather than relegating it to something awkward or shameful, can have such a significant effect.
We also want to make sure that people know they’re not alone. Women who’ve never had an orgasm? You’re not alone. Couples who feel they’re disconnected sexually? Definitely not alone. But discussing how common these issues are, we hope to make them more ripe for conversation and creative solutions, rather than allowing them to fester (and continue to be “taboo”).
COOLS: And in translating those creative solutions for the millennial market, how does social media – and its unwavering censorship – influence your branding?
AF: I think we act like millennials – in that – we just put forth a new version of our reality. We think if we continue to show the world that sexual pleasure is not only a fact of life but something that can be celebrated and a key aspect to overall life satisfaction. To us, there is no shame in owning a vibrator (or not owning one) and we think through our actions, we will eventually help the social media powers re-imagine their policies.
COOLS: With the reluctance from bankers and investors to back your brand, you had to go crowdfunding and now your range is sold out. Clearly, you’re onto something. How are you aiming to reshape the corporate opinion on the market for femme-forward sexuality?
JL: Femtech, sex-tech, vagina-nomics – things are already changing from where they were when we started in 2014, and there’s been a lot of buzz in the press about it. It’s a bizarre experience to try to explain to someone that sex sells – wouldn’t it be obvious that there’s money in sex? When we can get our products in front of the consumers, they buy them – we just face a few hurdles other companies don’t in getting that facetime. But I feel like there’s nothing that proves that point more readily than simply making money anyway.
COOLS: How does the current wave of feminism, and focus on female empowerment affect the societal norms you’re challenging?
AF: It’s had an incredible impact. The ubiquity of female empowerment messages go hand in hand with our mission to eradicate the “pleasure gap” and to help women and couples really feel empowered to explore their sexuality and find what’s right for them. People are more open than they’ve ever been, and we’ve seen a significant shift in the willingness to accept our industry as relevant and even imperative.
COOLS: So the industry landscape is opening up as a result?
JL: The landscape is changing slowly but surely. Fin was the first sex toy to be allowed on Kickstarter; when we ran our campaign for Eva, that wasn’t an option. These days most people are very supportive – I hear I’m “doing God’s work” more with this company than I have with any job in the past. But there is still, as Cindy Gallop puts it, “fear of what other people will think”. People think they’re unique in their acceptance about sex toys, and because we don’t discuss it openly, that misconception isn’t challenged.
What’s the underlying message you’re trying to tell women about their sexuality?
AF: We’re looking forward to reframing the way we view female sexual pleasure. We want to eradicate the shame surrounding sex and open up meaningful discussions – both for individuals and couples.
COOLS: You’re basically making good sex – for all – the new norm?
JL: We want women to be happier with their sex lives. It’s an important and integral part of our lives, so it’s as deserving of attention as any other part of their lives. There’s an amazing amount of sexual variety, and that’s a good thing. We want to help women feel better and more comfortable with themselves, and then provide tools that can help with overall satisfaction.