Here's a thought: Women deserve sex toys for women made by women.
Just a few years ago, buying a vibrator (especially your first!) was a wrought experience. From the seedy locations of "adult stores" to the overwhelming e-comm sites filled with giant, phallic vibrators, there was nothing enjoyable about the shopping experience, and that's in large part because it was dominated by men. But in 2019, just about every category has gotten a direct-to-consumer reinvention, aimed at streamlining every industry in every way — from design to transparency in customer communications to ease of shopping. And sex toys, devices, and other accoutrements are (thankfully!) no exception. A number of forward-thinking female entrepreneurs are reinventing the category for people with vaginas.
They’re looking at the creation of sex toys from a plethora of angles — everything from affordability to pleasure (obviously) to safety. For example, vibrators aren’t regulated by the FDA and as such, can contain ingredients like parabens or phthalates. Every brand mentioned here works to create body-safe products. Design is another important element, and a few of the founders we spoke to mentioned moving away from the traditional (and intimidating!) phallic vibrators of the past to create new shapes that are more compatible with the sexual needs of people who have vaginas. What's more, the newer designs can actually hang out on your nightstand (or around your neck!) while looking discreet and, frankly, even cool. Because if you ask the ladies behind these brands, your sexual pleasure should bring you pride and not shame.
Below, a look at some of the most inspiring women in the sex toy space — and their most beloved creations.
Dame is the brainchild of Alexandra Fine (the company’s CEO, who also holds a masters in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy) and Janet Liberman-Lu (a mechanical engineer). But it’s not just the two of them who create Dame’s unique vibrators and sex accessories — the brand also harnesses its research community, Dame Labs, to survey and test so that no product is released without a substantial amount of real human feedback. “Each design caters to the specific experience of a vulva owner," Fine explains. "Not every product will work for everyone — and it shouldn’t. We create a variety of products to cater to a diverse array of bodies.”
One of their hero sex toys is still their first launch, the Eva II ($135), which has flexible wings that tuck under the labia while the rest of the toy sits on top. “It was designed with coupled play in mind, adding clitoral stimulation to penetrative sex. That idea really resonates with people!” Fine says. (Which will come as no surprise to most women!) “It's also unlike any other toy on the market, making it an exciting addition to your nightstand, whether it's your first vibrator or your 16th.” But if you’re single, allow us to recommend their newer launch, the Pom ($95), which is designed to fit perfectly in your palm (get it?) and is bendy to move with you. The pointed, firmer tip helps if you want to get more direct contact or pressure on the clitoris.
You know that thing we mentioned about the seedy sex shops? That’s the kind of place Unbound co-founder Polly Rodriguez found herself in when, at 21, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and as a result, experienced early-onset menopause.Her decreased libido led to a friend encouraging her to find some lube and a vibrator, which is how she wound up at “a seedy shop next to the highway.” The experience, she says, left her “feeling embarrassed and ashamed to be shopping for these products at all.” Flash forward a few years and Polly met Sarah Jayne Kinney and Unbound was born with the goal of creating the “online destination we wished we had when we bought our first vibrators, lubricants, condoms or accessories.”
The brand looks at the products they create from all angles. For example, recently they’ve been striving to address the “financial struggle millennials are facing right now.” Affordability is, in fact, one of the most important factors — and the reason they make sure their assortment includes the $18 Zip Vibe (a mini vibrator that provides mega pleasure). But, of course, that’s not the only factor. “Historically, there were a lot of phallic-shaped vibrators, most of which cost over $100, and this wasn’t based on real feedback from the people actually using these products,” Rodriguez explains. Unbound’s products are based on updated knowledge. “What we know now is that vibration, suction, and overall stimulation for the clitoris are the most important features when it comes to designing vibrators,” she says. We’re fans of the (newly updated based on consumer feedback) Bender ($69), which sold out six times this year! It indeed bends and can be used internally.
Even Quim’s name is an act of defiance against the typical treatment of female sexuality. The word was actually a 17th-century derogatory slang term for vaginas. Quim makes cannabis-infused products, like its CBD-infused Happy Clam Everyday Oil ($48) that they liken to “an eye cream for your vagina.” (There are THC-infused products, too, though they’re only available in select states.)
The products are a result of co-founder Cyo Nystrom’s journey to create vaginal health products to aid her struggles with a UTI/yeast infection cycle. “We all want to be having amazing sex,” Nystrom says, “but the fact of the matter is that if you’ve had a recurrent yeast infection for months, it can be harder to get yourself in a sensual mindset.” And, she argues, “vaginal health is one of the main precursors to the pursuit of pleasure.” The idea is that you can apply Happy Clam pre- or post-sex, or really anytime your vagina is feeling tender or you're suffering from vaginal dryness.
To Maude founder Eva Goicochea, the sex industry was fractured — it either approached sex as “something clinical or taboo,” and centered around old-school male-led businesses or brands speaking only to young women. “Given that sex is human,” she says, "Maude seeks to create fairly-priced and body-safe products that feel universally understandable, inclusive, and approachable so as to destigmatize sex and make it better for all people.”
The simply-named Vibe ($45) looks like a high-design objet d’art, and you won't hear anyone from the brand calling it toy. That's because they believe the term "devalues the purpose and need" for it. Vibe is especially beginner-friendly as it’s easy to use, safely made with premium silicone, and has three speeds so you have options but won’t feel overwhelmed.
Crave’s hero product, the Vesper ($69), is a vibrator/necklace so chic it’s sold on Violet Grey. For co-founder Ti Chang, this high design is a crucial part of her brand’s story. In fact, to her, it’s simple logic: “There is no reason why a product for women’s pleasure should be any less sophisticated in terms of design, experience, and quality than any other modern consumer product,” she says, matter-of-fact. “If anything, it should be more designed since the experience is so intimate.”
Chang’s background as an industrial designer inspired her to want to do more than design a merely functional vibrator. “I wanted to bring an additional element to the experience that feels emotionally respectful, unapologetic, and womxn-centric,” she explains. “The Vesper vibrator necklace is a powerful product because it allows the user to feel empowered by embracing pleasure as part of their identity, and it encourages open conversation wherever it goes.” And if that doesn’t illustrate the importance of women creating products for women, we don’t know what does.
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