From Stay-at-Home Mom to Sex Toy Mogul: An Interview with Suki Dunham of OhMiBod
And then there’s Suki Dunham, who co-founded a sex toy company with her husband, Brian. When the former Apple employee turned stay-at-home mom received an iPod and her first vibrator from her husband (at 35!) to keep her company while he was traveling for work, she was inspired. OK, a vibrator kind of inspires a little something in everyone, but the Dunhams didn’t just find inspiration in their sex lives - they were inspired to build a better vibrator. One that could be hooked up to an iPod to vibrate in rhythm with the music. One that was as sleek and smooth and modern as any electronic device. One that could inspire other couples to unplug from their smartphones and connect with each other. Fast forward eight years and the couple now owns and operates OhMiBod, a sex toy company that focuses on creating simple, well-designed toys for women and couples everywhere.
We talked to Suki about sex toys, the business and how she keeps the home fires burning.
Kinkly: Tell us a bit about OhMiBod and what prompted you to start the company.
Suki: Brian and I both came from the tech world, from high-tech Silicon Valley businesses, and we were living in the Bay area. Once we started to have our babies, we decided that we wanted to have some more time to be with them, and for me to be a stay-at-home mom. So I left my job at Apple to do that. Brian was still in his corporate job and was traveling to China a lot. One Christmas he bought me an iPod mini and a vibrator. What we found was that when he was away, I would take care of the kids all day, and ... how do you get sexy from there? Music was my mode of transportation. I’d listen to music and use the vibe he got me. So we started talking about that idea. Was there a device that would vibrate to the music you’re listening to? We did a little research, and it didn’t exist, so we thought, "let’s give it a go."
It wasn’t this planned thing, it just came up. I didn’t get my first vibrator until I was 35, so I wasn’t this experienced user. It’s been a really fun and interesting ride.
Kinkly: Where do you get your product ideas?
Suki: Most of our ideas really come out of our lives and what we experience. With blueMotion, what prompted that or was part of that was the way people are using their phones and are increasingly locked to their mobile devices. We saw that these mobile devices create intimacy gaps. People are getting into bed and cuddling up with these devices instead of with their partners. So why not use the device to keep the intimacy going between two people? It was designed to help people bridge the gap that technology has created.
Kinkly: There are lots of sex toy manufacturers. What are you trying to bring to the table in this market?
Suki: When we first started, there was this approachability aspect that was missing in the sex toy market. Our first toy was this white, nondescript thing. There was nothing phallic about it. We wanted a product that people would feel as comfortable picking up as any iPod component, or something like that.
It’s about using the technologies that are in our everyday lives and part of our digital lifestyle and making them part of our sex lives. We don’t think there’s any replacement for getting a hug or smile or wink from a partner. What we want to do is enable people to use devices to enhance or keep that connection.
Kinkly: You’ve become known for vibrators that can be controlled wirelessly or remotely. Why do you feel like that’s such an important core product offering?
Suki: I think it just adds a level of excitement to a partnership. Obviously, you can lay in bed and play with your partner and play with toys, but this idea of a remote connection is just fun and playful. Our lives are very fast-paced and scheduled, and I think this brings a bit of light heartedness and playfulness back into your day. And to have this little secret happening between the two of you is very titillating.
Kinkly: We hear from a lot of women who say they’re interested in sex toys, but have never thought to buy one, or are too embarrassed to do so. What would you tell them they’re missing?
Suki: Toys can spice up a relationship very quickly or add a new dimension. My husband and I have been together for 26 years. When we brought vibrators into our world, it was like getting into a whole new thing.
Kinkly: As a parent and businesswoman, what advice do you have for creating and maintaining a healthy, happy sex life?
Suki: I would say communication is huge. Even for us in the industry we’re in, we have to make sure that we carve out time for it. It’s a busy life, we have two kids, we have a business that we’re running, so you just have to make sure that you nurture it or pay attention to it. Being open to trying to new things can also help keep things vibrant.
Kinkly: Has running your own sex toy company turned out the way you expected it would when you started?
I was surprised a little bit by the people that I met. There are all different types of people that play a role in this industry. I was so excited and surprised by how open and supportive the network is here. I also wasn’t sure about how it would play out in terms of friends and family members. It took us a while to explain to our family what we were doing because people have certain perceptions about what this world is like, which is part of why we’re trying to change people’s perceptions of this industry. We also hope that we can open people’s eyes to toy use.
Another thing that has surprised me is how differently the business world looks at this industry. There are lots of hurdles in this industry. Banks don’t want to lend to toy companies. The small business administration won’t back loans for companies that don’t fall into this category. It’s very interesting from a business perspective. We have accountants who have said they won’t work for us. That’s been a little surprising. There’s a business price that you pay to play in this industry.
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