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Women of Sex Tech Conference 2020

On Saturday 2nd May 2020, between the hours of 4pm-9pm BST, something incredible happened. Over 500 people from across the globe came together to hear from a range of amazing speakers about how COVID-19 is impacting different aspects of the sex tech industry. The full agenda with speaker bios & their social media accounts can be found here and check out the hashtag #wost2020 for the real-time updates.

In this post, I’ll be covering my personal write up from each of the talks, including key quotes, takeaways and any extra resources I managed to note down! ✍️

What is Women of Sex Tech? (WOST)

WOST is a community of sex tech positive folks on a mission to change the sex tech industry for the better. They’ve got some exciting plans coming up and membership to their community will reopen in the summer, so watch this space!

Lora DiCarlo — Personal Business

Lora is founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo, a sexual wellness company with award-winning sexy toys. Lora took us through her own personal experience of catching COVID-19 and how her business pivoted quickly to a new normal. They’re now doubling down on an e-commerce strategy and have launched WellSx, and will be donating a % of their product sales to charities supporting women facing domestic abuse. The mental health of her team is also paramount at this time and she encouraged us to be kinder and more forgiving of mistakes.

“The only way to move the needle is if we move it together.”

Dr Martha Tara Lee — Sexuality Counseling online for the Sexually Inhibited

Dr Martha Tara Lee is the first sexuality counsellor with a doctorate in human sexuality to operate in Singapore. She walked us through her experience of how she helps her clients with issues like Vaginismus. She told us about the main challenges she’s overcome with having to grow her business organically:

  • Her Facebook account has been deleted many times, so she can’t rely on this as a platform to communicate her business. She is now moving to platforms such as TikTok,
  • She’s created over 800 Youtube videos. This has really helped build up her reputation and trust with clients.

“People can be quite sceptical about paying money for these sorts of services (sexuality counselling).”

  • Partnerships are so important — she works closely with doctors and marriage counsellors and will often get referrals from them.
  • During COVID-19, she is now offering free and discounted packages to clients who need her help at this time.

Ducky DooLittle — Are Sex Toys Essential Goods?

Ducky is a pleasure-based sex educator, and she gave one of the most impassioned and heartfelt talks of the day. She has been in the pleasure product industry for over 3 decades and has a wealth of knowledge to share about the seasonality of sex toys and how we can weather this pandemic storm together.

  • Seasonality trends for sex toys. Summer is always a slow time, people are busy on holiday or looking after kids. September tends to pick up with peaks in November due to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are so popular now they compete with Valentines Day for sales. January dips and there is, of course, a peak again in February. Up to 25% of sales will happen during the first 2 weeks of Feb. Wowzer.
  • Cultural waves. Music, movies, books, they all have an impact on the sex industry. From Salt-N-Pepa's “Let’s talk about sex” to “9½ Weeks” erotic thriller movie and of course, books like “Fifty shades of grey”. They all help increase buzz, interest and sales of sex toys. On average shops saw an increase in sales of 7% due to the Fifty Shades buzz.
  • Historical peaks & troughs . Sex work plummeted during the HIV and Aids crisis, but sex toys, porn and strip clubs became more popular. As one part of the industry goes down, another will go up.

Ducky encourages us to be nimble, adapt, and diversify your business in order to survive these twists and turns. She told some personal stories of selling sex toys throughout 3 economic downturns and how they survived.

“The world needs you, you’re doing important work. I want you to thrive.”

Dr Serena H Chen MD— The End of Sex for Human Reproduction

Dr Serena Chen works with a group of 8 female doctors who help people with a range of infertility issues — from hetero couples needing help to conceive through to transgender males wanting to freeze their eggs before they transition. She gave us a real insight into the amazing advancements happening in this field of technology. Currently, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and with IVF the miscarriage rate decreases to 1 in 10.

“What we’re seeing is tech advancing so rapidly that in the near future it’s safer to have a baby through IVF than it is to have a baby through having sex.”

Her aim to educate people about this field of technology, it’s benefits but also its risks. It has the power to make the world better (lower the risk of disease and suffering) but there is also a risk of having too much control, and this having a detrimental impact on society. She broached the topic of sex selection and how this is being used for family balancing, but can also create a huge imbalance in sex ratios which can breed all sorts of social issues.

She recommended 2 books to learn more about the topic:

Shakun Sethi— How SexTech will redefine the post-pandemic sexual behaviour

Shakun is the founder of tickle.life, a global community platform with the mission of breaking down the stigma still associated with sex. They have 300+ sexual wellness educators on there and it’s a place for people to discover, learn and explore. Shakun shared some heartwarming and extremely relatable personal stories from her life that motivated her to create this much-needed platform. Especially during COVID-19 lockdown, we all have much more time to ourselves, and now is the time to be discovering.

“Everyone should know about sex tech. It’s so important. Everyone should be nourishing and enhancing their own sexuality.”

She highlighted the issues with Facebook and how we can’t rely on it solely as a platform and how WoST need to keep collaborating to remove the silos in the industry.

Angelina Aleksandrovich — The Future of Organizing

Angelina is the founder of Raspberry Dream labs, which at its core is an event production company, but they do so much more — they create multi-sensory experience for cybersex. She told us about their two ongoing projects:

Sensory Seduction

This is all about multi-sensory sexual arousal and the possibilities of having sex in the future that isn’t limited to the physical human body.

UNSENSORED Series

This series of events are more focused on the audience as participants. RD Labs want to create a space to talk about all kinds of sex. They are building a community around this with talks, workshops and parties. Initially, these events were held in a physical space, but due to COVID-19 they have taken the next step and hosted their first event in Virtual Reality. Their next event is happening on 25th June and will be taking place in VR.

“There is still a lot of taboo and stigma around sex. VR adds a layer of anonymity, so you can be more comfortable. It’s a great way to break the ice for those that need it.”

Erin Chen — Navigating Intimacy for Couples with Kids During Lockdown

Erin is the founder of Gilly app, which is on a mission to improve the intimacy and relationship wellbeing of couples with kids. She rightly reminded us that not everyone is experiencing this “slowdown” during lockdown that seems so prominent on social media, particularly parents. She shared 3 tips for us from the Gilly app, which is based on research from sex & relationship experts:

Story

This is a quick exercise you can do by yourself and then with your partner:

10 years from now, when we look back at this time, what is the story we want to be telling? Is it a story of triumph, resilience, connection? Be as vivid as possible in your story, get as descriptive as possible.

Articulating this story can help us realise the things that are important to us during this hard time. Is it the fact you’re able to have lunch together every day or go to bed with each other every night? When you start to notice the details that really matter to both of you, then these are things you can be intentional about, and where you can focus your efforts.

Space

Give yourself and your relationship S P A C E . Space to process emotions and space to connect. This can be especially hard for parents, there is often a lot more to do. Try and find space, and it doesn’t have to be big chunks of time either. Some examples:

  • Getting up a little bit earlier to have a shower together
  • Set up a meeting invite for 15mins in the day

Small

This is the invitation is to just focus one small thing for yourself, because if you’re completely depleted it can be very hard to put effort into your relationship. So think of one small thing for yourself (i.e. self care) and one small thing for your relationship.

“Try to remember the power of physical touch; touch can be really healing.”

Blunt— #FuckEarnIt

Blunt is a yoga teacher and professional dominatrix and she schooled us all on the EARN IT Act. This is an intentionally vague & complex law in the US and she wants to try and bring clarity to it. (Now, I am not going to be able to do this justice in just a couple of paragraphs, so please check out hackinghustling.org for the full low down on this.) The main things to know:

  • EARN IT stands for Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020
  • All of us, including the sex worker community, are going to impacted heavily by this
  • The Act seems to be a shady way to stop end-to-end encryption —it’s a backdoor for law enforcement to read our messages. It affects privacy, freedom of speech and safe communication.
  • The US government is trying to pass this bill in the middle of the pandemic.
  • Check out hackinghustling.org for more information and what you can do to stop this bill from passing.

“The safe and private communication that we have online to have a democracy would be stripped away from us.”

Sarah Brynn Holliday— Abortion Access in the Age of COVID-19

Sarah works in healing for sexual violence survivors. She informed us how anti-abortion politicians in the US are trying to claim abortion as “non-essential” procedure and how they should be postponed during COVID-19.

“Abortion is an essential procedure during a pandemic.”

She told us about telemedicine (the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other) and how this could help ensure abortions can still happen during this pandemic, however, right now in 16 states telemedicine is banned for abortions.

What can we do to help?

  • Write to the FDA, encouraging them to lift the restriction on telemedicine for abortions
  • If anyone in the US is needing an abortion but can’t access the right services due to lockdown restrictions, check out TelAbortion to see if you can qualify for their services.

Bryony Cole— How To Get Started In Sextech: Launching a Sextech Company or Career Under Isolation

Bryony is founder of Future of Sex, a renowned sex tech consultant and an important figure representing the sex tech industry. She joined us at 4am in the morning from Australia, to give us some tips and tricks about how to get started in a career in sex tech.

People tend to get into the industry in these common paths:

  • Join a sex tech company
  • Start your own sex tech company
  • Join a media company and become a sex tech writer
  • Become sex educator or sex coach
  • Become a sex worker

Here are some important things to keep in mind when entering the industry

Foundational knowledge of the industry is really important

  • Make sure you know the definition of sex tech. In short, it’s “Any tech used to enhance sexuality”. Cindy Gallop was the first person to bring the concept of sex tech to life and champion the industry, with the following definition:

“Sex tech can be defined as any form of technology or tech venture designed to innovate, disrupt and enhance in any area of human sexuality and human sexual experience.”

  • It’s the intersection of sexuality and technology and includes education, health, crime, gender identity and pleasure. The media often want to talk about the cool, sexy topics, but technology includes apps, websites, products (condoms, lube) and services. Technology is any tool that enhances our lives.

Know who’s who

  • Unlike other industries, such as fintech and health tech, sex tech is still relatively niche and small. Make sure you get to know who is who in the industry, as you’ll all be contributing to each other's careers.
  • The Women of Sex Tech are an incredible resource and community. Last year they gathered in NYC to protest Facebook’s unfair advertising policies. There are strong communities in London and Berlin as well, so don’t be afraid to reach out and get to know people.

“Relationships are the most important thing! Don’t be a dick — these are people you will grow with for your entire career!”

Figure out how you are going to make money!

  • Sex tech is a really hard industry to measure. It’s previously been valued at $30billion but Byrony highlighted the origin story of this is most likely limited to dating and porn. It won’t include things like exual therapy and education. So more realistically, it’s in the trillions.
  • When thinking about the investors, get numbers for the particular vertical you‘re thinking of going into (e.g. sex toys, sexual education, audio erotica). This will make the numbers a lot more tangible.
  • Finding money in a taboo industry is notoriously difficult! Many sex tech companies have started to rely on crowdfunding. Grants are also a good option if you can find them. Friends and Family investing is a great way to start if you’re lucky enough to have access to it, and is much easier than private investors.
  • Byrony informed us it took her ~2 years to get paid to speak to events and get ads on her podcast. So make sure you do have a financial plan!

Know the challenges of the industry

Manufacturing

  • If you are building a physical product, make sure you can find a manufacture who is comfortable with the type of product you are building. There is still a lot of taboo and stigma around the industry, unfortunately. Feel free to reach out to others who are already in it for advice.

Advertising

  • This is notoriously difficult on many platforms: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. You’re going have to get pretty creative with how to advertise your products/service and how to reach your users and audience.
  • Look for other ways to build your community and your brand — for example, build your email list early and ensure your audience can get in touch with you.

Reputational risk

  • Are you ready to talk about sex? You need to feel pretty comfortable talking about sex publically if this is an industry you want to enter.
  • Bryony shared that her personal journey was harder than her professional one when it came to opening up to others about entering this industry.

Know your skillset and find your passion

  • You’ll often be transferring from a different industry, so make sure you know what makes you stand out.
  • You’re going to have to put your name to something. Having a huge passion isn’t going to be enough — you’re gonna have to make something, probably fail at something, and then try again.

“Figure out what makes you passionate about the industry and double down on whatever you’re good at already.”

Dirty Lola— The Awakening of Sensuality in Isolation

Dirty Lola is founder of Sex Ed A Go Go, a sex-positive platform. She took us through her top tips on stating sensual during lockdown:

“What do we mean by sensuality? It’s not just about sex. it’s about finding sexual energy through the physical and all of our senses”.

  • Be mindful. Even when you’re moisturising or taking a bath. Take a moment to notice how your body feels.
  • Take the time to stretch and be in your body.
  • Take nudes. Get a group of friends who you can share your nudes with, it’s a fun way to channel your sexual energy at this time. Signal and Whatsapp are great messaging tools for this because of the end-to-end encryption. Snapchat and Instagram have features where the photo disappears after sending, and you’ll be notified if the receiver takes a screenshot.
  • Write down your fantasies. Put it all down on paper, it might not end up anywhere, but it’s a great outlet for all that sexual energy.
  • Dance it out. This is a great way to let out some steam. Turn your bedroom into a strip club.
  • Mix up your masturbation routine. Don’t let it get boring, look for ways to up your game.
  • Dabble in phone sex & sexting. People are giving lessons on dirty talk online now, there are lots of resources out there.

Norma Buster— Socially Distanced Dating as a Survivor of Digital Abuse

Norma Buster is a survivor of digital abuse and is a victim's right advocate for CA Goldberg. She shared her own personal story of digital abuse and how she is navigating lockdown as a survivor.

“It’s the idea of being bombarded with triggers which were getting overwhelming, but I decided to take some time with healing.”

She shared her views on video dating, having been sceptical at first, but now realises the many benefits it can bring:

  • You don’t have to give your phone number out to the other person
  • You can leave at any time
  • You can assess the chemistry better than through texting

“Tech is often weaponised by offenders. How can we build, create and legistlate tech to help survivors of sexual abuse?”

Annie Brown & Val Elefante— Designing A Better Internet For Women And The LGBTQIA+ Community

Annie Brown and Val Elefante are the founder and community manager for Lips. Their talk was filled with resonating quotes and shocking stats about how technology is currently not built for women and the LGBTQIA+ communities.

  • 73% of all LGBTQIA+ content online is flagged as inappropriate
  • Hashtags like #lesbian #bi #bodylove #curvy are often banned on social media platforms

“The tech is not being built for us and is being regulated by a governments that are trying to pass bills like EARNIT”

  • They shared an Audre Lorde quote: “the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house” and that we need to be dismantling these tools.
  • Take a look at the great work Fem Inc are doing with their project “Take Back the Ad”
  • We need to start building our own community guidelines. Right now the current ones don’t understand the difference between sexual self-expression and sexual exploitation.
  • When Tumblr brought in their new algorithms, not only did it ban porn but it also banned erotic art and queer expression of sexuality.
  • Check out The Algorithmic Justice League and how they are uncovering biases in AI (like self-driving cars not being able to recognise people of colour, because the technology had been built by white people). It’s not an issue with the tech, but an issue with the people behind the tech.

Sign up to their community to stay tuned on their movements, they’ve got big plans to stand up to big tech.

SX Noir — The Future of Digital Companionship

SX Noir is thotleader in the sex tech space. She led an inspiring talk on how digital companionship is changing during COVID-19

  • What do masturbation and video calls have in common? They both result in a sharp drop of dopamine once they are over.
  • There is a lot more to do on a friday night at 10pm than ever before! Dating apps were solely being used for sex, but now they are being used more and more for companionship.
  • SX Noir is producing a documentary about how COVID has affected the sex industry.

“Keep paying women for all their labour, including emotional labour. “

Ayesha Hussain — The Porn Revolution

Ayesha is a Sexuality Activist and founder of The Violet, a pop-up, porn cinema and Co-creator of Pass the Porn: a cinematic social experiment.

  • There is still so much shame that surrounds porn. The one thing that keeps us shameful is not wanting to share, and empathy plays a really important part in counteracting this.
  • Our desires have a beautiful way of showing us our inner workings. Fantasy is an emotional need bubbling up from within.

“We’re all doing the best we can right now! It’s okay to want to find entertainment, to want to escape, to be horny, to be not horny at all, to want watch porn, to not want to watch porn ever again.”

She shared a personal story of pushing her own boundaries when it comes to porn, and she encourages us to be curious with our shame when it appears. She also advocated for responsible and ethical porn and recommended some places you can find this (Aorta Films, X confessions, Makelovenotporn, Bellesa.)

Jessie Sage— Online Sex Work During the Pandemic

Jessie is a sex worker and writer. Recently she’s been receiving a lot of messages from civilians asking how to get into sex work during the pandemic in order to “make some quick money”. She educated us on the fact that sex work is not necessarily a quick, easy or low-risk way to make money:

  • It’s often the most successful sex workers that tend to get all the publicity, and in reality most sex workers have a hard time breaking into the industry.
  • Algorithms tend to favour the already successful sex workers, and you have to be able to drive a significant amount of traffic onto the platforms to get noticed
  • Piracy is rampant in the industry. It can be difficult for sex workers to have any control over their image. It’s been known for live cam shows and pre-recorded content to end up distributed on other platforms without the sex worker’s permission.
  • Make sure you deal with the consequences of being associated with adult entertainment. There is still so much stigma, that it can still affect your future job prospects and banking access.
  • Be mindful that individual clients will have less disposable income during this pandemic and less time on their hands, as they may be isolating with family members.

In short, the risks aren’t worth it unless you put in the effort to make it really profitable, and you need to accept the stigma associated.

“Sex work is an important fall back for people during a crisis, it’s irresponsible for it to be perceived as a quick and easy way to make money.”

KEYNOTE: Cindy Gallop— Why The Pandemic Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Sextech

Cindy Gallop, queen of sex tech, and founder of MakeLoveNotPorn. She gave an inspiring keynote speech on the five opportunities this pandemic is presenting to us:

Adversity drives opportunity

“The world is never going to be the same again, and that’s a good thing for those of us who have never been part of the status quo.”

It’s only complete utter disaster that will create the opportunity for change that we need. Like the complete utter disaster, we are in right now. That's when new models, new ways of working, new thinking, new technology can be built to bring change.

Everybody is now staying home globally

All of humanity is experiencing the same thing right now. At MakeLoveNotPorn they have seen their traffic, revenue and video submissions increase, without making any changes at all. Lockdown is giving more people the time, space, opportunity to become MakeLoveNotPorn stars.

We’re reconfiguring how we think and feel about sex, intimacy and relationships

“The future is not digital. The pandemic has made this clear. The future is IRL.”

The pandemic has shown us how important tech is, and how it can facilitate digital connection, but it’s also shown us how important real human connection, human intimacy and human touch is. It’s causing us to re-evaluate everything, especially what we’re willing to pay for.

The pandemic is socialising sex

“We’re all at home, and having less shame about what we do at home. Sex is recession proof, the market never goes away.”

Cindy has seen in her own twitter following that people have been more inclined to retweet posts about sex and MakeLoveNotPorn during this pandemic than ever before.

We need to finally normalise sex. It’s when people really feel okay with buying sex tech, and publically and unashamedly plugging these products (like they do with all the other products they are buying) that we can then break down the stigma.

The pandemic is rebalancing the societal value equation

“Everybody working in the arena of sex is essential.”

This pandemic is casting a whole new light on the people who do the jobs that really take care of us. MakeLoveNotPorn is all about human happiness. Sex workers are delivering digital companionship, digital warmth, emotional labour. This is our chance to rebalance the value that we place on this work.

“Take all this advice and let’s drive the social sex revolution! Lets make this pandemic work for us.”

A huge thank you to everyone who came together to make this amazing event happen, including all the speakers, behind the scenes organisers and the performers (Valley Latini and Jacq the Stripper) 🙌👏💪.

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Sex Tech Says is a London based online community about anything and everything related to Sex Tech.

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Grace Santos-Murphy

Product Manager in London. I’m interested in mental health, feminism and sex tech. I’m a blogger and all views are my own.