Are FemTech and SexTech the same thing?
No… but also yes. Now let me tell you why.
FemTech is more than women’s sexual health and wellness, and SexTech expands beyond solutions for folks who identify as female. The two meet when a product, service, or software is specifically focussed on women’s sexual health, wellness, and pleasure.
When we step back to look at the complex venn diagram of how these two industries overlap with one another, I think it’s important to think of them more as intersecting than as one being a subcategory of the other.
In other words, how I see FemTech and SexTech is not so much one being the older sibling of the other, but more like kissing cousins.
In this “What the FemTech?!” post, I’ll be exploring how FemTech and SexTech share a mutual mission when it comes to breaking down taboos in stigma, face the same challenges with advertising and funding, and are both set for exponential growth.
Breaking Down Taboos and Stigma
The term SexTech is championed by Cindy Gallop of MLNP (Make Love Not Porn)referring to “technology and technology-driven ventures that are designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt human sexuality and/or the human sexual experience.”
Gallop is undeniably a giant in the SexTech industry, and her and MLNP’s mission to create a future for social sex is encapsulated in the thesis statement, “pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference”. If you haven’t watched Gallop’s 2009 TedTalk, I suggest you do it now.
The foundational players when SexTech first emerged include Polly Rodriguez (Co-founder and CEO of Unbound), Alex Fine and Janet Lieberman (Co-founders of Dame Products), Andrea Barrica (Founder and CEO of O.School), Liz Klinger (Co-founder and CEO of Lioness), Kate Moyle (Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist of The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast), and Stephanie Alys (Co-founder of MysteryVibe 2014–2019).
When we look at the emergence of key players in the SexTech industry, there’s an obvious pattern of female leadership, and an increase in products and services targeted towards women.
With a confluence of the #MeToo movement, more research into women’s sexual health, and an attitude change in how we talk more openly and honestly about sex, we see as that, as SexTech thought leader Bryony Cole of Future of Sex says, “Sextech has been remarkable in opening up awareness, and increasing access to education around women’s bodies and their sexual pleasure”.
Where I see FemTech and SexTech coincide most prominently is a shared mission to normalize taboos and stigma around women’s bodies. Women’s bodies and their function even outside of sexuality (think: menstruation, menopause, vaginal discharge and dryness) are consistently censored.
Shared Advertising and Funding Challenges
SexTech and FemTech companies alike encounter a hurdle when it comes to advertising their products. Talk to any SexTech or FemTech founder dealing with anything below the waist for women, and you’ll hear about seemingly arbitrary banned or blocked ads on popular platforms like Facebook and Google.
In response, we’ve seen figures in the FemTech and SexTech industry work to promote education, both for potential users and for investors. FemTech and SexTech founders share the same journey when it comes to helping investors understand how these technologies and solutions present a huge financial opportunity.*
Although we’ve seen some improvement, traditional VC firms often include vice or morality clauses prohibiting them from investing in anything to do with sex. In addition to morality clauses, the leaders of traditional VCs are overwhelmingly older and male, and there are more than a few stories indicating that when it comes to talking about vaginas, ‘male investors are “uncomfortable with the topic,” as one well-known VC put it: “I don’t want to talk about vaginas every Monday morning in my partner meeting.”’
In both SexTech and FemTech we’re seeing how entrepreneurs are taking up these challenges. As Andrea Barria of O.school outlines in her article, “How Women Made Sextech The Next Great Frontier For Growth”, “As both consumers and entrepreneurs, it’s women who have seized this market, raised the capital, and seen the potential of the industry.”
Two Industries Set for Massive Growth
FemTech and SexTech as industries are both considered nascent despite the fact that women’s health and human sexuality have been around since, well, humans have been around. And with this shared mission of breaking taboos, speaking more honestly and openly about human bodies and sexuality — both industries are primed for exponential growth.
SexTech currently diverges from its direct overlap with FemTech with its current innovations including teledildonics, VR tech, remote sex interfaces, and sex dolls; and it is set to expand from gender identity, telehealth, and male pelvic floor health to new areas such as opportunities for FinTech to support legal and ethical sextech ventures, and beyond.
FemTech expands beyond women’s reproductive organs, including innovations for heart health, oncology, bone health, brain health, medical devices, breastfeeding technology, and wearables, just to name a few.
Lumping these two industries would be a mistake because it discounts the potential for each industry to expand beyond the definition of the other.
So to steal from Cindy Gallop and MLNP, personally I am pro-FemTech, pro-SexTech, and pro-knowing the difference.
*Stay tuned for a more in-depth “What the FemTech?!” post about VC funding and FemTech.