For World Orgasm Day we teamed up with Stephenson Law to discuss the legal barriers SexTech Startups are facing and how to overcome them.
At Stephenson Law, we’re known for challenging the status quo when it comes to the legal industry. This ranges from cutting through the legal “fluff” and antiquated nonsense to helping make law and legal services more accessible.
This doesn’t just apply to the type of law that we enjoy practising (like Intellectual Property and Data Protection law), but the type of clients that we are here to advocate for. With our founder and CEO, Alice, at the helm, we are here to champion those founders who often face barriers due to the stigma or taboo of their business.
In 2021, the stigma and taboo surrounding SexTech is rife. Often ignored as an “unprofessional” topic, founders in the SexTech industry begin their journey of growth on an uneven footing. Despite the industry being valued as a $33.64bn market in 2020, the field of SexTech is still kept under wraps, and with it the often powerful impacts the industry promises to deliver. Aside from the obvious benefits so often synonymous with SexTech, the industry can have an emancipatory effect for those struggling with fertility, menstruation, chronic loneliness, erectile dysfunction – the list goes on. So often relegated to the shadows consequent of its taboo status: many lose sight of the social and cultural importance of SexTech in the modern age. The industry has an enormous capacity to empower individuals, both men and women alike, and yet, despite being in the age of modernity, much of the world still struggles with an age-old taboo that even today: restricts the capacity of SexTech founders to flourish.
These SexTech founders, so often women fighting for their rights, have to shout louder, advocate harder and find ways around many areas that are often draconian and, ultimately, unfair.
As one of the advisors on the FemTech Lab accelerator, Stephenson Law witnesses first-hand the incredible products and businesses being founded by these women whose passion is to normalise sexual wellness and pleasure. These companies span the spectrum of female health and sexual wellbeing, from accessible help in pregnancy to sex toys to menopause. Today, in honour of World Orgasm Day 2021, we have spoken to some of these founders to discover the main legal barriers they continue to face.
Jodie West, Director and Sexologist at Bliss for Women explained to us that the biggest legal barriers she has faced include Financing and Advertising/Social Media bans. Bliss for Women believes that women deserve a place where they can explore their own unique relationship to sex, desire and their bodies. Jodie says
“Some of the legalities I understand and am more than happy to twist in knots [for], but others are tedious, frustrating, and given the change in global conversation around sexual wellness, are totally unnecessary.”
One of these tedious conversations is around shadow banning on social media platforms. Many businesses know that they could thrive from their social media followings, and understandably want to capitalise on these platforms just like everyone else. This is not only in terms of profitability by engaging with their followers about their business and products, but also in helping their followers explore the conversation around sexual wellness and crucially, normalising this. There is no doubt that sexual education content on Instagram is huge (#sexeducation has over 4 million posts at the moment), but from research that FemTech Live conducted with multiple FemTech startups in March 2021, it’s obvious that Facebook and other sites’ ad policies are still biased against SexTech content. These companies’ posts are being shadow-banned and hidden under the guise of the content “breaking” guidelines.
Sanari Amos, of RevaginateNG spoke to us about this:
“Advertisement on traditional media has been the most challenging so far as it is regulated. I can’t advertise on some media, media where I can advertise, I have to do so and make sure the ads are censored and it usually runs at night. It’s tasking, to find creative ways to advertise RevaginateNG, we depended more on social media with a focus on Twitter due to lower rate of censorship, but the Twitter Ban by the government has made it even more difficult, half of our active prospects aren’t even online due to the ban.”
“I can’t advertise on some media, medias where I can advertise, I have to do so and make sure the ads are censored and it usually runs at night.“Sanari Amos, of RevaginateNG
Sanari also explained that she faced obstacles simply trying to register her business: “In Nigeria, registering your SexTech startup can be challenging. You have to use alternative names as anything “sex” is quite challenging to register.”
Unfortunately, the root of stifling social media policies is stigma. Traditionally, healthcare has treated female care, or FemTech, as a niche category. Sure, erectile dysfunction adverts are allowed to be streamed on the TV while the rugby is on, but any talk of female bodies and sexual wellness and we are firmly in the “taboo” category.
And we can’t help but agree with Sanasi when she says
“I really hope it gets better because we are just helping to improve people’s lives.”
So, as a SexTech founder, what can Stephenson Law do for you? Firstly, you can feel safe in the knowledge that you and your business will not be laughed away nor will it not be taken seriously. As a business, we celebrate diversity, pioneering entrepreneurs, and disruptive tech, and as a result: we are passionate about helping your business grow. From incorporating your company (can you register that provocative name at Companies House?!), to upholding the integrity of your industry in the protection of sensitive personal data, to decoding advertising regulations, we want to be here for you and have the conversations that will ultimately bring the legal industry up to date!
What we know at SL is that there are still conversations that need to be had and that we won’t be able to change these overnight: but we are ready to be the ones to start those conversations. With that in mind, to the modern SexTech founders that are making a difference: we are here to champion you.
This piece was written by Effitichia Dower of Stephenson Law.