Statista estimates the market size of the sexual wellness market to reach $37.2 billion dollars by 2023. This growing industry, ripe with potential and opportunity, is more than just sex gadgets and apps, as some might assume. Sexual health education, data gap related to female pleasure, and lack of research related to women’s health are some of the main reasons many of the sextech startups exist and build their innovative products around – while sexual exploration is important in and of itself, a huge potential lies in bridging the gap of female sexual function in health and medicine. And rightfully so.
One example is cardiovascular health. Since Viagra and Cialis became available for erectile dysfunction, it’s a well-known fact that if you have blood flow difficulties down there, you may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and death. The same sort of research on female sexual response and cardiovascular health is not well established (due in part to the taboos and limitations in research in this area)—even though heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. That’s just one area—there are many different health conditions, diseases, and pharmaceutical effects where studying female sexual function could be beneficial in tracking changes in health or medication side effects.
It’s important to note that this research doesn’t exist in a bubble. It affects our personal understanding of our own unique bodies and pleasure—which is as essential of a human need as eating, sleeping, and breathing. Featured below are eight female founders and entrepreneurs who are shaping the future of the sextech industry.
Anna Lee, cofounder of Lioness
Lioness is a sexual wellness company that built the first and only biofeedback vibrator that provides data on arousal and orgasm from one’s own body, by measuring involuntary pelvic floor muscle movements, one of the best indicators of arousal and orgasms. This allows users to discover what works best sexually and literally see (visually) how numerous conditions like diet, mood, sleep, and medications affect their sexuality. The company also has the largest dataset of female physiology during arousal and orgasm and the largest real-world (in the bedroom, not in the lab) data on sexual response and orgasm.
“I grew up in an immigrant Korean household where we never talked about sex. I had so many questions about female pleasure and natural functions that were shamed and often rebuffed—even by medical professionals due to both the stigma and lack of research around female sexuality. I realized I had the power to make a difference—engineering a solution to change the stigmatization, taboo, and lack of resources around female sexual health. So I started Lioness seven years ago with my amazing cofounders, Liz and James,” shares Anna Lee, cofounder of Lioness. “During Covid, we launched a medical and academic research platform to give researchers a way to incorporate real-world sexual function data into any research project (sex, health, or social-related) for the first time ever, while also giving users the option to explicitly opt-in to participate in research they care about. We have also launched an arousal hotspot identification using an algorithm based on over 100,000 anonymized user sessions.”
The company has raised a $1.5 million pre-seed round from Creative Ventures and angel investors. The Lioness 2.0 vibrator launched earlier this year and has already sold out twice, in part by Lee’s recent TikTok acclaim documenting her sex science adventures.
Caroline Spiegel, founder of Quinn
At the age of 22, Spiegel founded Quinn, an audio porn site centered around pleasure for all. Like any good company, Quinn came out of personal need—after losing her libido as a symptom of an eating disorder, she was forced to rediscover her sexuality. This experience, along with the stories of sexual dissatisfaction from her friends, led her to realize that everyone was looking for a more all-around pleasurable masturbation experience—but hadn’t felt they could ask for it.
Through her app, she is making it easier than ever to discover a new type of porn created for all genders, sexual orientations, and demographics (it’s free!). Quinn is on a mission to prove that there’s more to porn than the visual aspect—and plan to bring more arousal, pleasure, and, sex into the mainstream. For Spiegel, the future is one in which porn is less stigmatized and more pleasurable.
“Conventional visual porn is not made with women in mind. Two billion women masturbate. But almost all products marketed towards women wink at the idea of “wellness.” Women must make themselves “healthier” or more “well,” but in reality women just like sex. Women enjoy sex, women enjoy orgasming because it feels good. I hope that narrative becomes more widely adopted and promoted,” explains Spiegel.
Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn
When Cindy Gallop launched MakeLoveNotPorn at TED in 2009, and in 2013, turned it into the world’s first user-generated, human-curated social sex video-sharing platform to promote consent, communication, good sexual values, and good sexual behavior, she made it her mission to end rape culture, by doing something very simple (that nobody else is doing).
“I wanted to show everybody how wonderful great, consensual, communicative sex is in the real world, how to role-model good sexual values and good sexual behavior and how all of that can become aspirational versus what you see elsewhere in popular culture and porn,” says Gallop. Given the challenges Cindy has faced finding investors, she is raising the world’s first dedicated sextech fund. “As a founder, I’m female, I’m older (I’m 61), I’m half Chinese. I’m flying the flag for all female founders of color and of all ages to innovate and disrupt in this space.”
One of the (many) things that makes MLNP unique, is that there you can see the actual sex and the relationships, the two things that are indivisible; you see the healthy relationships people have in the real world with themselves and their bodies that break down viewers’ inner prejudices and biases.
Glenise Kinard-Moore, founder of SkiiMoo Tech
SkiiMoo Tech was created with the LGBTQ+ community in mind and at the forefront. During the research and development process, Kinard-Moore, founder of the company and creator of VDOM—a patent-pending app-connected wearable device, realized that this product would be equally needed for individuals with certain physical disabilities and individuals who suffer from erectile dysfunction. Her motto is “There are prosthetic arms and legs, why not genitals?”, and is currently working on multiple versions of the VDOM that will include the use of body sensors and other technologies to provide next-level user options and abilities.
“The realization that there were no efficient options that allowed for unencumbered intimacy, was just mind-blowing to me. The closest options were traditional strap-ons that took a “one-size fits all” approach and really didn’t address the needs of people like me. When building The VDOM, I knew the solution needed to be comfortable, convenient, and discreet,” explains Kinard-Moore.
The technology implemented in the VDOM separates it from traditional strap-ons in the sense of being able to be comfortably worn for long periods of time; and through the mobile app integration, it can go from flaccid to erect at the push of a button. According to its inventor, there is no other product on the market that offers these options all-in-one. Kinard-Moore’s plan is to open the next raise round in Q3/Q4 of 2021 with the goal of $500k to support scaling in 2022 (investors, pay attention!).
Heather Morrison, cofounder and CEO of Handi
One billion people around the world live with some form of disability, making up around 15% of the global population, but their sexual needs are still shrouded in taboo. Because of this, there are no or, at least, not enough products and services on the market that have been designed with their needs in mind.
When Morrison, cofounder and CEO of Handi, surveyed her community two years ago, she found that over 50% of physically disabled people have trouble self-pleasuring, 63% cited some form of hand limitation (grip, dexterity, pain, weakness, low fine motor skills, etc.), and 92% of all people surveyed were interested in a toy design specifically for them – whether they could use the toys on the market or not. “Beyond product, the disabled community is tired of feeling isolated or ashamed when it comes to their sexual needs and sexual health – they are looking for a brand to help them break down the taboos that exist in the space, open up conversation and drive innovation forward.”
Morrison, who is a firm believer in everybody’s right to sexual pleasure, is currently creating the first line of sex toys that don’t rely on the use of your hands. “Our brand’s mission is to help people with these disabilities to break down the taboos that exist in the space, open up conversation and drive innovation forward,” shares Morrison. Successful launch of the Handi brand in 2020, opening pre-registrations, with over 700 registers of interest, for its first product – The Handi Joystick, and releasing The Handi book of Love, Lust & Disability which unearths new conversations on sex, relationships, and disability with $20,000-plus in book sales are some of the key milestones of this small, but mighty, brand. Watch this space.
Lilly Sparks, founder and CEO of afterglow
“At some point in my personal life, despite having a loving partner, I wasn’t even orgasming. I felt alone and embarrassed. I didn’t know any resources out there. The porn I found wasn’t the kind of sex I wanted to have. This is a common experience for so many women—not feeling sexy or in the mood. Prioritizing pleasure is difficult when we’re always trying to please others. I realized I needed to create a space for YES—a place that inspires great sex—so I created afterglow,” starts her story Lilly Sparks, founder and CEO of afterglow. Upon launch in March 2020, the business really took off—with over 500 paid users in less than two weeks!
Afterglow is an ethical porn platform that inspires great sex paired with guided masturbation and wellness exercises to make sex fun as it should be. Its users fall into three categories: women who watch and buy porn and want more connection with performers and information about the process (that’s why all afterglow original films have behind-the-scenes interviews), women who have watched porn or are interested in improving their sex life but have been turned off by mainstream sites like PornHub, and men who are intentional about their sexuality and want something beyond the easily accessible materials available online. “Men want to see more focus on women’s pleasure too,” adds Sparks.
The company did an Indiegogo campaign in 2020 and exceeded its goal, and has also done a small round with strategic angels. Sparks highlights that the problem which is still very real is that many VCs have vice clauses that prevent them from investing not only in content for adults but in anything related to sex. “I wish investors could see a blue ocean of opportunities they are missing out on.”
Lora Haddock DiCarlo, founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo
In a world where sex and female sexuality are usually hidden behind closed doors, Lora DiCarlo has fundamentally disrupted societal perceptions and pioneered innovation in sextech. As a woman-run startup that is determined to change the face of the industry, founded in 2017, its premier device was developed in partnership with Oregon State University’s Robotics and Engineering and, until today, Osé continues to be the company’s most popular product, accounting for 36% of its sales. And yet, this product was the reason for many controversies in the past.
In October 2018, the company won a Robotics Innovation Award from Consumer Electronics Show (CES), then a month later they took it back claiming they had made a mistake and that, due to the nature of the product, Osé should never have made it through judging. “Needless to say, we fought back. We called them out on their long history of sexism. In May 2019, realizing their error, they reached out to us. This time, CES has owned up to their mistake and returned our award. They also changed their policies, and expanded the Health and Wellness exhibitor category to include sextech,” explains Lora Haddock DiCarlo, founder and CEO of the company.
To date, the company has launched 11 new products protected by 13 pending patents. In 2020, actress, model, and activist Cara Delevingne joined Lora DiCarlo as a co-owner and creative advisor, to work together with DiCarlo and her team and continue pushing the boundaries through education and activism, as well as breaking the barriers of long-standing, systemic stigmatization in this space. “So far, we have raised $7 million, including an oversubscribed fundraising campaign on Republic (2856% of minimum goal raised) to allow anyone to invest in our boundary-pushing sextech startup.”
Patricia López, founder and CEO of MYHIXEL
It’s no secret that the tech industry is a male-dominated space, but when it comes to male sexual health and male sextech innovation, it’s safe to say that Patricia López, founder and CEO of MYHIXEL, is the only female founder I’ve encountered so far. For López, the idea about creating the company came after realizing that there were hardly any solutions to address male sexual concerns, in comparison to all the products that focused on women. “It was almost everyone thought that women have it hard time having sex, while men don’t. This made me realize that there was a huge need on the market to provide natural solutions for male sexual concerns, without them having to resort to pills. So, it was time to give men’s wellness the attention it deserved by building a new brand that could bring together health, tech, and education.”
31% of men from 18 to 59 years old suffer from PE at some point in their lives, and a more recent study has shown that premature ejaculation (PE) is likely to be the most common sexual dysfunction in men, with a worldwide prevalence of approximately 30%. Since its inception in 2017, MYHIXEL has become a pioneering brand focused on men’s sexual health with a strong scientific and technological foundation, developing solutions for ejaculatory control. “Tech innovation is our main resource, together with scientific research. Our method consists of a cognitive behavioral therapy program in the form of our gamified app, which helps the user complete specific activities through our pleasure device.”
One of our most important milestones for López has been to become certified as a health-based manufacturing company by the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS), and also FDA-registered as a developer of health products. With thousands of clients using its app, products being sold in 42 countries, and its research being published in prestigious scientific magazines like ‘The Journal of Sexual Medicine’, it’s safe to say that the future of this pioneering company is bright.