In August, Samsung invited my company Lioness to their event on innovations in health tech — and then asked us to remove our display after we had arrived and set up for the event. Their event had an emphasis on what they defined as “women’s health.”
Despite that emphasis, this event played out in a similar way to what happened with CES and Lora DiCarlo, Facebook and Dame/Unbound, and a number of other battles between large organizations and women-led sexual wellness businesses. Meaning, someone higher up wasn’t happy and tried to cut the cord on associating anything to do with sex for people with vaginas.
What’s particularly interesting with the case of Samsung was that besides Lioness, the rest of the women’s health brands present were for fertility: apps to help get you pregnant, devices that give you data about your pregnancy, and breastfeeding devices. Anything relating to menopause, gender transition, non-binary folx, PCOS, endometriosis, STI prevention/treatment, and yes, also pleasure, were off the table (literally, in our case). Basically, anything outside the nine months of pregnancy and first few years of raising a baby were non-existent at an event supposedly focusing on “women’s health.”
Moreover, I was even told by a senior director at Samsung that, “You shouldn’t even be here,” and “it’s not women’s health” at all. This is despite our devices providing biofeedback and physiological data on sexual arousal and orgasm, as it relates to an individual’s stress, health and more.
Like CES, Facebook and the MTA (New York City’s subway system), the essence of the controversy revealed that there is a deep bias in technology that considers men’s pleasure “health” and necessary, and female sexuality “lewd” and unworthy of inclusion in events like Samsung, or in the case of Lora DiCarlo, at CES. This is the case even when both Lioness and Lora DiCarlo have deep collaboration with research universities and genuine innovation with new technology — as was the case with Lora DiCarlo, and as is the case with Lioness now. Or in the case of the MTA, where there are giant phallic cactuses advertising ED medication all over the city, while Dame and Unbound can’t run a single ad, despite MTA’s official rules that no “sexually oriented companies” can run ads on the MTA.
This kind of bias — especially where sexual wellness is health (unquestionably) for men, but not for women (where it is seen as lewd) — is incredibly damaging to society. It affects everything from how often women are able to frankly talk to medical professionals about problems related to their sexual health, what kinds of products are made and how they’re marketed, all the way down to the comfort that women have in natural functions of their own bodies. It is critical to be able to discuss it and show that not only cultural forces are shifting, but also, that it’s wrong to continue to have these double standards.