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Five years after its launch, Dame is one of the fastest growing companies in the sexual wellness … [+] space
Courtesy of Dame
In the years since Dame Products’ now-famous 2016 Kickstarter campaign (the first ever for a sex toy), the sexual wellness brand has quite literally been abuzz with excitement. As one of the fastest growing companies in the space, Dame now offers a total of eight vibrators to choose from, in addition to various accessories and sets, and has provided “10 million orgasms and counting.” And while creating innovative and reliable tools for the bedroom may be what it’s best known for, the brand has gone far beyond its initial business model to build a far-reaching, diverse community, bring much-needed sex education to customers around the world, and ultimately end the pleasure gap.
I sat down with Dame cofounder and CEO, Alexandra Fine, to discuss the company’s success and continued growth, even in the face of a global pandemic, the destigmatization of sex and sexual wellness, and how she and her colleagues are working to close the pleasure gap.
Gabby Shacknai: What did you make of Dame’s immediate success and the general demand for products like yours?
Alexandra Fine: Right after our Indiegogo campaign really took off, we doubled our raise overnight—and the momentum there was rewarding and really, really validating. It was so clear that there was an overwhelming need for products designed to prioritize vulvas. I would say that the second moment was when Kickstarter allowed us to be the first sex toy on their platform. That was a really powerful moment for us because we weren’t just making waves in the sex-tech industry; we were also changing the way that the world looked at sex toys and breaking down age-old barriers. These milestones encouraged us to keep pushing. The initial response was hugely supportive, and I was mostly excited about the dialogue that I was beginning to see happen.
Shacknai: How has Dame gone beyond vibrators to address sexual wellness more broadly?
Fine: Aside from our product lineup, in recent years, we’ve served as a leader in exploring wellbeing from every direction, including our activist efforts, community events, and educational content. Last year, we launched our new workshop series to help our community enhance intimacy with a suite of courses, exercises, and materials developed by experts, such as sex therapists, yoga teachers, and massage specialists. The workshops center around different themes in the world of sexual health and wellness, with subjects like relationship help, communication, breathwork, and re-igniting the spark—because sex is about so much more than what we do in the bedroom.
In the year ahead, we’re hoping to carve out more space for education and research (in a field that needs them sorely) and allow for the creation of a robust clinical advisory board composed of therapists, herbalists, doctors, and scientists. Dame has taken stock of the industry—as it continues to get noisier—and we’re aiming to ensure that as one of its modern pioneers, we continue to lead with thoughtful, human-centric research and accessible education.
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Shacknai: How would you explain the pleasure gap and the history behind it?
Fine: The pleasure gap is the disparity in pleasure heterosexual cis women experience in comparison to their cis male partners. Thankfully, the fact that a majority of people with vulvas need clitoral stimulation for pleasurable sex is now more widely understood than it was a decade ago, meaning that our message is getting through. This awareness is opening up doors for more people with vulvas to explore sex with clitoral touch as a focal point—with or without penetration. We started Dame Products with a mission to close the pleasure gap, and continually work to create tools and resources to help people honor their sexual pleasure and wellness.
Shacknai: Why was it so important to you to close the pleasure gap for women?
Fine: Other than the obvious reason that vulva-owners deserve to experience pleasure on the same level as people with penises, 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 party where drag queens and folks all along the gender spectrum were present. I remember going back to class the next day and discussing it with my friends and getting in trouble by my teacher; it was definitely my first real experience with nonsensical shame. Growing up, I experienced slut-shaming and a double standard of exploring my sexuality. That kind of led me to pursue sexuality as a career.
There’s still this strange ambivalence when it comes to sexuality. (Almost) all people come from sex, and it can be a source of such divine pleasure and connection—yet it’s something our society struggles to discuss. My passion for improving our culture’s relationship to and experience of sex led me to earn my Masters in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University.
I continue this work with a holistic approach at Dame. Our mission at Dame is to make the world a happier place, one vulva at a time. We work to close the pleasure gap and to encourage open conversations around sexuality. Sex can feel really good, and I want to help people access that pleasure.
Dame cofounder and CEO, Alexandra Fine, built the brand after witnessing and experiencing … [+] double-standards and nonsensical shaming around sexuality.
Courtesy of Dame
Shacknai: How would you say the women’s pleasure market and the products within it most greatly differ from men’s?
Fine: Most male-oriented brands, such as Viagra, have traditionally been accepted as advocating for a reproductive medical issue (as if all the people taking viagra are trying to make babies), but sexual pleasure isn’t overtly a part of that.
We’re also actively suing the MTA due to discriminatory advertising restrictions. This lawsuit is important because it is necessary for us to change the societal misconception that sexual pleasure for femme-identifying humans is “inappropriate” while endorsing the sexual pleasure of men as “essential” for their health and wellbeing. Advertisements are hugely influential on culture and have the potential to bring sexual wellness tools out of the shadows and into everyone’s lives.
The assault on sexuality has been present for a long time, especially for vulva-owners. There’s sexual liberation and new ways we’re speaking about sex, but it’s still a work in progress. Our market is about chipping away the puritanical ways we think about sex. We’ve had an easier job doing that for men, and women are now beginning to catch up in a big way.
Shacknai: Why do you think further innovation in this space is so necessary, even as the women’s pleasure market becomes more saturated and less stigmatized?
Fine: Short answer: there’s no such thing as too many happy vulvas. To elaborate, when we first started, we were one of few companies making sex toys led by people with vulvas, who understood firsthand the anatomy we were designing for. Now, we’re being joined by so many women and nonbinary folks looking to disrupt sex tech. Not only is this raising the standard for the toys and products we see on the market, but it’s also shifting the conversation to a less cis-male-centric view on sex. We’re always looking to do whatever we can to position the industry and ourselves more clearly in the wellness space by courting more mainstream retailers, trying to work on advertising restrictions, and, of course, by expanding our product line. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re absolutely making progress. I am hopeful that the industry will continue to be more diverse in years to come.
Shacknai: What did you think the pandemic would mean for Dame when it first hit?
Fine: Many companies navigated 2020 and part of 2021 with uncertainty, but in a weird twist, Dame Products was always uniquely prepared for this moment. In addition to the fact that our business takes place mostly online, we’re also accustomed to coming up with creative solutions when capital isn’t readily available. We don’t have access to certain investor opportunities due to the nature of our business (although we were just able to close a round of funding!), and we still can’t advertise on Facebook and Instagram. During the pandemic, we remained committed to making the sexual wellness conversations more inclusive and accessible to marginalized communities and to honor all experiences and leave the door open for alternative, creative, holistic ways of experiencing pleasure.
Shacknai: What was your immediate response to the pandemic? What sorts of changes were you forced to make in the business?
Fine: Beyond our product lineup, we strive to serve as a leader in exploring wellbeing from every direction, including our activist efforts, community events, and our educational content. Amid the global pandemic, we responded by pivoting our education and community programming to a suite of virtual courses, exercises, and materials developed by experts, such as sex therapists, yoga teaches, and massage specialists. They were so successful that we’ve made them a permanent, on-demand fixture on the site (along with a Glossary that we recently launched). We are constantly driven by the desire to demystify sex, wellness, and relationships in a frank, compassionate, nuanced way.
Additionally, Dame Labs went completely digital during the pandemic, but we’re excited to soon welcome our members back into our office for research and to host more in-person activations in general, since our online workshops have been such a hit throughout 2020 and 2021.
Shacknai: How would you explain Dame’s success and continued growth over the last year and a half?
Fine: Because so many aspects of our daily life that make us feel human were not accessible and hadn’t been for over a year, exploring pleasure became a really great way to feel alive during this strange time. At Dame, we saw a 100% increase in sales year over year for 2020, with many products selling out of stock, along with great success launching our digital workshops and Swell blog platform. We also launched our first-ever suction toy, Aer, and our first-ever topical arousal cream, Arousal Serum. We have noticed that the industry has been evolving from novelty toys to a more holistic approach to sexual health, and we’re continuing to build our focus towards becoming a more holistic health and wellness brand (as can be seen in our recent expansion beyond sex toys alone). More to come in that direction!
”It feels like we’ve made great progress this year, as we see a higher standard for toys and … [+] products on the market, and also a shift in the conversation to a less cis-male centric view of sex,” says Fine.
Courtesy of Dame
Shacknai: How do you think the pandemic affected the way we think about sex and pleasure, especially self-pleasure?
Fine: 2020 and 2021 have been challenging years for so many. I think Covid-19 has really shown people the importance of intentional self-care, which includes taking time to pleasure ourselves, physically, emotionally, and sexually. I think the trend is something that will carry on for the rest of 2021 and beyond, as more people continue to focus on self-care while we begin to reopen our communities. I think more people are beginning to see how sexual pleasure and pleasure products are just part of our general health and wellness experience. Sexual wellness affects both physical and mental wellness, and physical and mental wellness in turn affects sexual wellness—they’re symbiotic relationships. We experience all of these within our bodies and minds, which means that they’re all deeply ingrained parts of who we each are. The pandemic has also empowered communication between couples, for better or for worse. This includes conversations about sex and pleasure. Sex is becoming a more public part of everyday conversation, which helps shed light on high-quality products within the industry. We’re seeing a more open discussion in pop culture as well, which helps validate and sanction products that were once shamed. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re absolutely making progress.
Shacknai: What lessons did the pandemic teach you about Dame and its place in the changing dialogue around sexuality?
Fine: Beyond creating sex toys, our mission at Dame is to help people experience, understand, and explore sexuality as part of their overall wellbeing—something many haven’t been able to do with a partner over the past year. Others who are with their partners have expressed concern about diminished libido and performance during this hard time. We take a very holistic approach toward overall wellness, and we know sexuality is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a very important one. At Dame Products, we’re continuing to build our focus towards becoming a more holistic health and wellness brand. We’re proud to have championed pleasure and made sure people stayed in touch with their bodies throughout the pandemic, at a time when many folks felt alienated, withdrawn, and scared.
In certain ways, it feels like we’ve made great progress this year, as we see a higher standard for toys and products on the market, and also a shift in the conversation to a less cis-male centric view of sex. But if you’re thinking about education and the long-term impact, we’re not there yet. It’s not so much about female sexual exploration or honesty, but about believing that sex feeling good isn’t bad.