Not so long ago, the decisionmakers in the erotic industry were almost exclusively male, even though the products they were selling were mostly geared towards women. Today, the situation has changed, as old structures are overturned and reinvented, allowing for a stronger female presence in the industry. This female presence is the main topic of our interview with Rianne Swierstra, the founder of Rianne S.
You have been a woman on a mission since you launched your brand in 2010. What is the goal of this mission, and how much closer have you come to achieving it?
Rianne: From the beginning, my goal has been to empower women sexually through my products. We have sold hundreds of thousands products since then. If all those women are satisfied and feel great because of my products, then that’s a perfect start!
In the erotic industry, many brand owners prefer to remain in the background. You, however, have put yourself out there from the very beginning, being the public face of the brand and even naming it after yourself. Why did you choose this strategy?
Well, my ego is very big…kidding. I have always found that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and that there’s no reason to hide. I think if end-users see that there’s a ‘normal’ woman behind a vibrator company, it can inspire them to buy a vibrator as well, cause the whole thing it pretty normal after all.
Would you agree that one the biggest and most important developments in the erotic industry is the shift from a male-dominated boys club to an industry with a strong female presence?
Totally, because the majority of the users are also women. It does not make sense to me that men were creating products that were mainly for female use. These days in the erotic industry, you have a pretty good reflection of society gender-wise I think, with men, women, and everybody who feels like in between.
“These days in the erotic industry, you have a pretty good reflection of society gender-wise I think, with men, women, and everybody who feels like in between.”
Who are the pioneers of advancing women in the erotic industry?
I think that there are and were many great women pioneering in their own ways. Doctor Ruth, the women behind stores like Good Vibrations, Babeland, and Mail & Female here in the Netherlands, Susan of California Exotic and all the women I am forgetting. These are all strong women who did – and continue to do – great things for our business and for women in general.
Why did it take so long for this change to really take hold? After all, the majority of the consumers in this market are also women …
Interesting question. Obviously, it took till the 60s for women to really have a voice in society. The pill being legal and available for most women in western countries in the 60s and early 70s obviously did a lot for the freedom women have these days and the choices we can make. I think big changes in society take time. The gender gap is still big at universities for instance, with few women at the top, and female CEOs in listed companies are still scarce. I think we are not doing so bad after all in our industry with a big percentage of women in leading positions.
Which area has benefited the most from the introduction of a female perspective? Where do you see the biggest changes? Is it sales, marketing, product design or something else?
I think marketing is telling a story and if it’s not sincere people will smell that from miles away, especially women. I think the area that benefited the most is the products themselves; there are so many great designs around these days which don’t look like pink, veiny phalluses with big balls anymore. That’s the biggest improvement for sure!
You are doing business in many markets around the world, including the United States, where sex toys are often mentioned in debates and discussions about female empowerment, sexual diversity, inclusion, etc. Do you feel that the topic of sex toys is politicised more strongly in the US than over here in Europe? Why is that?
Possibly because religion has always been a bigger part of the political system in the US than over here in Europe, and sex and religion are not always best friends;)
For a long time, products were marketed as toys for men, toys for women, couples’ toys … Are the days of this type of categorisation over?
When I make products for women, this is for any woman who identifies with being a woman. I do have some unisex products as well that you could call gender neutral. Speaking for myself, 99% of the people who buy my products are women and people identifying as such, so I do refer to them as women. The gender-neutral products I usually don’t refer to a certain group of people.
How important is it to include things such as empowerment, sexual wellness, sexual health, etc. in the marketing of sex toys? Many people believe that the ‘modern customer’ is well-informed about sex toys. But is that really the case? How much do today’s consumers actually know about the positive effects of using these products?
I believe that doing a business is doing a service. Our service is to inspire sexually, to give pleasure, and in my case to empower. My products are bought my women and partners with whom that message resonates. 10-15% of the women are still not able to have an orgasm. Here in the Netherlands, research has showed that more than 40% of women older than 25 have experienced sexually transgressive behaviour. I think those numbers speak for themselves and mean that there’s still more work to do than just selling a toy.
“Our service is to inspire sexually, to give pleasure, and in my case to empower.”
You will be an exhibitor at the upcoming eroFame show. Why should all visitors stop by your stand? Also, are you going to present new products in Hanover?
To see our new products, of course! They are all about affordable luxury and damn cute. And of course, come and say ‘hi’ – we always love to chat with retailers!
How would you sum up the current status of the erotic market? Is sex tech the next big thing? What role do dolls and sex robots play?
I think for most women, sex is all about enjoying yourself, feeling good, and feeling great with your partner. If sex tech can do that in a modest way, it’s great, but it should be used in a pragmatic way. I don’t see our future daughters and us grandmothers only making love with robots.