Technology is all about making our lives easier… But what about making them more enjoyable, too? Enter SexTech, the application of innovation to physical pleasure. SexTech is far from a new concept. In fact, during the first wave of Virtual Reality hype, VR was quickly snapped up by the porn industry to create erotic experiences. Now, sexual pleasure is reaching new heights in the sex toy industry, fuelled by technological advancement and evolving social attitudes. In fact, by 2020, the market is predicted to be worth more than $50 billion.
Stephanie Alys is the Co Founder of Mysteryvibe, an innovative SexTech company with a vision to create the IoT of the bedroom.
“MysteryVibe came from a belief that pleasure is so intimately personal, human and fundamental to our happiness, yet when it comes to technological innovation and advancement, it often gets overlooked. Everyone has different bodies, unique desires and tastes, and we all experience pleasure in different ways,” she says. In a rapidly expanding market, MysteryVibe is setting itself apart from competitors by adopting a cross industry approach. “In the world of IoT, home automation and personalisation, pleasure is mostly unexplored. For SexTech to become mainstream, we see this as a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one.”
In March 2016, two years after the company was set up, MysteryVibe released Crescendo. Their flagship product is a bendable, personal vibrator controlled by the user via an app. For Stephanie, it was surprising that a flexible product like Crescendo hadn’t already been developed. But, although sex has been a driver of technology for decades, it still remains a taboo subject. Nonetheless, the tide is changing. . . and as technology progresses, so does the development of SexTech.
“The advent of ecommerce obviously has had a huge impact on purchasing sexual products. You no longer need to travel to a specific shop or area in your city to find new and exciting purchases – and online deliveries are very discreet. Physical retail has shifted from the dark and dingy back-street shop to incredibly beautiful boutiques and shopping experiences. A really interesting growth area is around sex cams, where people – mostly women – can work from studios or from home and perform for clients around the globe.”
Whilst the SexTech market is full of potential, Stephanie says that the industry is in need of far more interest and investment.
“What would really kickstart growth is more funding. Which is bizarre, right, as the old adage says, ‘sex sells’! I’m well aware that finding investment is always a tricky thing for pretty much every startup, but you can double, triple, quadruple that difficulty level when you’re operating an adult business. Young SexTech startups really struggle to find investment. With venture capital pretty much unavailable to them, they have to self fund, crowdfund, or work hard to find angel investment. This being said, I’m seeing more things like SexTech hackathons happening, or launches of organisations like Dorcel Lab, the first incubator for SexTech.”
Hackathons and the growth of SexTech incubators indicate that innovators are far more willing to talk about pleasure and sex than in the past, but these conversations can still easily make people uncomfortable. Stephanie identifies that this is especially true when it comes to female pleasure.
“Female pleasure has been repressed across cultures since the beginning of time. Female pleasure has been viewed as a fallacy, a mistake, impurity and eventually something to be commoditised and consumed for male pleasure. When something is stigmatised by society, it becomes very challenging to rally an adequate amount of support for innovation. Over the past decades we have seen shifts in beliefs, thanks to social movements like ‘Free Love’ in the 1960s to Feminism and Gay Rights. But change is slow. And while innovation around pleasure has emerged within the last decades, some of the greatest innovations have been geared towards men. Why? Maybe because the domains of innovation continue to be male dominated.”
As an influential female at the head of an innovative company, Stephanie is working to disrupt the lack of diversity in tech. But was it difficult to find a foothold in her industry?
“I’m lucky that within SexTech the scene is a bit more balanced. We have an amazing tight-knit group of badass female founders across the world who are inspiring change across dating, intimacy, love and sexuality. We’re designing the products and experiences that we want ourselves.”
Within society, Stephanie recognises that more diverse teams display higher performance levels. Inspiring more women to start careers in tech could be a hugely important driver of innovation, but what could be done to encourage this?
“I think there are so many things we can do – challenge structural norms, provide equality of opportunity, and fund more female led and female founded startups. There are some amazing organisations out there like Blooming Founders and GeekGirl. . . go support them!”
For young companies, SexTech can be a daunting market. But whilst Stephanie admits that being an entrepreneur is an incredibly hard job, she has some key advice for startups.
“You need to be completely invested in your product. You need a viable business plan, money, a good team, market fit. . . the list is endless. Find people who are incredibly passionate about your sector. For us, skills can be learned, but a hunger to break taboos and push sex positivity is harder to teach. Get your message out there but think about your audience, your market and what you want to achieve before drafting any content. Shape your messaging to reflect these things, and ask yourself, is this interesting? Does this add value? Will this inspire conversation? Finally, always plan for fundraising to take more time than you expect.”
It’s easy to snicker at SexTech companies, but in many instances technology and pleasure go hand in hand. The new collaborative approach of companies like MysteryVibe could be exactly what the sector needs to break out of the adult sphere and into mainstream adoption. Either way, the best is yet to come.
Want to learn more about SexTech? Stephanie will be speaking at Disruption Summit Europe in September – book your tickets here.