Buying your first sex toy can be a tricky experience. If you're comfortable exploring your options and found the perfect feminist sex shop in Brooklyn, I'm very envious of you. While discussions about personal pleasure are much more commonplace now—especially in the liberal social landscape of NYC—having the right resources to find quality products and a shop, either physical or digital, that you are comfortable perusing isn't always an easy task. Dame Products is one of many hip, feminist sex toy online shops that look nothing like the glitchy links of years past, and its customer-first mantra feels relatively unique to Dame (though, hopefully, others will follow suit). We talked to Dame Products CEO and co-founder Alexandra Fine about the company's goal of “evolving human sexual psyche" through including customers in the design process on its new platform, Dame Labs.
Though Fine and her co-founder, Janet Lieberman, come from two very different industries—Lieberman was an engineer and Fine studied clinical psychology—they feel that they're in a great position to make shopping for sex toys a better experience—particularly for women.
“We believe we can make toys for sex better and can redefine this industry in a really specific way," Fine said. “We tend to view what these toys mean and can be, and we think we can make them better, express their value better, and ultimately help, predominantly, vulva owners, but also penis-havers and middle-sexers, have better sexual lives."
One way Dame does this is by enlisting people to test products before they launch. Fine tells us that “Eva," one of Dame's most popular products, "had already been tested by about 50 or so couples [prior to its release]. Having a human-centric design approach has always been core to what we were doing."
Dame Labs, a community of customers who are enlisted in surveys and product testing as a way of crowdsourcing features, is open to thousands of people online. At the start of Dame, this community comprised “whoever we could find," Fine said. “Half of them were our friends or people we would meet at the bar." From there, it's grown rapidly, and Dame seeks out community involvement offline as well, hosting events like a “build-a-dildo" workshop, where fans and customers grab a lump of Play-Doh and answer focus group-esque questions while molding the sex toy design of their dreams.
“We're always still figuring things out," Fine added. “We need different bodies, we need different sexualities. We're looking for diversity, so when we're getting the products tested, [we're] making sure that this works for everybody, and if it doesn't work for you, why. So, we can make sure we're selling it to the people who are going to want it and making things that work for everybody."
“There are so many different ways to use toys—our sexual identities are vast and infinite," Fine added.
Being a tester for a sex toy company that genuinely engages with customer feedback sounds like the dream, right? Fine pointed out that it's actually work. “We're looking for people who can take it home [and] are going to take this seriously, and fill out our surveys—we really want good data back."
With feedback from the thousands of people involved in Dame Labs today, Fine says they're still constantly learning about aspects of toys that, perhaps, weren't the first thought in the past. Things like user habits, how long the product should last—within sessions and for how many sessions—are all in conversation during the design process because of Dame Labs. “Hopefully, we'll be able to continue to gather this information, share it, and continue to normalize these conversations." Today, Dame launches a new toy, the Pom, and will enlist the help of Dame Labs participants in the product design during their next toy launch.
Closing the "pleasure gap," and making sure people of different genders and sexual orientations feel satisfied in equal measures, is a pretty big task to take on, but it's not one Dame Labs is afraid to address. “I think this ties in with the way we do some of our research, which is just starting qualitatively." Rather than asking Dame users how often they're having sex, the company asks: “Do you feel like you're sexually thriving?"Creating open, comfortable spaces to talk about this experience is key in assuring the erasure of the gap.