Mainstream sex shops always manifest the usual agenda: penis-shaped lollipops, flimsy lingerie that is bound to tear (intentionally or unintentionally, that’s your M.O.) upon first wear, and the piece de resistance—an array of much-too-realistic dildos and vibrators lining every corner of the store. Though some of us may be into veiny, frighteningly-large sex toys, some of us would rather have something, well, pleasurable to the eye and our bodies.
That’s why we’re focusing our attention (and our orgasms) to these women-owned sex toy brands. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing to look at, but they’re created by women to manifest the female energy that the sex industry has neglected for decades. Take a look at some of our favorite women-run sex toy brands, and read what the founders had to say about the pitfalls and triumphs of the modern sex industry.
About the brand: Created by certified sexologist Alexandra Fine and established engineer Janet Lieberman, the female duo decided to launch Dame to “create the phenomenal sex toys we couldn’t find on the market and ideally close the pleasure gap,” says Fine. “The pleasure gap is the notion that people with vulvas systematically find sex less pleasurable than people with penises.” Their best-selling lineup includes the hands-free vibrator Eva II, a finger vibe called Fin, and the flex-vibe Pom.
The progress and pitfalls of the sex industry: “Traditionally, the industry was run by men. This tainted the products that were created and the messaging that was used. This was obviously problematic,” says Fine. “Over the past five or so years (we like to think of ourselves as a leader here, having launched in 2014!) we’ve seen a slew of femme-run companies starting brands and making products in this space. We’re extremely encouraged by this, and we hope to continue to see this.”
“As far as changes we need now, however — there is still a whole host of biases that work against us, and these play out most crucially in our ability to advertise. While you see a rise of DTC startups promoting their brand and messaging to a new audience, we’re forbidden from advertising on Facebook/Instagram, the MTA, etc.”
Fine’s message on sex: “Nothing is normal, and by that right, everything is normal! Sex is human, and we’ve somehow removed the humanity from it. We want to remind people that understanding their sexuality (or lack thereof!) is an important part of your overall wellness.”
About the brand: If you’d rather be a little more discreet, then this brand might be your fit. Co-founded by Ti Chang, one of their best-selling products is the Vesper, a quiet and wearable vibrator that also acts as a minimalist necklace.
The progress and pitfalls of the sex industry: “I think it is actually the mainstream attitude that needs to change and progress,” says Chang. “We are developing modern products for a need that has been around since the beginning of time. That need is not going to change, so cultural stigma and shame are what has to go.”
Chang’s message on sex: “Pleasure is a noun, a verb, and an adjective that is going to be different for everyone. We want to support people owning their pleasure, period. If it means wearing our Vesper vibrator necklace out and having a great time, that’s amazing. If it means not ever owning a vibrator, that’s awesome too! You do you boo, and we are all here for it.”
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What does “sextech” mean to you? For some, it may mean bluetooth-enabled vibrators and fleshlights for partner play. For others, it may mean sex toys that aren’t just big rubber penises (no shame though if you’re about that 😉). For us, it means tools that support self-experimentation and discovery—which leads to better sex! ⚡️💛
About the brand: This one’s for my fellow high-tech aficionados. This “sextech” device not only gets the job done, but it has precision sensors to let you see and track your arousal and orgasm, in theory, to help you improve your sexual experiences. “It includes an app that you can use like your own sex diary to see what works for you, try new things, and basically, expand your horizons with yourself and with your partner,” says Liz Klinger, Co-Founder, and CEO of Lioness. “You can experiment, understand yourself, and have better orgasms.”
The progress and pitfalls of the sex industry: “Specifically with the sex toy industry, they can’t continue to be complacent with how things are. The world is changing—what we are looking for in a product for sex (for example, the data and insights that Lioness provides) and how we buy sex toys is changing. They’ll need to change with it or be left behind.”
“Granted, historically, most haven’t had much of a reason to change. Even competitors like LELO and JimmyJane who introduced high-end, high-quality sex toys were laughed out of the room for years… until slowly but surely, others caught on and started to make similar looking products.”
“The taboo nature of this space means few significant competitors come in and the way products are advertised means that the old school distribution channels have lived on far longer than in other industries. However, as more overseas manufacturers start selling directly, more brands, white-label products, and more sales go online and direct-to-consumer, there is a race to the bottom price-wise for standard sex toys that are easy to replicate, and the current way to sell via distributors will become obsolete. Larger players will have to start thinking about making different products than what they’ve made for decades, perhaps even innovate on the technology itself, as well as change the way they’ve been selling them for decades whether they like it or not, if they want to keep up.”
Klinger’s message on sex: “Pleasure is a lifelong journey, and everyone’s journey is different — we’re are always changing, so explore and try new (and old!) things with an open mind.”
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CW: abuse/sexual abuse “In the immediate time after my abuse I had a hard time connecting back to my own sexuality, how do I reconnect with something that had always felt like someone else’s? It took a lot of therapy, ethical porn, mirrors and sensual lighting (no fluorescents plz), cute toys, crying, lube, conversations with chosen fam, velvet panties, and my hands to get there. I quickly realized that I could never connect with others if I wasn’t connected to myself. I would never have enjoyable sex if I wasn’t enjoying sex with myself, I needed to tell myself what I needed before I could tell anybody else. Sometimes sex, especially penetrative sex is still difficult. But the beauty of sex is that there’s so many ways to have it, and connecting back to kink has been literally so fucking helpful. I’m fortunate to have had partners that understand where I’m at. Those that don’t don’t get invited back home, their loss. I value myself too much now and don’t tolerate someone who’s not down to communicate. PS: I love being called a slut in scenes today, also I have a fat pussy💋👅” – @babyfat.jpeg (pictured above with our vibe Bender)
About the brand: Unbound has formed a cult following for their Instagrammable lineup (which includes a bendable vibrator, CBD-infused lube, and a chic vibe ring). But, behind all of the aesthetically pleasing vibes and spiked rollers is a powerful message.
“When I was 21, I found out I had stage IIIC colorectal cancer,” says co-founder Polly Rodriguez. “I had to drop out of college and move back home with my parents in St. Louis and begin radiation treatment immediately. I can vividly remember my doctors sitting me down and telling me that I would never have children as a result of the radiation. It was only weeks later when I started having unbearable hot flashes that I Googled my symptoms and discovered I was also going through menopause. My friend empathetically suggested that I buy some lubricant and maybe a vibrator to help with my dip in libido. I found the only place that sold these products in my town, which was a seedy shop next to the highway with mannequins in crotchless onesies and plastic penises lined up on shelves. It left me feeling embarrassed and ashamed to be shopping for these products at all.”
“Some time later, in 2014, I met my co-founder Sarah Jayne through a women-in-tech group in New York City. As two midwesterners with big dreams, we hit it off immediately. She had been working on a quarterly subscription box on nights and weekends with some friends who were no longer actively working on the business. We decided to team up to create a direct-to-consumer brand that would be the online destination we wished we had when we bought our first vibrators, lubricants, condoms, or accessories… and Unbound was born.”
The progress and pitfalls of the sex industry: “Vibrators, lubricants, and accessories are currently banned from advertising across Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Adroll, and the subway. They’re viewed as a ‘vice product category.’ Meanwhile, erectile dysfunction, penis enlargement, and ‘manscaping’ are all allowed to advertise as they’re seen as ‘health products.’ Platforms and society more broadly need to start including pleasure as a part of health. Women shouldn’t have to go to a seedy corner shop to buy lubricant for painful sex. Women who need clitoral stimulation to feel pleasure during sex shouldn’t be told that need is inappropriate. It’s time we started allowing healthy, consent-driven conversations about sex to be visible.”
Rodriguez’s message on sex: “I don’t know that I can pick just one, but if I had to, it would be that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to sex. It’s your right and privilege to define your own sexual identity and experience. To quote the 1997 classic hit, The Sunscreen Song: ‘Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.’ And, to me, that’s inclusive of masturbation, orgasms, and sexual exploration.”
About the brand: The most famous stimulator of all time is, undoubtedly, the wand massager. But, they usually seem a bit intimidating—well, that is until Le Wand came out. Founded by Alicia Sinclair, this sleek massager was created solely for sexual purposes (unlike the other mainstream wands on the market). Basically, it brings sexuality back to the most iconic sex toy of all time.
The progress and pitfalls of the sex industry: “There are a lot of companies that do not exhibit a real concern around consumer responsibility,” says Sinclair. “Sex toy manufacturing is unregulated and that means that low-quality and harmful materials are still commonly used. I believe that when we’re making products that often go inside that most intimate parts of a person’s body, we should be aware of how the product materials interact with their bodies.”
Sinclair’s message on sex: “Sex is part of an overall healthy lifestyle. There is nothing to be ashamed about and we all deserve pleasure.”