Women carve niche in emerging sextech sector

Stephanie Alys, 28, Chief Pleasure Officer at British luxury sex-toys brand 'Mystery Vibe' poses with 'Crescendo' bendable vibrator (R) and 'Tenuto' penis vibrator at the 2018 edition of the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon on November 6, 2018.
Stephanie Alys, 28, Chief Pleasure Officer at British luxury sex-toys brand 'Mystery Vibe' poses with 'Crescendo' bendable vibrator (R) and 'Tenuto' penis vibrator at the 2018 edition of the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon on November 6, 2018.
Image: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

 Start-ups founded by women are building a niche for themselves in the male dominated “sextech” industry with connected vibrators and other high-tech sex toys they design themselves.

Sex toys made by men are based on their idea of what a woman wants, which is often not what women are actually looking for, said Stephanie Alys, 28, the co-founder of London-based MysteryVibe which makes a vibrator for women called the Crescendo.

“So there are a lot of women who are starting companies and designing products that they themselves would like to see,” she told AFP at the four-day Web Summit, Europe’s largest tech gathering, which wrapped up in Lisbon on Thursday. Unlike traditional vibrators, the Crescendo connects to an app that lets you create your own vibration patterns and has been downloaded over 500,000 times. MysterVibe created a buzz at the Web Summit, dubbed “the Davos for Geeks“, with the presentation of its first device for men.

Dubbed the Tenuto, it is embedded with six vibrating motors, including one designed to pleasure the wearer’s partner. Figures for how many women run sextech startups are hard to come by but Alys, a former political consultant, said she runs a “sex tech collective“, an e-mail list for women involved in the sector in London, which has about 50 members. New York-based Dame, founded by two women, has put out two vibrators meant for clitoral stimulation.

The tiny Fin sits between two fingers while the Eva is worn hands-free. Women are “so excited” to know the devices are made by other women, Dame co-founder Alexandra Fine told AFP after an all woman panel discussion on sextech at the summit. “It’s like the fact that women are making the toys in and of itself makes them more comfortable with the idea of using it,” she said. The value of the global sex toy market is expected to hit $29 billion (25 billion euros) by 2020, according to online market research portal Statista. Capturing a slice of this pie is difficult since sex startups are banned from advertising on digital platforms such as Google and Facebook, said Fine, who holds a masters degree in clinical psychology.

Women owned firms don’t just design sex toys differently, they also take a different approach to marketing them than men, she added. “Putting sexy women on the boxes doesn’t make me feel sexy, it makes me feel inadequate,” she said.

Instead Dame pitches its products as “health and wellness” goods “that could fit on the shelf right next to your favourite candle or toothbrush,” Fine said. Polly Rodriguez, the founder of New York-based “Women of Sex Tech” which represents about 70 women who produce sex toys, said “women in particular are often scared of the reputational risk” of getting involved in an industry that has to do with sex.

But she said she has been “continuously surprised” by the positive reaction after telling people she is the co-founder and president of Unbound Babes, which makes about 75 sex products and sells them online.

“I am just really excited to build products that look beautiful, are affordable and hopefully smash the patriarchy at some level,” she told a panel at the summit.

X