If you’re new to SexTech, the term refers to technology and technology-driven products that exist to enhance our sexual experiences; think remote-controlled vibrators and apps that can track your sexual pleasure.
And despite the fact that the SexTech industry is still subject to censorship and stigmas, its revenue-generating power is growing. According to SexTech in NYC, “by 2020 SexTech is predicted to be a multi-billion dollar industry, and some will go as far to say a trillion dollar industry.” However, while SexTech has been celebrated for making some room for women and femme entrepreneurs, the industry still has a diversity problem.
While women entrepreneurs, like Alex Fine and Janet Lieberman, co-founders of Dame Products, and Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound Babes, have been able to successfully secure funding and gain a considerable amount of press, the faces of the women in the SexTech movement are mostly white.
Inclusivity and equity remain a struggle for many women/femmes of color looking to make their mark as entrepreneurs, educators, writers and therapists in the sexual health community. While hard data on racial diversity in the SexTech industry remains to be seen, the experiences of the women/femmes of color who are doing important work around sexual health are still valid.
I spoke with three women of color from the SexTech industry (via email) about their personal experiences and what a more inclusive SexTech industry could look like in the future. Here’s what they said:
The Impact of Generational Trauma
Sex educator and blogger Tyomi Morgan-Najieb, thinks that a general disregard for Blackness in the sexual health space is the reason why Black sexuality advocates and educators have a harder time achieving mainstream success.
“What I’ve noticed about the sex industry in general, is that Black people have not been included or even regarded in this space,” Morgan-Najieb said.
However, the sex industry may not be entirely to blame. "Unhealed generational trauma has led Black people as a whole to shrink away from the arena of sexuality as a viable way to make a living,” she said.
There is plenty of shame surrounding women and sex, period, but that shame is intensified when you take a look at the historical trauma and sexual stigmas that Black women and other women of color face in a world that still feels entitled to our bodies.
As a result, “white educators and sexuality advocates have an easier time securing the support and resources to bring their ideas in tech to life,” said Morgan-Najieb.
Which is why with over seven years of experience, she emphasizes the importance of Black people creating their own spaces within the industry. She’s currently doing her part by building a sex education app that will provide comprehensive sex education in the digital space.
Lack of Support and Role Models
Andrea Barrica had a similar mission when she founded O.school, a shame-free, online sex-ed platform that offers a safe sexual health space for women around the world. Barrica, who identifies as a queer, Filipinx woman, once worked as a venture partner in Silicon Valley, and noted that the SexTech industry is one of the last tech frontiers to be embraced, but that there is room for improvement,
“Femtech has led the way, and we see menstruation and fertility care startups - over $1 billion was invested in these sectors in 2016 - but sexual wellness has gotten much less attention due to stigma and a lack of awareness about the market,” Barrica said.
She also cited a pressure to be perfect and to fix unaddressed problems, as well as a lack of access to mentors and role models as some of the hurdles that women of color in SexTech face (much like every other industry).
All of these pressures result in very few aspiring women of color entrepreneurs receiving the support that they need. “I’ve had to build support systems and networks from scratch to get access to circles that, frankly, did not have anyone like me - woman, queer, POC, first-generation from a low-income background," said Barrica.
Since its launch in 2017, O.school has made it its mission to prioritize bringing on a team of educators who are already doing work in marginalized communities. Barrica admits that even though she is a woman of color making strides to diversify the industry, it’s still her goal to “hire, support, and invest in as many WOC and POC" as she can.
As for what a more inclusive SexTech industry looks like to her, she says "SexTech can’t just be something for a white, female, affluent, progressive community in NY or LA," she said. “We need more early-stage capital and crowdfunding support for women and POC SexTech entrepreneurs, and more advanced SexTech and FemTech entrepreneurs who are able to invest back into the ecosystem with mentoring and capital.”
Shame and Stigma Around Sexual Health
One solution to SexTech opening its doors and opportunities to more women/femmes of color is mentorship, according to writer and producer Arielle Egozi, whose work focuses on intersectional feminism and sex-positivity.
“The more voices we have, the more progress can be made,” she said.
Egozi is a member of Women of Sex Tech, a group founded by Polly Rodriguez and Lidia Bonilla. It's a community for women working in SexTech and sexual health to share opportunities and uplift one another. It’s a necessary community.
“If you’re femme-identifying and talk about sex, femme pleasure, or femme bodies, the internet will hate you, investors won’t listen to you, your family will probably be ashamed of you, and forget about having a normal dating life if you’re into cis men,” Egozi said.
As for the faces of the movement being white, Egozi says “they know this, and they’re aware of this, Unbound and Dame’s small teams make sure to have representation, and events and panels are always diverse.”
Even so, mainstream sexual wellness brands can still do more to make sure that everyone feels represented and that the talents of women/femmes of color are able to shine.
Although Egozi is both Latinx and Jewish, she acknowledges her own privilege within the sexual health space, “I have incredible social capital, I’ve had access to the top schools and I can be pretty white-passing, so I can play to my audience when I need to,” she said.
But she has also been stigmatized because she is a woman of color in this space.
“My family has had a really difficult time with my work. They’ve struggled with understanding the importance of destigmatizing these conversations, and see it as shameful and embarrassing that I’m so open,” she said.
There isn’t some all-encompassing answer to giving women/femmes of color the same level of access within SexTech, and the sexual health community at-large. But as brands strive to do better, the hope is that initiatives to be more inclusive serve as more than a trend.
“If you’re not intersectional in your approach to anything, you’re perpetuating harm - let alone when it comes to the health and well-being of bodies, “ Egozi said.
As it says in her Instagram bio, “Intersectional or gtfo [get the fuck out].”