As a founder of a sexual wellness company, I often get the question: “Do you consider yourself to be Sextech or Femtech?”. It’s a tricky one to answer, but not for the reasons you might think.
The term FemTech was coined as a response to the gender bias in tech that left female health unexplored and underserved. From gynaecological health to fertility, we’ve seen how women-centred issues and ideas are getting the attention they have so far been lacking.
Sex is still shrouded in mystery and mostly relegated to the “adult” side of business
I understand why we get this question. While female health is in many cases an acceptable topic to discuss in a professional environment, sex is still shrouded in mystery and mostly relegated to the “adult” side of business.
But as part of the FemTech sector, SexTech has been equally championing a female-focused approach, with women and non-binary founders pushing the boundaries of how we understand and engage with pleasure and giving sexuality the importance it deserves.
Not every Sextech company is also Femtech, but the intersection is big enough to be a significant part of the industry.
Same space, different challenges
It’s not just the word “sex”. From the financial to the commercial, there is a marked line that separates both industries.
As a Sextech business, we’re constantly navigating that fine line between mainstream acceptability and vice.
As a Sextech business, we’re constantly navigating that fine line between mainstream acceptability and vice. When we reached out to a bank to open our first account, we were repeatedly asked for details about our business model. Is our sex toy penis-shaped? Do we host pornographic images on our platform? Do we partner with sex workers? After more than a month of deliberation, partner escalation and a lot of reassurance, we were allowed to open an account. But only after +5 banks had rejected us – even “challenger banks” like Monzo or Revolut.
To decide whether we’re FemTech – modern and empowered, or SexTech – lewd and obscene
In the end, it’s up to the organisation in question (or their investors) to decide whether we’re FemTech – modern and empowered, or SexTech – lewd and obscene.
It’s not just because of “sex”
A healthy sex life brings health benefits, but that’s hardly ever a topic of discussion. With both traditional and new forms of media banning pleasure-focused content, it’s not easy to get the word out. Keeping sex and health separate limits the mainstream exposure of sexual wellness products and services, which means most target audiences are not even aware of their existence.
However, it’s not only sex that is flagged as an issue. As seen with the ‘Approved, Not Approved‘ campaign, those social media sites argue they forbid ads that they believe focus on sexual pleasure — but in truth what the ads actually encourage is female sexual wellness.
We can talk about erectile dysfunction drugs, but not lubricants aimed for vulva-owners experiencing menopause.
A shared struggle
In that double standard, Femtech and SexTech find common ground. Vibrators cannot be easily advertised, but neither can period products. Funding opportunities are limited too – both by the lack of understanding of traditional male investors and the overrepresentation of women founders in both spaces. But SexTech still has the stigma of the “adult industry” attached to it. Legal, but frowned upon.
It’s tacitly conforming to the established idea that on its own, sex is not respectable.
When they ask whether we’re FemTech or SexTech, the truth is we’re both. But saying just FemTech erases the other. It’s tacitly conforming to the established idea that on its own, sex is not respectable.
For us, it’s an act of activism to celebrate the word SexTech and all it stands for.
Yes, we’re sex. And yes, we’re here to stay.
Patricia Cervantes (she/her) is the co-founder and COO of Vibio, a platform for people to learn about their sexuality through guided exploration and modern sex products. As an intersectional feminist and advocate for tech for good (fun), she thrives in all things SexTech.