For as long as women and men have been having sex, women have been resorting to other means to pleasure themselves when hapless guys don’t get the job done. According to a recent study, 95 percent of heterosexual men say that they “usually” or “always” orgasm during sexually intimate moments, compared to just 65 percent of heterosexual women. And while this gap may have something to do with male egos—as everything always does—if you’ve had sex with a man, you know these numbers ain’t lying.
But Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman of the female-centric vibrator company, Dame Products believe it doesn’t have to be this way. In 2014, they raised $575,000 in 45 days on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to build Eva, a vibrator for couples, which hit the market later that year. Since then, Dame has sold 65,000 Evas in total.
Eva is the world’s first hand-free vibrator designed to deliver clitoral stimulation during penetrative sex. It snuggles nicely into a woman’s labia, allowing for sex to go from “his time” and “her time” to “our time,” as Fine and Lieberman advertise it. And this year, they also raised almost $400,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter for Dame’s second product, Fin, which can be used by couples as well as for “flying solo,” and is the first sex toy to ever be posted on Kickstarter.
“We like to say that we’re closing the pleasure gap,” said Fine recently from the Dame Products headquarters in Greenpoint. Clearly, there was a demand in the market, not only for products that satisfy women, but also ones that are safe, user-tested, and not male gaze-y, over-sexualized, or over-medicalized. “Which you would think is normal, or like, done,” added Fine with an eye-roll, “But not in this industry.”
Lieberman, 31, who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering, realized the gap in technology herself after buying a now ex-boyfriend a vibrator for his birthday. “We were both engineers who designed products for a living, and neither of us could figure out how to use this vibrator,” she recalled. “I even splurged for a $160 one, and I still couldn’t get it to work. Then I had the thought: I can do this better. And after that, I realized these companies were profiting off a shame that I didn’t even know I was feeling.”
Meanwhile, Fine, 29, who got her masters in clinical psychology from Columbia University and minored in gender and design studies as an undergraduate, was combining her seemingly-myriad interests in her own bedroom, building a makeshift vibrator using a half-dollar coin and cellophane. Desperate times, as they say.
Fine and Lieberman joined forces by happy accident. They kept getting mistaken for one another, or as business partners, at the various meet-ups and mixers they went to in order to get their respective vibrator ideas off the ground, but never actually crossed paths.
“There just aren’t that many women in Brooklyn trying to start sex toy companies at any given moment,” said Lieberman with a laugh. So, she finally decided to track her sex toy doppelgänger down on the networking app, Meetup.
Together, they make up a dream sex toy team. Fine can lay down gender politics with a slight Long Island accent, while Lieberman can tell you all the technical specs of clitoral stimulation with perfect posture and ladylike pearls.
“We got business married on the first date,” said Fine.
What sets Dame apart, in addition to its design and progressive mission, is its marketing. The brand’s website occupies a space somewhere in-between Glossier and Casper with pastel colored-products, a lighthearted yet informative language, a clean website, and an Yves Klein blue logo to boot.
“For us, one thing that’s really important when making sex toys is making sure that they’re approachable,” said Lieberman. “So that any anxiety that one might feel about the topic is diminished.”
No matter how liberal you think you are, or how progressive your locale may be, most New Yorkers would rather tweet out their social security number than walk into Babeland in Soho and run into their boss, their brother, or an ex-boyfriend—all at the same time. And yet, even if Dame’s “approachable” marketing can somehow quell this dread that society has imposed upon us regarding sex toys, they still face another big problem: Dame Products can’t advertise in most places.
According to the privacy policies of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where companies like Dame could reach a millennial audience the swiftest, content of a sexual nature is considered “indecent,” meaning the promotion of sex toys is prohibited. (The irony here being that I first discovered Dame via an Instagram post by none other than Hannah Bronfman.)
When Fine and Lieberman were applying for a small business loan, they were also laughed at by bankers and real estate agents. “We tried to argue that we make products of a ‘decent’ sexual nature,” said Fine. “But we were told that there’s no such thing as that.”
It is precisely because sex is so taboo in our culture, especially with respect to a woman’s vagina, that it’s taken until the year 2017 for a well-designed female vibrator to enter the mainstream marketplace. And in prohibiting companies like Dame to thrive, more shady, unregulated products have proliferated and profited in its place.
“Most adult people are having sex in some way, shape, or form,” said Lieberman. “But because we don’t talk about it, we end up missing these opportunities to make life a little bit better.”
Fine echoed this with the Dame mission statement: “We’re trying to make the world a better place, one vagina at a time,” she said. “I’m so serious about that.”
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