There are a lot of reasons why women and people with vulvas turn down oral sex. If it’s because they aren’t into it or don’t feel like it, cool. But Melanie Cristol, the founder and CEO of Lorals, suspected many people were saying no to oral sex even when they wanted to be saying yes.
“I started realizing in my own daily life I had turned down pleasure because of some of the physical and mental hurdles,” Cristol said, referring to common oral sex complaints like self-consciousness or sensitivity and pain.
Enter Lorals, a cute, sexy-looking, ultra-thin latex underwear designed to be worn during oral sex.
“Lorals are made of ultra-thin latex to allow sensations to pass through, and are non-porous to block fluids,” Cristol said.
Although they aren’t quite in dental dam territory yet, Cristol is working on getting them approved by the FDA as an STI prevention product in 2021.
“We have partnered with a team of regulatory specialists to help us with the FDA clearance application. I envisioned the product as an STI prevention product from the beginning,” Cristol said. “I just don't like seeing products that are just targeted to safety and wellness in the space. I wanted to create something that people are proud to wear.”
Plus, while oral sex on a person with a vulva should often include a dental dam, research suggests this type of barrier is particularly unpopular.
In fact, that’s how Cristol originally landed on the idea of making a better oral sex barrier, one that was as sexy and comfortable as it was functional.
“I initially envisioned Lorals as a dental dam replacement. I needed one on a vacation and I felt stigmatized that that’s what I needed. I wanted to feel sexy and this floppy piece of rubber wasn’t doing it for me,” Cristol said.
At the time, Cristol was a lawyer at an international law firm where she worked in a number of areas, including white collar defense and civil litigation. (She was also part of the legal team that led to gay marriage rights for the Western United states!) But she wanted something with more variety and more contact with clients. At the time, she thought she’d like to get into more LGBT rights work. Instead, she got so excited and convicted about her new product idea that she quit her job to launch Lorals in 2018.
"Getting into this business wasn’t a crazy stretch,” Cristol said. “I think the bigger stretch was me becoming a lawyer for a while!”
While working in sexual wellness has its challenges, Lorals’ approachable, sex-positive branding - combined with the fact that the product targets a very real need - has seen the product covered in publications across the media spectrum. This, Cristol said, is where she’s invested her efforts, along with SEO, community building, email marketing and social media.
“Advertising is one of the most important investments and tools that a brand has available but femtech and sextech are pretty heavily restricted,” Cristol said. “Not only are we making sexual-related products but there is additional bias when your product is focused on sexual pleasure and female pleasure.”
As the message spreads, Lorals has seen interest from big-box and major condom companies and Cristol expects this to grow once Lorals receives FDA clearance.
“This is a product that addresses a huge variety of needs so that everyone can be having oral sex more often,” Cristol said. “Once we can say it’s for safety as well, that is a message that even advertising platforms like Facebook and Instagram are comfortable with.”
Plus, as interest and press around femtech continues to rise, Cristol believes this will help propel brands like hers more even into the mainstream.
“Our industry is mostly barred from advertising, so success in other marketing channels has an outsized impact,” Cristol said. “The barrier to success in our industry is not just getting the word out about the product, but also norms and taboos against the acceptance of women's sexual health and pleasure. The fact that there has been a rise in focus in the press in addressing those stigmas and double standards is impacting the industry as a whole.”
In 2021, Lorals is working on a sheer version of the product (“some folks want to show themselves off,” Cristol said) as well as an additional range of sizes to ensure Lorals can accommodate most bodies.
As for Cristol, she’s happy to keep pushing the company forward - and helping people have more and better oral sex while she’s at it.
“I really love the feeling of seeing the orders come in and knowing with every order we’re sending these things out that will bring pleasure and/or orgasm,” Cristal said. “I feel grateful I get the cool experience of running this company.”