Reinventing the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Healing


If I were to ask how listeners many women in the United States have a vibrator, my guess is the numbers would be far lower than the actual amount. Statistics show that as many as 78% of women actually own at least one vibrator. We also know that women are really struggling with sexual pleasure. Many women have never experienced an orgasm. Many women don't know what they like or how to ask for it. And additionally, a lot of women are struggling with chronic pelvic pain and other issues from endometriosis and other pelvic conditions that can make traditional sex very uncomfortable, and many of those women think that means they can't experience sexual pleasure for one company. The vibrator and sex toys aren’t just about the business of pleasure. They can be about helping women find empowerment and getting beyond sexual shame, and pain toward healing.

Today, I am delightedly speaking with Alexandra Fine, CEO of Dame Products. The mission of this company is to design well engineered sex toys to heighten intimacy and to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind. Dame products are also are regularly prescribed by doctors as a drug free affordable solution to low libido, arousal disorders, and sexual function issues for those recovering from abuse, cancer, and more.

Listen in or read the abridged transcript below. And make sure to SHARE and SUBSCRIBE to NATURAL MD RADIO.



Intro

Today, I am delightedly speaking with Alexandra Fine, CEO of Dame products. Alex translates the nuances of sexualities into human friendly toys for sex, a lifelong student of sexual health. Alex has earned her master's in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia university. Realizing that her skills would be best put to use making concrete improvements to people's lives, she began developing her own vibrators at home and asking friends to give her their feedback. She was gaining startup experience with an organic shampoo company and decided the time was right to put her passions and her business acumen to use in the world of sex toys and founded Dame Products. Alex intends to start necessary conversations to listen rather than assume and to create products that enhance intimacy. Alex, thank you for joining me and welcome.

We will be talking about some products in this episode, but we're not mixing business and pleasure. This episode is in no way paid for or sponsored. Alex has agreed to join me today and I'm just so thrilled to have her here.

Aviva: As you were doing your clinical psychology training or practice, was there anything that you were seeing, experiencing, observing about couples or women or people that inspired you to think, okay, something's not clicking here for people's sexual happiness and satisfaction?

A Shift Happening in Sexual Health

Alex: It just seemed like it was highly correlated to general happiness in life. I knew that women were so much more likely to say that sex wasn't pleasurable or a fulfilling part of their lives. They weren't reporting as many orgasms, and that clitoral stimulation – a key part of how many women experience intense pleasure – led me to creating my first product. Honestly I think the biggest thing I was seeing was that like everybody I knew was buying them (vibrators) and nobody was talking about them, and that created a real opportunity in a market. I started doing some research about these companies and what they were doing, and what their income statements potentially looked like. That kind of also validated this path for me.

Aviva: There's definitely a shift happening. I'm decidedly older than you. I'm 53 and I remember my mom having a vibrator. [Sorry, mom, if you're listening to this, I do know that you had one in your drawer next to your bed]. It would be the kind of thing that probably if I asked her about it, she would have told me, but it wouldn't have been the kind of thing that women talked about with each other back then. I mean, people barely could say the word period, let alone clitoris or talk about sexual pleasure. It was very taboo. And even now I think women are really still struggling to get the words out at times. I think the millennial generation is more open about it. But even there, a lot of women are still really uncomfortable with it, and a lot of women are really uncomfortable talking to their doctors about their sexual health. And statistically, most doctors, even women doctors don't ask about sexual health. So women are living with not knowing what's normal, not knowing what's not normal, not knowing that they can have pleasure. And then media completely screws with our heads, right? Because it's like how many women have a vaginal orgasm in two minutes in a movie? That just doesn't usually happen in real life. In fact, it pretty much never does.

Alex: Yeah, it's wild. I think I've even heard stories of women going through chemo and having early onset menopause and not necessarily being aware and told about it beforehand, which is interesting because – I don't know if there's stats on this – from personal experiences with prostate cancer in a family, that was a top concern (sexual functioning). As we move towards some of my advertising challenges, something that's really interesting is how we often look at sexual functioning as core part of men's health, but sexual enjoyment not necessarily as a core functioning of women's health. And I think female anatomy or arousal is more subtle and less appreciated, but equally as very important.

Reclaiming Sexual Pleasure

Aviva: It is. One of the things that I've seen in my practice is that women's sexual pleasure is so marginalized in our culture that a lot of times when women come to me as a patient, even though it's a major thing happening in their life, it's almost like, Oh well that's the least of my concerns. Like my own pleasure doesn't matter as much as opposed to it being seen as part of a vital sign of our physical, our hormonal health. And a lot of what is also undervalued in our culture. As you say, women's sexual response is more subtle. For men that sexual response can be pretty much just biologically driven, but for women there are a lot of other factors. Sensual, yes.

I don't really like using the term foreplay cause it sounds like there's foreplay and then there's sex. But like…..

Alex: Are you talking about the afterplay, which my husband and I talk about. We also agree that ultimately that's still really centered around the idea that his penis is going to go into my vagina at some point, which is not necessarily the main act.

Aviva: Exactly, exactly. There's so much that goes on. Okay. So …. you go to graduate school and then you're like, yo, mom, dad, or whomever, I'm starting a vibrator company and a sex toys company. How did that all happen? I'm really curious about what your friends and your family said.

Alex: I already wanted to be a sex therapist for a long time. I worked at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for a few years – when I was in college; I was doing a lot of sexual advocacy work. Honestly, even from before that, my parents were not surprised at all. There was , like okay, that makes sense. We're happy it's entrepreneurial; my dad was excited for me to do something more entrepreneurial. But for as liberal as they are, my mom was a little bit more like, well, I think therapy is such a great mom job.

I'm so excited to see how I see the world “wrong” through the lens of my children. Like they're gonna be like, no, that's an assumption mom. And I'm not gonna know it, I think.

Aviva: I promise you, if you have kids that happens. It's good if you can roll it. This is actually a really funny, because I was giving a talk somewhere and one of my daughters was in the audience and she was like 16 at the time. And I dropped an F-bomb when I was teaching. There were no kids in the audience and it was about women's health. And I don't remember what I dropped an F bomb about. Then I apologized afterward: I was like, oh, sorry if that offended anybody. Then when I got off the stage my daughter came up to me and she said, ‘mom, you should never apologize. Everybody needs a good fuck once in a while.’ I was just like, did my kid just say that to me? It was very funny.

So, did you have a light bulb moment? There were so many directions that you could have gone. Did you have a series of light bulb moments? Was it more a research, I have a feeling….?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Alex: Yeah, series of light bulb moments feels accurate. The first product that we sold, that we still sell, it's called Eva – it's a hands-free clitoral vibrator designed to be worn nestled in between the labia. It stays in place and provides vibration during penetrative sex. One the first things I did to discover if this concept could work was I took a half dollar coin and wrapped it into some cellophane and put it in between me and my lady and just to see if my lady could hold anything. It turns out that your body moves a lot, so you actually need something that can change shape with you, which Eva does.

Aviva: This is when you tell your kids not to put their coins in their mouth cause you never know where money's been.

Alex: You know, think being playful is really important in life when you can make a lot of discoveries by getting a little dirty. But I did, I did wrap it in cellophane, so there was a cleanliness aspect to it. Then I was so excited I ran around the house, and to my now husband, I was like, look what I did. This idea is such a good idea and he just looked at me like I was crazy. He was studying really hard for a big test or something. Anyway, that concept went on – we launched on Indiegogo and I raised $575,000 in 45 days and sold over 6,000 preorder units, which really of course was the catalyst to the business taking off. It was incredibly validating to have this kind of, you know, weird, wild idea that can raise some eyebrows – like I remember going to the Jewish country club and seeing my grandma with all of her ladies around the table and they were like, Oh, Alex, what are you doing? I was like, Oh my God, this is the first time I'm going to tell all these women what I'm working on. I was like, I'm working on a vibrator. And it was silence, like just complete silence. And then one of them who happens to be my cousin's grandma said, I'll get one. And then they all broke out laughing and told me they were all gonna get one.

Aviva: Have you seen any of the episodes of that show, Frankie and Grace? It's good. For those of you who are listening, it's Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. And it's a pretty funny show. One of the big things that happens in it is they create a vibrator together, particularly for women who have arthritic wrists because they're older.

So you're talking about the kind of development of this. You have a partner in this business, Janet, right? When I think of your company, I'm like, yes, we know that sexual health happens not just in our genitals but throughout our body and in our brain. But you guys have some Brainiac energy going behind this. Talk about like, she's an MIT grad.

Alex: Yeah, for mechanical engineering. And we have some other engineers too on staff who are also pretty smart. What we do is we really develop our products in house based on research that we do, and then we have those prototypes tested by our Dame Labs members and get feedback. And we keep iterating on those concepts until we feel good about them and they go into production.

Aviva: Talk about Dame Labs. I love that you have this and women can join it, right? You can actually sign up through your website. I should apologize if I am being not great with my language here. So, if I say women, I mean all people who identify as women or who would use these products as men too.

Alex: Yeah, in our surveys, we just ask people what genitalia they have, because for our needs, that's actually the core. Your gender is not as important to me as much as just what genitalia you have. We do find that we have people of all genders and all that are a part of Dame Labs. Sometimes we're looking for specific things, but anybody can go to our website and sign up. And if you participate in our surveys, there's also a Facebook group that's really kind of taken off. I find it to be a really beautiful space. It's great because through conversation we can make better products, we can understand;, it's just great market research, but then it's also great product development and it also is holding space for, for real people to continue to learn. It seems to be a real win-win. I think we see a lot of other direct to consumer brands also realizing that community engagement and having real conversations directly with your customers is the most impactful way of growing your base. For us, since it's sex, it's just incredibly powerful.

Aviva: I would think for folks who are participating in Dame Labs, it would be pretty good what I call me-search where just answering the questions, especially for folks who haven't explored their sexuality at all, actually seeing what kinds of questions you're asking might help folks to think about their own bodies and their own pleasure in different ways.

What Makes You Feel Sexy? (Answer: It's NOT Stress!)

Alex: We're definitely been asking a lot of people about what makes them feel sexy, what kinds of touches turn them on. So we're definitely doing a lot of desire and arousal, which I do find that the better you are at naming and understanding those things and they are always changing in us, the easier it is to ask for it or to even realize that's what you want. So pushing your partner in that direction.

I also hear other people say something and I’m like, Oh my God, I would like that. Somebody was telling me about how they like to have sex and then stop having sex and then do control stimulation and then go back to having sex. Well, my body would really respond well to that. It takes me some, you know, as a lot of women, it takes me time to warm up… I was just reading about this the other day and it was blowing my mind – arousal first desire where like my body responds first and then my mind kind of follows there versus spontaneous desire, which is kind of like you're walking down the street and all of a sudden you're horny or you see somebody and that makes you feel really horny.

Aviva: I think that arousal first desire for a lot of women may happen more, for example,  around their fertile time or it may happen right around their premenstrual time when we have that pelvic engorgement. I think if women don't have that and maybe particularly even not getting aroused much, like they're going through vaginal dryness or perimenopause or their body's changing or there's stress with their partner, there are so many different things that can affect our arousal and Oh, it's so huge.

Alex: Well, I might make the joke that the worst thing I ever did for my sex life was start a sex toy company.

Aviva: Really? Because it's so stressful?

Alex: Definitely, I'm growing my risk. I might just be getting older and having more responsibilities, that could have happened. Stress definitely impacts for sure. I think one of the really cool things about sex is it's one of our most natural embodied experiences. It really beckons us to be in our present bodies in a way that very few other activities do. I like to say it's our most natural form of meditation.

Aviva: Yeah. But so many of us live kind of, if you could see me, I'd be putting my hand like just under my throat and just up to the top of my head. Like so many of us live between our throat and our head, and then for a lot of people, of course, being in their body is really painful for a variety of reasons. Trauma, body image issues, and that can have a huge impact on our sexuality too.

Alex: I think that's also why there's just so much to learn from some sex. I really do think there's something about being connected to your erotic power, whatever that feels like for you, that feels healing.

Aviva: I couldn't agree more. And, even if it's just by yourself too, right? I think as women,

Alex: Sometimes especially if it's by yourself.

Aviva: Yes. Because I think as women, we're so programmed to expect so much of our satisfaction or our power to come in relationship to other people and we forget that one, that sex and orgasm is just implicitly relaxing for most people or many people, but also that it's something we don't have to wait for someone to give us.

Alex: No, not at all. I'm a huge fan of also afterplay. If you didn't get what you wanted, you should not feel bad about taking out a vibrator. And I think it's totally valid to also ask your partner to continue to participate.

Aviva: Yeah, and even that's kind of like how we define it. Like before is foreplay. It's not the actual thing. And then afterplay is after, it's not the actual thing. As opposed to this whole experience is the experience and unless you're deciding otherwise it's really not done until both people feel like they've gotten what they need.

Alex: I like to challenge couples to have sex without doing that one act. It's so much fun. It really is. It's just like, you know, it's like if you take out your main ingredient, it forces you to be so much more creative with the other things you got in your toolbox. And I think it leads to great results. Though on the flip side, I'm still a human and finding the time is I think the hardest part.

Aviva: Which I think is part of why we're redefining sex after 50 too, right? Millennials are apparently having less sex than a lot of other generations at that age. And a lot of other people, partly because of devices and distraction and 24-hour work cycles basically. And then people in our 50s and older, especially if we've been in a coupled relationship for a long time, but even women by themselves or people by themselves are kind of a more confident asking for what we want, know what we want better, but can create time a little bit better. And creating that time is so important.

Alex: It's just setting your boundaries and like there's no better place. You can really learn boundaries in sex. I do think then you realize that I need to ask for what I want and what I need, and that's how I'm going to get to get what I want and what I need.

Aviva: And that confidence can really extend to everywhere in your life.

Alex: I totally agree.

Aviva: One of the things that I really didn't expect as I started learning more about sex toys, a little bit more about vibrators particularly, was actually how many couples are using them. And I think sort of like in the 60s, the 70s, and maybe this has been kind of a cultural misperception, but that the vibrator was sort of like what a woman who didn't get any did to get some, but really they're being used very differently now. I mean even women who are doing using them independently, it's not like cause they aren't getting it, it's about honoring self-pleasure. But a lot of couples are using them. And your website has quite a few testimonials from hetero-partnered people who are sick. I's the guy saying, yeah, this really transformed our sexual experience together.

Alex: 45% of my purchases come from, from men. I think that there is a lot of partner play. I think it's interesting from the men's perspective. I was doing some marketing research and I asked people how enjoyable sex was and what their interest was in improving that sex. And what I found was that women were reporting less sexual pleasure and less interest in improving it. I actually think sometimes a lot of it's the partner that's interested in seeing their partner enjoy sex more and that there is a lot of women out there who believe that it's not important to them. You know, and it's like who am I to tell them that it is. But I do feel like that that could really be a social construct and a system we've created more so than it is a natural occurrence.

Aviva: I'm pretty confident from what I see as a physician and the work I've done in researching sexual health for my women patients, that in general we marginalize our pleasure, satisfaction, we marginalize our needs. And then I think there's still a lot of shame around our bodies and our genitalia. We don't know what our bodies are supposed to do. And then there's media that confuses the message. Like if we think that we're supposed to, you know, have this crazy orgasm in two minutes with penetrative sex, which I think upwards of 90% of women don't have penetrative sex orgasms, it's going to just sort of say, make women say, well – Oh, that didn't happen so there must be something wrong with me as opposed to knowing that it takes a little more work.

Gender Bias in Advertising: Taking on the MTA

Aviva: What got my attention about Dame initially was hearing that you guys were part of a kind of bigger picture that was happening with the MTA, the New York Transit Authority. I started reading articles about a gender double standard that happened in advertising and, no pun intended, came to a head when erectile dysfunction ads were allowed in the New York city subway system billboards and the MTA was permitting advertising images that were for things like breast augmentation that showed a lot of skin or provocative posters for the Museum of Sex, the HIMS’ ad – an erectile dysfunction pharmaceutical – was literally a giant cactus on its side with the tip of the cactus clearly either grew that way or was photo-shopped to be unquestionably a giant erect penis, and the Roman’s ad. But ads for female pleasure products were being banned,

And it wasn't just those products that were banned. Thinx had criticism from the MTA. Thinx for those of you who don't know make underwear to be worn during menstruation; they sought to buy space in 2015 and those ads featured a dripping egg yolk and split fruit. Yet Viagra has been advertised for 20 years. Men's health companies don't have to face the same types of challenges that women's health companies do. I just want to say I think it was seriously a badass move that you guys took the next step to sue the MTA. So I'm hoping you'll walk us through the issues that got you there. How you made the decision to sue the MTA and what's the evolution of it? And whatever you're allowed to say legally. I know sometimes in these situations there are things that can't be said.

Alex: There has been so much double standard that I've experienced through this company. I don't want to say shocked – I knew that there was a taboo – but I'd been denied everything from small business loans that say that they will not approve loans for products of an “indecent sexual nature.” And I'm always like, well, I'm just of a decent sexual nature and I get laughed at as if there's no such thing, which I think is interesting.

Aviva: Well, and women entrepreneurs already have much more of a difficult time getting loans. So now you're an indecent woman trying to get a loan. You can just hit a big red “A” on your shirt.

Alex: If you look at the policies on some job posting boards, their policies say they won't work with certain kinds of companies; it’ll usually be guns and sexual nature companies. It's as if people think we're harmful to the world.

Aviva: …as being looped in with violence.

Alex: Yeah, violence. Yeah. I think the word is prurient, like there's an unhealthy amount of sex that we are encouraging in the world. Facebook has honestly been really the most problematic one. Facebook owns Instagram, so it's the same as Instagram. When I've had access to those platforms, have been able to run advertisements there, my business was growing at a really nice clip. Then those platforms were taken away from me and that's been financially impactful. Then after that I wanted to run advertisements with the MTA after seeing that they were going to allow female sexual pleasure companies to run advertisements. They were quoted in the New York Times saying that they would do that.

So, I reached out to the MTA to inquire about running advertisements. I let them know that I was willing to work with them and find a solution that was good for both parties. It took about six months of going back and forth. They didn't like some of our ad ideas, but then they approved some of them. We went out and we made the advertisements. We sent them in and asked for an invoice, and they just stopped responding to us. Then they sent us a letter saying that they would not and never would work with any sexually oriented businesses. Meanwhile, they were running advertisements, as you've previously mentioned, for erectile dysfunction, breast augmentation, advertisements that discuss sex toys, advertisements for the Museum of Sex, which is an amazing partner of ours where you can literally go and buy our toys.

Aviva: But in general it seemed like the things that they were approving were more oriented toward men's sexual pleasure or, or titillation if you will, like the Museum of Sex, but not anything to do with women's reproductive function, periods, or women's sexual pleasure. And as you emphasize, this is a non-pharmaceutical alternative for women who are actually struggling with problems, and for some women that are treated with pharmaceuticals that don't necessarily have the best proven safety or evidence record either.

Alex: It's really interesting how the idea that since it is medical that makes it more valid. I think we're much more comfortable with pills and again, I do think is sometimes pills are the right option. From what I can sense like in the MTA’s response to us or their lawyers’ very short response that we'd seen on the news, they do mention something about how HIMS is an FDA-approved drug. But the reason why our vibrators aren't FDA-approved has a lot more to do with our socially constructed understanding of what is necessary. They're not even regulated.

Aviva: Because it's not a necessary medical product (I’m doing air quotes here)  cause women's sexual health isn't considered a necessary part of our lives.

Alex: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So like our whole campaign was pleasure is health. Like, we should not be encouraging men to feel like they need to have their erections in order to live a healthy life and then not on the other hand, give women the options and the knowledge and information on how to enjoy that sex, which is supposed to be pleasurable. I think oftentimes men who are mostly empowered think that, come on, everybody knows that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, but that is not true. There are so many women out there who are having painful sex.

Aviva: So many. And you know what you're saying is just causing me to have this kind of big internal reaction right now, which is that we are living in a culture that many of us would define accurately as a rape culture. And we are creating a culture in which we are actually endorsing men's erections and men's sexual pleasure, but then saying that pleasurable sex for women isn't really okay.

Alex: To give them credit,  they did also have some HERS ads for the drug, Addyi.

Aviva: That's a pharmaceutical for female sexual arousal for those of you guys who haven't heard of it.

Alex: … which is interesting to me too, again, because I think that like if you look at the history of Viagra and the way it's impacted women’s health, it's like we can only understand women's health through the lens of what men are experiencing. We literally call Addyi often the female Viagra. But the truth is that it works nothing like Viagra, it's not a drug you take and then feel arousal immediately after. It's like a daily SSRI that you take.

Aviva: The other thing that's really interesting is if you look at the history of how female sexual dysfunction became defined as a Diagnostic Statistics Manual diagnosis, it's really an unusual diagnosis in that the drug was created and then the diagnosis was developed. And when a woman goes to her doctor, if she does say I'm having what a doctor would define as sexual dysfunction, I'm not having orgasms, I'm not feeling arousal, I'm not getting lubricated, most of the time statistically from a medical perspective, most of the time it's not a physical dysfunction. It's actually the circumstantial situation where more stimulation, more time for arousal, conversation, communication, the setting has as much to do with the ability to get aroused outside of a medical condition that's happened, like chemotherapy leading to premature menopause or vaginal dryness. That's hormonal. Those are medical reasons, but those aren't fixed by that drug either. Right? That's a different hormonal set of circumstances that's happening.

Changing the Conversation Toward Sexual Health

Aviva: When Monica and Bill had their White House adventures, my kids were in their teen and tween years, right? My kids grew up in a midwife’s house, so sexuality wasn't hidden thing. My kids kind of knew what was going on, but it wasn't like we were talking about oral sex and blowjobs around our house all the time. And then all of a sudden like, this is what's in the news, right? We're moms driving our kids to soccer practice and all of a sudden we're explaining what's a blow job. You know, what was that on Monica’s dress. We're answering a lot of questions before we necessarily might have exposed our kids to certain concepts. Right.

I guess one of the questions I have is, as you guys were trying to move the MTA toward having these more sex forward ads, what were your thoughts about little kids? You know, little kids are learning to read, right? And they're in the subway and they're like, mom, mom, what is that, dad, dad, what does that, or their babysitter? Some of the ads from some of the companies are actually quite sexually provocative like that HIMS cactus ad. What's the balance do you think about sex being a natural, healthy part of life and being something that we communicate to our kids versus it literally being in kids' faces on the subway and everywhere else. How do you think that that might impact folks? Are some of the discretionary boundaries maybe needed, or can those ads actually add to more healthy conversations?

Alex: I think that the ads can add to a more healthy conversation. I think that that it's important and research has shown that earlier education, sex education or age appropriate sex education, which of course changes every year because kids learn pretty quickly – a six-year old is very different than a nine-year old – it leads to healthier lives and better relationships and usually later…. I think that in Denmark, they have a later age of first sexual encounter.

Aviva: Yes. Most of the Scandinavian countries have sex ed starting in the very early and elementary school years. And they have lower sexually transmitted infections, a higher age to first sexual encounter, almost universal use of condoms and contraception, and a much lower rate of teen and unwanted pregnancies and a much lower abortion rate actually.

We live in a culture here, which is so against abortion. Well, actually, statistically we're not – like 70% of Americans support Roe vs. Wade. But we would actually prevent the thing that is causing so much controversy and division and women losing access to reproductive care, which is this anti-abortion kind of political climate. And yet we're also anti-sex education. It doesn't really pan out in any countries that actually do early healthy sex education.

Alex: What I tell people is I think ultimately having early conversations about sex isn’t the problem. The problem is more about what we're saying about sex. I think oftentimes when I literally hear people asking me that question, I'm like, well how does it make you feel if your kid was to ask you that? And the truth is it makes them incredibly uncomfortable. So I think it's also about educating parents to be able to feel comfortable about sexuality and for them to not really believe that sexuality is a bad thing. That's so inappropriate. Because I think a lot of people have that feeling and just can't get themselves to describe sex to their kids.

Aviva: I think as parents we have to feel comfortable within our boundaries and if that is really exposing you to an important part of being open minded about people's sexual practices and behaviors and needs and personalities. But then also if your kid is going to go to school and talk about it and get in trouble, how do we also educate our kids? Like this is something we can talk about, but little Johnny next door, their parents might not want you to talk about this without then reinforcing shame in our own kids. It's complicated.

Alex: It is complicated. It's very complicated. I don't think there are right answers too. There's a great book, it's called Sex is a Funny Word that I often recommend – it's probably better for the parents – it just begins to describe sex. It's hard to even just describe what sex is; it's not an easy thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. And all those things are valid. And even explaining that conceptually it's sure is challenging, I don't have kids yet.

Aviva: Well, I was just talking with someone recently too who's a physician and we were talking about how when kids are more free to have conversations about sex and more able to have their own body autonomy. Actually I was talking on my podcast too about this with Emily Nagoski who wrote Come as You Are. We were talking about how the statistics show that when kids are more body literate and more sexually literate, they actually have a little bit more of a layer of protection against sexual predators, which is interesting. They’re able to talk about it and say, this is my body. I mean, not that anyone is immune, but it may actually be one of those little protective mechanisms that we can put in place.

So where are things right now with you guys and the MTA? What's the exact status now?

Alex: We’re in discovery mode, so we'll see. It's still happening. We're still keeping with it. It’s something that we're really committed to because we think it's going to have just a… I think it would be one of my proudest moments.

Pleasure and Safety: The Right Products for Those Who Want Them

Aviva: So all right, the global sex toy market, I discovered in doing a little research to with you today is expected to grow by 9% between 2019 and 2026. 9% might not sound like a very big number, but let's just round this out. That's from about 29 billion US dollars to around 53 billion US dollars. This is a huge growing market. Everything's sexual health right now for some reason. And I'm really excited because I think that that says something really positive about women embracing our sexuality. And it's good news for you to potentially, because your business might really grow. But as businesses grow and things commercialize, there's always the risk that the standards get diluted. And already there are really no regulatory standards around this industry. Quality can get diluted and concern for the user and her needs and safety can come down. What are some of the things that women can do to learn more about the best products for them? And how to stay safe and smart in a growing marketplace?

Alex: I would be careful with the Amazon products. I am hoping that the growing market will ultimately lead to just a little bit more regulation. I think that the one thing you really want to look for is a medical grade silicone. If you can't – medical grade silicone is usually more expensive – here are body safe silicones. The term body safe doesn't necessarily mean anything. It's an unregulated term, usually they're using food grade silicone.

Aviva: The kind of stuff you get in like those silicone spatulas or muffin tin.

Alex: Or ice trays. Those are more approved to touch food than they are necessarily to be inserted into your body. But it's interesting because medical grade is about it being inert, truly inert, like a silicone implant is medical grade. There's probably more research to be done on how long bacteria lives on these products. But if you want to be safest, medical grade or you can also use a condom. If you are looking for something less expensive, you can always put a condom around a product. I think that both supporting a brand that you care about and believe in is great. And also when it comes to brand loyalty and accountability, that will be there more. That's what I recommend.

Aviva: If women want to explore the products or people listening, where would you recommend they start?

Alex: I would go to dameproducts.com. We have a nice little quiz that can help us recommend the right products for you. We also have a 60-day money back guarantee so you can always try and if you don't like it, let us know. We definitely want our customers to have pleasurable experiences.

Aviva: Of your products, is there any product in your line – and again, we don't have any affiliate relationship and anything like that going on here, this is just really for your education and health and pleasure as listeners – is there a product that most of your users who are first time users come into your site, women would say, yeah, that's the product that I….? Which product is that?

Alex: This just so your listeners know. I'm definitely a little biased. I think Pom and Fin are our two most popular beginner friendly vibes. Fin is really small and it fits on your fingers, so it's really fun for partner play. It's really interactive. Pom is a little bit stronger and squishier. It bends with your body, it's personally my favorite toy that we make. Those are the two most popular.

Aviva: And those are both clitoral stimulation. So for women who have pelvic pain, endometriosis, uterine prolapse, anything like that, where penetration is painful, those are still really great for them.

Alex: Yeah. We just launched our first internal product which is called Arc. Besides that, all of our other products have been externally focused. And even with our internal product in our customer surveying, what we found was that those products being good externally was equal or if not, sometimes considered more important than the main reason why they bought the internal product which is for the internal stimulation, because they always use it externally first. So I just thought that was interesting.

Aviva: For couples. What product do you find that couples… if you were to have a survey?

Alex: Eva and Fin are great couple products. We also make a lubricant that's an all-natural aloe based lube that's very, very popular and a body positioning pillow. It's essentially a sex wedge, which if you haven't tried a sex wedge or even just putting a pillow underneath your bum, it's wild how much a little angle can change the experience.

Aviva: Also for a lot of women who have penetrative pain, just shifting positions can make a huge difference and a pillow can make a huge difference for that too.

Alex: Yeah. It's such a simple tool and we made one that doesn't look like a sex wedge. If you left it  out, it just looks like a normal pillow. We have a lot of people who say they use it for their laptops all the time.

Aviva: That's hilarious.

Alex: Well it's kind of like, you know, make sex just a normal part of your life. It doesn't need to stand out. It doesn't need its own separate dungeon. It doesn't need the lights off. You know?

Aviva: You guys have a blog too called Swell and you have a lot of information – everything from experiencing sexual pleasure for women with different sized bodies to talking with your partner to pelvic pain. There's a lot of information that you guys who are listening, if you're interested in this content, can go there and learn and start to get comfortable with this conversation for yourself at home and explore a little bit.

Alex: Yeah, that's right.

A Bit of Inspiration Before We Go

Aviva: Well Alex, I just want to thank you so much for much more than being on the show, but I feel like there's so much happening in a generation of women who are really able to kind of come into the women's health space and come into kind of a feminist wellness space that women like my mother's generation, my generation kind of maybe started to pave the way, but there's something happening now, which is really a groundswell of reclaiming sexuality and entitlement and right to pleasure. And I want to thank you for being part of that and for also having the courage to take on an entire subway system, an entire city to challenge gender bias in advertising.

Alex: Thank you. And yes, I think there are so many women who have paved the way for us and I’m just so I'm so grateful to all those who came before.

Aviva: Before we go, just name a couple of your icons. If you had a few icons that you would say…..

Alex: I’m so bad at this. Right now I'm like super obsessed with Esther Perel because I think what she's talking about is amazing. Bell Hooks or Audre Lorde are fantastic. I'm naming somebody more contemporary people – there are historical people that I think are amazing as well that I just can't think of at the moment. I still think Kinsey is really cool and Masters and Johnson are fascinating. I went to Wash U which is where they did their research. But there's a woman named Adrienne Maree Brown, who's actually kind of comes from the social justice world. She wrote a book called Pleasure Activism that I think is amazing and she also really inspires me.

Aviva: Thank you for sharing. It's always wonderful to hear who inspires the people who inspire us. So thank you for sharing that. And we'll put a bunch of links. We'll put links to the whole MTA story. We'll put links to Dame below. And I hope that this gives you [the listener/reader] some permission to embrace your sexuality. To think about your sexual pleasure, and to also, those of you who are struggling with sexual health issues or pelvic pain, to give you some options that can bring you release and comfort and enjoy and delight. So thank you for listening. Thank you Alex, for joining us. And we'll see you next time on Natural MD Radio.

LINKS MENTIONED

DAME – products and blog. Use promo code NATURALMD15 for a 15% discount on the website. [This is not an affiliate link – I make no commission on any purchase you make there.]

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Ronni

Love your articles and podcasts. Thank you!

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