WHERE ARE THE BLACK WOMEN IN SEXTECH?
By Jourdan Ash
November 1, 2019
When you think about sex technology — or “sextech” as it’s known colloquially — what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Vibrators, toys, apps, books, and other playful kinks? Now when you think about the faces of the sextech industry, what do you think they look like? A quick Google search will tell you that the industry is dominated by white cis men creating monolithic products that represent what they think sexual pleasure is supposed to look like and feel like. But, what about women? In particular, where do Black women fit in this industry, outside of being consumers? According to SexTech in NYC, the business is on its way to becoming a “multi-billion dollar industry by 2020.” In 2017, The Guardian even mentioned sex tech quickly outpacing the drone industry with a $30 billion growth rate of 30% per year. On the official Women of Sex Tech site, an online community created by Linda Bonilla and Polly Rodriguez, there are less than 20 Black women listed within the respective realms of the industry. With “diversity and inclusion” being the buzzwords of 2019, where are all the Black women in the sextech and why aren’t they receiving the funding, promotion, or attention they deserve?
The conversation surrounding all aspects of sex and its exploration is still very stigmatized within the Black community. Popular author and sex educator, Shan Boodram mentioned how her Caribbean and Catholic school upbringing “shamed and repressed” her sexual curiosity at a young age, leading her into her career path. It wasn’t until college that the educator realized that a lot of her classmates and friends were “figuring it out through trial and error” when it came to sexual experiences. Educator and Sex Ed in Color host, Cameron Glover expressed the same sentiment when it came to getting an education within the industry. “I went through a program that is white-led and that is AASECT [American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists] accredited — which is also a white-led organization,” she explains. “The majority of the resources that are available — especially when we’re talking about folks who are just emerging and have questions on how to get into that field — a lot of that stuff is still being led by white folks,” Glover said. Not having the resources within many of our own communities, forces those interested in exploring the sextech world into a “fight or flight” situation — forcing people to find the resources on their own or to simply give up. While Glover and Boodram both chose to take the educational route, they both found that the information was not only inaccessible and sometimes expensive, but clinical and boring — a sentiment that hit close to home for me.
For the past three years, I’ve been on a mission to unlearn everything I’ve ever known about sex. Like quite a few people in my community, my introduction to sex didn’t come from a “birds and the bees” convo with family, but from outside of the home. For years, I let the words of the Zane novels I hid in my backpack, rumors from friends, and the New York City Catholic school system’s attempt at Bible-based sex-ed shape my ideas of sex. They were all wrong. The fantasies, the lies, fallacies, and fairytales that came from every aspect of my life, just didn’t make sense once I became active. If there’s anything I’ve learned since approaching my late 20s, it’s that finding your own sexual narrative has to begin with the truth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten my truth simply by asking questions. During September’s Sex Expo held in Brooklyn, I’d never felt more comfortable in my curiosity.
Easily one of the safest spaces to explore kink and all things sex, the Sex Expo was filled with women-led brands like Dame Products, Emojibator, Lovability and more. When it came to educators of kink, there were plenty of WOC, like Taylor Sparks, Bahar Baharloo, Tatiana Carrera, and more leading the conversations. Many of the Black-led brands lean towards the products geared to the physical space such as lubes, juices, cheeky playing cards, etc. — a major part of an already oversaturated industry.
“Thot-leader” and sextech expert, SX Noir believes this inclination toward physical products is common for most Black-led sextech brands. According to her, there are two branches of the sex tech industry: digital and physical. The digital space is reflected by algorithms and apps, while physical is focused on products that are sold to consumers everywhere from online retailers to brick and mortar. “When it comes to sex technology, my main concern is: ‘Who’s writing these algorithms, these scripts in the digital space?’ How are they going to affect our sexuality as Black people?” With Black people making up less than 10% of the employees at tech-based companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and much more, it’s very apparent that the algorithms aren’t being written for us. “The sextech realm is an extension of tech at large and it follows a lot of similar patterns,” Glover mentioned. “These spaces are white-centered because these are the people who’re leading this. We have to examine who is leading the space,” she finished. The lack of Black and Brown faces on the digital side of sextech greatly impacts marginalized groups, stifles innovation within the industry, and also impacts the amount of funding Black people receive in the industry.
Many of the Black women in sextech I spoke to had come to the same conclusion: access is key and if it won’t be granted to us, we will create it. Shan Boodram and Cameron Glover have both used their platforms to provide affordable and educational books for those curious about the industry while SX Noir is constantly working on unpacking the sex work stigmas and getting more Black faces in the digital spaces. “There’s so many Black folks specifically, doing incredible work that are starting to get that shine and that support that we’ve been vocal in saying that we needed. There’s still a lot of fighting for that same respect, visibility, and support from the community at large,” Glover says. The door to a multi-billion dollar entrepreneurial community is being pried open by Black women. Will we break stigmas about sex and continue to enter these spaces or continue to wonder where we are?