Dame Sex Toys: For Women, By Women
The women-led sex toy brand aims to fill the “pleasure gap."
Sex toys are slowly but surely joining the ranks of mainstream tech, thanks in part to the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise and the influx of discreet, sex-positive e-commerce retailers like MyPleasure.com. Still, the burgeoning industry is not without its flaws—which is why psychologist Alex Fine and engineer Janet Lieberman launched Dame Products. “I saw couples’ toys on the market, but they didn’t smoothly integrate into the sexual experiences me and my friends were having,” says Fine. She and Lieberman’s first product, the Eva, partnered clitoral stimulation with hands-free design to let couples concentrate on each other, not holding a device in place. They have since re-engineered the original Eva and unveiled an additional product, the Fin. We talked to Fine about gender-based disparities in sexual pleasure, starting “necessary conversations,” and flipping a male-dominated industry on its head.
Please tell us a bit about your background. How did you become interested in gender and sexuality issues?
I've always been interested in sexuality. As far back as I can remember, it seemed like a really natural thing to be curious about. In grade school, I had an aunt who took me to a drag show. That really sparked my interest in sexuality, gender, and all of the creative passion that comes with it.
[Almost] all people come from sex, and yet it’s something we, as a society, still struggle to talk about. I wanted to improve our culture’s psyche on how we talk about sexuality. I went on to earn my Masters in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University. Later, I realized that I could make more of a difference starting a company—a vibrator company.
How and when were you first introduced to sex toys? What did you think of the products available?
I do not recall discovering vibrators. It must have been from TV or the internet. I do remember having to buy a toy as a gag for the senior scavenger hunt, it was in the back of the car and my little brother found it and asked my whole family what it was. Classic!
I knew that the state of the sex toy market was… dire, to say the least. At one point in college, I’d bought a sex toy that actually started on fire in front of me. Yes, I was desperately trying to get it to turn on but it shouldn’t have shorted. The materials were shoddy, the design was lacking, and there was overall a ton of room for growth.
About 70% of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. I saw couples’ toys on the market, but they didn’t smoothly integrate into the sexual experiences me and my friends were having. I wanted to create a functional, wearable vibrator that could stimulate the clitoris during partnered sex. When I first had the idea to start a vibrator company, I began developing my own vibrators at home and asking friends to give me their feedback.
What gave you the idea to launch Dame Products?
After grad school, I worked in consumer goods and really fell in love with the idea of starting my own business. I wanted to combine that with my passion to change our culture’s conversation surrounding sexuality. I realized I could make more of an impact through a company platform.
Our goal at Dame Products is to start necessary conversations, to listen to people rather than to assume, and to create products that are mechanically engineered to enhance intimacy (in an age where a lot of technology detracts from it).
How did you join forces with Janet Lieberman?
Eventually, after I put the word out that I was looking to start a sex toy company, I met my co-founder, Janet Lieberman at an event. People had continually thought we were the same person, because she too was working on starting a sex toy company. We met up a few weeks later, and immediately knew we were going to work together. It’s a great partnership.
Describe you and Janet's working relationship.
Janet and I are the co-founders of the company. I’m the CEO and Janet is our CTO. This means that I handle business strategy, marketing, growth, etc., while Janet spearheads the engineering of our products (and manages the engineering department). We both play a big role in product development, but we contribute different elements to that process.
When Janet and I met, we like to say that we got “business married on the first date.” At the time, I had a good idea, a lot of drive, and some business acumen—but I didn’t have the background or experience needed to engineer a product. Janet brought a skillset to the table that I didn’t have.
In your Indiegogo campaign for the original Eva, you pledge to address what you call "the pleasure gap." Can you elaborate on what the pleasure gap is, and how your products aim to solve it?
The pleasure gap refers to the gender disparity in sexual satisfaction, particularly within heterosexual couples. Women are four times more likely to describe recent sex as “not at all pleasurable.” In fact, studies have shown that men orgasm during sex more than twice as often as their female partners. (Although, it’s worth noting that pleasure does not necessarily have to end in orgasm!)
Dame aims to create products to help people with vulvas experience more pleasure, while also enjoying the “natural” intimacies of sex—either solo or partnered. We believe in creating functional products, rather than promoting flashy gimmicks, to give our customers something that they can seamlessly integrate into their sex lives.
Can you describe your R&D process?
Customer input is integral to our product philosophy. We actually just launched a new program to formalize this process, called Dame Labs. Our audience can sign up to take surveys about what products they want to see next, their preference, etc., all of which informs our product development strategy. We also pull from this list to find beta testers, who get the chance to try out prototypes and provide feedback.
User feedback via Dame Labs is one of our main methods to ensure we’re creating a product that our customers want. We’ll get on the phone with respondents as follow-up when we need to, host in-person focus groups, and in general leave the lines of communication open for people to tell us what they think! We incorporate input from hundreds of people into each product, and make design tweaks accordingly.
A huge part of the reason we’re able to do this is our in-house lab. We have 3D printers that make our prototypes. Once we have the final design, we then outsource the manufacturing.
How do you conceive of your target demographic?
We make toys for sex, and so many people have sex! We actually have quite a bit of diversity in our customer base, because we source from a diverse group of people to provide feedback during testing. For example, for Eva II, our testers ranged in age from 18-68, more than 50% identified as non-white, and also included peri- and post-menopausal women, and women who’d given birth.
Both the Eva II and the Fin, your current product lineup, are designed for solo and partnered use. Do you prioritize one usage potential over the other, in terms of your marketing materials and product guides?
We want to make products that our customers can easily incorporate into their sex life to have a more pleasurable experience, whatever that means to them. Eva II especially was intended to address an issue in the bedroom that so many heterosexual couples were having, so it’s been perceived primarily as a couples’ toy. We hear customers using both Eva II and Fin for both solo and coupled sex, and we’re excited to keep developing products that help people to find more pleasure in all sorts of sexual play.
How has the sex toy industry changed since you first launched?
The sex toy industry has been historically dominated by men. For years, the people making the products weren’t the ones who would actually be using them. When we first started, we were one of few women-led companies who were making sex toys. Now, we’re being joined by so many women looking to disrupt sex tech. Not only is this raising the standard for the toys and products we see on the market, but also shifting the conversation about what it means to be a woman having sex. Women like sex too, and they want it to feel good! We have a lot of work to do, but I think we’re making progress.
What's next for Dame Products?
We’ll be launching a new product this fall, stay tuned! Now that we have officially formalized our Dame Labs program, we’re excited to really dive into some incredible testing that will be sure to expand our product offerings in the coming years.
Frances Thomas is a writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from NYU.