There is hardly an industry that caters more to female audiences than ours. The number of products geared towards male users or couples may have increased in recent years, but just flip through this magazine, and you will see that there is hardly a company that has no vibrators, dildos, etc. in their portfolio. Considering this, you’d think that there would also be a strong female presence in the adult industry’s halls of power. Alicia Sinclair, who is a successful business woman in the adult biz – and the founder of COTR Inc. – tells us more about the challenges facing female leaders in the industry, and about changes and developments that are on the horizon.
Not so long ago, female leadership in the erotic industry was a rarity. But as many things, this too has changed. Before we go into more depth about this topic, could you tell us bit about your own career?
Alicia Sinclair: Believe it or not, it all started when I took a job working at a lingerie company over 15 years ago now. Admittedly, I had no idea that this job would affect the course of my life, but sure enough — as I rose the ranks in that job, it led to another in the industry, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in the sexual intimacy world. After serving as the VP of Worldwide Sales and Business Development at Jimmyjane, I decided it was time for me to take my years of industry experience and start introducing my own innovations into the world. My goal was — and still is — to examine outdated areas of the industry and create not only superior and heavily-researched products to fill these voids, but to provide approachable educational materials and extensive coaching and support so that everyone could partake. Pleasure is a right, not a privilege.
Did you have any role models when you started working in the industry?
When I first began working in the industry, there weren’t many female-led companies. Additionally, I don’t feel that there was much support from other women either. No women took me under their wing or tried to help empower me. As a result, I don’t feel like I had any real role models until I began working with female-run, sex-positive retailers seven years into my career.
Who would you say are the pioneers of advancing women in the erotic industry?
There are several women who were really ahead of the game – people like Joani Blank, Carol Queen, Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning – those who really had the foresight to look ahead and see what was missing and to support other women. To be honest, though — I think we’re still in the age of pioneers. It’s still not an easy world out there for women in this industry — especially those looking to break outside of traditional industry norms. I would say that any woman in this business who is currently forging ahead in the face of adversity is a pioneer. For example, the Women of SexTech community is a wonderful place to turn to when looking for women leading the charge in this category.
“I would say that any woman in this business who is currently forging ahead in the face of adversity is a pioneer.”
How did the people close to you react when you started in the erotic industry?
I come from a very conservative family, so it certainly wasn’t commonplace to go and work in the erotic industry. Yet, as those around me got more and more comfortable with the life I’d chosen for myself (and the fact that it was making me happy) the more they embraced it. I take it as a wonderful opportunity to gently educate those people who might have hesitations about the importance of sexual well-being and help shift perspectives towards a poorly misunderstood category.
As said before, the industry isn’t as male-dominated as it used to be. How would you describe the current situation?
I think that, right now, women are more accepted than they’ve ever been – but that they’re still not the norm. Not only do women still face more hurdles (whether that be the perception of their peers or simply the plights that come with being a woman in any business), but female sexuality as a whole still fails to be fully understood and valued. I’m encouraged by the number of products that we’re seeing created that cater to the clitoris, and I hope we continue to head in a similar direction. Instead of assuming what people with vulvas want, we need to conduct research, focus groups and speak with communities to create products that stem from real desires rather than figments of the male gaze.
How did this change affect the industry?
I believe that the more women we see taking places of leadership within the industry, the more we’ll see a collaborative, thoughtful approach to products — something that’s only just begun over the past few years. Toys for women that are function first, aesthetic second – and focused on real physical desires – will help shift perceptions towards female sexuality and pleasure, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
Where do we see the biggest impact of a female perspective? Is it sales, marketing, product design or something else?
We’re definitely seeing the impact of female perspective in all areas: sales, marketing, and product design. However, for COTR, Inc., it all starts at product design. We’ve take a look at long-outdated categories and find ways to improve the design with women in mind. Specifically, the wand vibrator and the riding machine are two sex toy categories in which the leading products came from male dominated companies. Through Le Wand and The Cowgirl, we’ve re-approached the design with a female-led team and asked, “What do women want? What do people with vulvas want?” rather than “What’s going to look sexy to a male audience?” It starts with having a well-designed product made with women in mind, and the rest follows suit.
How important is it for a female customer to know that there is a woman behind the erotic products she is buying, to who she can relate?
Having a woman at the helm of an erotic product is still a novelty, so to speak. Women are still stigmatised for embracing their sexuality at all. By being a visible ambassador for my company, I hope to help women to confidently embrace their own interest in exploring their sexual selves.
Isn’t it just logical, that a market focusing more and more on women as the target audience also experiences more female leadership?
While the market for women-focused sex toys is absolutely there, women in the adult industry still face barriers to rise to leaderships positions. This field has been dominated by men for decades, so seeing women in charge is still something that people are getting used to. We need to advocate for ourselves in order to rise to the top, and that’s not always easy.
“While the market for women-focused sex toys is absolutely there, women in the adult industry still face barriers to rise to leaderships positions.”
Do you see differences between the erotic industry and other industries in this regard? If so, which differences are there?
While women face sexism in all industries, the erotic industry can sometimes exacerbate these stereotypes due to the nature of the topic.
From your personal experience, do you have any tips or recommendations for women who would like to start out in this industry?
Don’t take no for an answer. You’re going to be told no a lot by a lot of different people in business situations — and most of the times, that’s just doubt manifesting as rejection. Prove them wrong.
Be thoughtful about the products you’re creating. If you spend the time and energy developing a quality product for a sophisticated audience, they will come. Don’t feel the need to repeat what may have worked in the past – your power is to set a new standard.
In that same vein, think about what you would want. Keep in mind that women are fairly new in this industry, so the more you can use that to your advantage, the more you can create competitive products that cater to real desires.