What most sex toys have in common is that, in order to use them, a certain degree of nudity is required. You need to remove at least part of your clothes to enjoy them. “hi” is the exception to that rule. The name is an abbreviation of “Hysteria Inhibitor” – a reference to the origins of the vibrator which was originally conceived as a means to cure hysteria. But “hi” is intended to be more than just another sex toy. In our interview with inventor Steve McGough (on the right), he tells us about the development of “hi”, and about the concept that sets this product on a course for success.
The story behind your product „hi“ is actually a sad one, but it led you to invest your time and energy into developing something that could be a new type of pleasure product. What happened?
Steve McGough: As far as the general background, you can learn more at womenandcouples.com/our-story. Beyond helping my wife reduce pain, the biggest thing that motivated me originally was the curiosity about what was really happening to induce orgasm from the abdomen and then how the other nerves were involved. Later, when Wendy and I were talking about our direction, when everyone was telling us we must stop, she asked me if we could do anything and our son Lucas had lived, what would he be most proud of when he was 18. Considering my other focuses were neurological testing software and areas related to inflammatory conditions – it seemed clear he’d be most proud of the hi.
Finally, we met Greg Fisher, the founder of Berkeley Sourcing Group, which has engineering facilities, and an injection moulding factory in China. He partnered with us to bring the product to reality. It’s been absolutely amazing working with his team. Plus, they are based in China so we have a presence there now vs. outsourcing manufacture to third parties.
Being able to talk directly to the engineers who are at or can drive to the manufacture location for feedback immediately and get back in contact with us is tremendously beneficial.
On your website you say that hi is different from other ”wand“ or ”bunny“ vibrators and that it can give orgasms while fully clothed. How would you describe hi in a few sentences?
First, the method and devices for hi are unique, and have been granted US and international patents. It has been designed from a neuroscience and clinical sexology standpoint. Over the past seven years, it has been tested and refined on more than 2000 women. It’s optimized to stimulate all five nerves known to be related to orgasm, plus it uses a combination of stimulation patterns optimised for the frequency ranges of the four sensory receptors that transfer sensory information to those nerves. Two of the nerves we stimulate have only been verified by other researchers in the past decade, so this is very new territory.
I give lecture about this when I teach classes to sexologists and MD’s. We address both the mechanics of what is needed, and the human factor for women’s experiences. The wand & rabbit typically only stimulate two of the above nerves. Plus, they aren’t optimised to stimulate all ranges that our sensory receptors can pick up. Another key difference is hi transfers it’s stimulation through clothing, and feminine napkins. This allows women to use hi anywhere they need to relax quickly and changes the paradigm for when and where women can achieve orgasm, including to help relax during PMS.
It also allows women’s partners to give them a massage fully clothed that quickly gets them aroused. Many women feel “g-spot” simulation while fully clothed with hi. Women also tend to strongly desire penetration after using hi. The “wand” was first endorsed by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in the 1970’s. We are the second product they have endorsed. We are also endorsed by the American College of Sexologists.
The development of hi took a long time – seven years to be precise. How did the product change during this time?
The product has changed dramatically. I built the first prototypes myself. The first product was hand held and bulky. Women would not know how to align it so I later mounted it as standing and seated systems. The original units were in PVC tubes. Then in 2012, I built a 3D printer and began learning how to do CAD work Those were functionally better but still very bulky. Also. they were based on AC power to get the force needed.
While some aspects of the device look like other massagers, their spacing and how far they go out are different and optimised for inducing the effect. Nothing else on the market could do this. The final home version is actually based on a special DC motor that has sufficient power. This motor is expensive and only available from one company as special order. However, that allows it to run on a low power 24V DC power supply, like a laptop. The power supply will also accept both European and US power types with a plug adapter.
Originally, “hi” was based on large standing and seated units. How did these early version work?
Yes, originally I made them that way due to limitations in my ability to build things in-house. I did this because no local groups would invest in us so I had to continue with what I had available. We later found that women really enjoyed both the standing and seated systems. Particularly when a DJ controlled it. As a result, we launched a line of hand-made versions in some very exclusive locations. We will launch a manufactured public dance club version next year.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
There were several major challenges: The topic was totally taboo in the region of the US that I live. It is extremely conservative here. People absolutely didn’t believe it was possible. When I proved it was, most groups in the South were horrified – either directly telling me this or just not responding.
Plus, this directly challenged many paradigms people strongly believe. “Wellness / Health” and “Sexuality” are typically in two completely different cultural categories. We are saying that in reality it’s a continuum – which challenges many deep seated beliefs. Once they realised it was real, the idea that women could easily have orgasms through their clothing, as a reflex and not thinking about it, for both pleasure and wellness purposes, it was very disturbing to many people. However, they often couldn’t explain why. One conservative Baptist person told me that if women could have orgasms clothed – that means no “sinful nudity” – and without thinking “sinful thoughts”, and not for procreation – what was she going to feel guilty about – because many women could live without breaking the other “rules” for example lying, stealing, murder, etc.
Sexual drive was the only thing that most people couldn’t escape and if they didn’t feel guilty about it “they might lose their faith in original sin”. I’m not making any statements about Religion or beliefs here though, I’m just sharing his opinion.
Plus, we observed that most women are deeply conditioned to put others first and their personal pleasure not just last, but in the control of their partner. Masturbation and orgasm are often taught to be the most taboo things for women and they must leave that in control of their partner.
Based on studies, most women masturbate for a large part of their lives, but it’s their secret “taboo” or their “guilty pleasure”. We often found that when women did talk about the topic it was “third person, past tense” and typically more telling people what they should be doing.
How can hi challenge these taboos?
hi is very disruptive because since it can be used clothed, it makes orgasm possible “real time” and not information you take from an anonymous survey. Even the most outspoken feminists we met with would suddenly become very shy when asked if they would use the public device (in public). Those that did use the system would almost always ask another woman or man control it for them. When we asked why this was embarrassing, they often didn’t have an answer.
However, after they had 3-4 orgasms on the device in front of their peers and were emotionally supported and approved, there is the most amazing change. They have done something that is part of their basic human drive, but their whole life they were conditioned was “bad” and their peers accepted them.
This is truly an astonishing process to watch because it tends to profoundly increase their confidence. Here is an example. I was chatting one evening with Betty Dodson last September. Betty is a famous US sexologist who popularised the “magic wand” in the late 70’s. When I brought that topic up she said her theory was that children usually get their core beliefs that touching themselves for pleasure is bad when they are very young, often as babies before they can speak. Their parents just give them strong disapproving looks or tell them not to do that. This gut level feeling that this activity is “bad” is instilled in them before they even have language.
So the core memories of it being “bad” can’t even be verbalised, it’s just a very strong feeling. This product challenges those beliefs which often caused very angry responses after people thought about it. The question we posed was “what would women be like if they weren’t embarrassed of expressing their personal sexuality, or their appearance or other factors. What if women were brought up to be confident and not ashamed?”
That question didn’t appear to be well received with many groups – even though they would not acknowledge it. I never realised before this how there are multiple layers and double standards about women’s behaviour. Many of these are very subtle “unspoken rules” that most people don’t even know they have. But these rules profoundly impact how they feel and behave, and often how they are embarrassed or ashamed. I also didn’t realise that both men, and often more strongly women – enforce these beliefs among their peers.
Also, many older men were afraid that this would cause women to no longer want to be with them. However, after they used it with their partner and discovered that after 3-4 orgasms she then strongly wanted penetration, they quickly saw the benefit. But until they experienced it, they would be hostile.
How was the early response to your product?
Every hardware company and accelerator would either not respond, or say that “it wasn’t a fit for their model”. I effectively got black listed among the local IT and investment groups. Only when I was able to meet Greg Fisher at Berkeley Sourcing group did I begin to make actual progress in manufacture. Greg has tremendous vision. I sent him a hand held prototype and after a few weeks of having people borrow and test it we started working together. That was in the Fall of 2014. He has reviewed and been involved with over 800 projects in the past 15 years, but we are the first he’s personally invested in.
One of the perks your crowdfunding supporters were able to get were online classes. What is taught in these classes?
We have three programmes, plus an extra one. The first shows women how to use hi on themselves both for orgasmic purposes as well as a variety of ways to relax, particularly focusing on PMS and other challenges women face. The second is a massage routine I developed originally for to work with anorgasmic women but it is absolutely fantastic for women without sexual challenges. It takes between 20-30 minutes. The first part massages specific pressure points on the woman’s body that help her relax and become aroused. This sequence was created to systematically “prime” the woman’s nerves for arousal before any direct pelvic massage is done.
The second part focuses on intimate stimulation. It also is very good if the woman is tired and not in a sexual mood but her partner is. If the partner does this method – if she later desires to – she can often have multiple orgasms at the end and then desire being with the partner.
The third class is a question an answer process that couples go through together to help them feel more comfortable expressing their physical needs to each other. Our experience has been that the vast majority of couples don’t truly share their sexual needs to their partner. This programme was created to help with that.
We also include a training programme for people who purchase the “Wedge Pillow”. This pillow is for helping a woman position herself when using our product or when her partner stimulates her with their hand or via intercourse so she can optimise g-spot stimulation. Our programme shows them ways to use it.
You worked with sexologists and institutes in this field as well as having over 2000 women test your product. How important was this feedback to your process?
Feedback from Sexologist, as well as gynaecologist has been tremendously helpful. The most important input though has come from directly working with women and getting their responses, particularly when we were trying to better understand what was going on neurologically. We had theory but had to physically test if it actually was correct. We refined and modified things a great deal from those responses.
You say that hi shouldn’t just be viewed as a sex toy. Which category does apply then? Why is it important for you that people notice this difference?
We believe it represents a new category of sexual wellness that we hope will be a bridge between wellness and sensuality. Many cultures, particularly in the USA have completely separate categories for sexual stimulation and massage, but in realty it’s a continuum. Since it can be used fully clothed and used for other types of highly beneficial massage – and most importantly can induce orgasm in many women spontaneously it creates a very different situation. When we ask people how is a shoulder or leg massage fine and healthy, but if it’s a pelvic massage it’s embarrassing and taboo, even if it is clothed and spontaneous, they don’t know how to answer but tend to start talking about it.
We feel that stimulating this discussion will help people become more accepting of the actual human condition, not the stereotypes that we have been taught. While we strongly support discussion and equal rights for women’s sexual expression, we also know that many women in the USA (particularly the conservative Southern Areas) are not comfortable or embarrassed to get traditional sexual devices.
This provides a way for them to discover their sexuality and work past their inhibitions. We have had many very conservative women try the device to relax their abdomen during PMS cramps, but quickly see a transformation in them after they experience an orgasm for the first time. Plus, many women unfortunately have body image issues. They do not feel comfortable being unclothed with their partner because of this which causes stress and reduces their libido. If their partner will take the 10-15 minutes to follow our massage routine, odds are the woman will want to have the pelvic massage and then be in the mood for unclothed activities – if she chooses to.
Without this approach they likely would not be intimate with their partner otherwise. Plus, – many US gynaecologists and other MD’s are more comfortable talking about a device that is clothed and used for other massage than traditional sex toys.
Even though hi isn’t a classical sex toy, do you believe it could / should be sold in erotic stores anyway?
We don’t have an answer for that yet because it may be sold via those locations in the future. That would also depend on who we partner with for distribution. Our goal is for it to first be recognised as part of overall wellness as well as being profoundly effective for sexual stimulation. We’re currently going to distribute the product and training programmes via a larger network of Sexologist and related professionals we are affiliated with.
On a technical level, how is your stimulation method different from the technology used in vibrators and wand massagers today?
Wands, etc. target at best two nerves in the vulva region – the pudendal and pelvic nerves- and are so high frequency (80+ hertz) they don’t stimulate the sensory receptors that only detect lower frequency stimulation. Plus, this intensely stimulates a small region which quickly causes sensitivity and numbness.
hi combines percussive and vibratory massage in a unique patented way that stimulates the vagus and hypogastric nerves in the lower abdomen – many feel this like ‘g-spot’ stimulation- the pudendal and pelvic nerves on the entire mons pubis region – and send a shock wave that travels through the internal clitoral structures and into the vagina canal.
The vibrating guide then stimulates the lower vagina, perineum and tailbone stimulating the sacral nerve. Many women feel like they’re having g-spot, clitoral, full vaginal and anal stimulation simultaneously. Since many wide areas are stimulated, it doesn’t over stimulate the clitoris, so women quickly can have multiple orgasms with very short refractory periods. The current record is 12 orgasms in 20 minutes.
Hi comes with different „heads“ for the user to change to their liking. How does the feeling differ when the heads are changed?
For heavier clothing or feminine napkins, the smaller, harder heads transfer the sensation much farther. Softer, wider heads transfer the sensation over a larger area and are good for more sensitive women. We also have specific shapes to transfer stimulation in very specific ways.
How much will hi cost once it’s on the market?
The current price we plan on is US $349 for: the unit, the upgrade percussive head kit, a special “wedge pillow” that allows women to use hi in different ways, plus it is wonderful for g-spot stimulation in later couples’ intercourse. This also comes with the three above training programmes and a guide for couples to use the wedge pillow. However, Sexologists that are affiliated with our network can offer the device at significant savings to their clients.
What are your plans for marketing hi to Europe? Are you looking to work together with distributors here?
We are open to talking with distributors and would be interested in learning about their programmes. Currently we plan to sell through affiliated Sexologist we work with.
Do you already have plans for the time after the launch of hi?
During the past seven years we have learned a great deal of very interesting things about the female relaxation and orgasm response. We’ll be filing additional patents for several innovations we have discovered in the process. We have eight product enhancements and new versions (including the public version) that are planned over the next few years. We also have done comparative studies for male anatomy and will release products for men as well.
Training programmes that are approved by the American College of Sexologists are going to be launched next year. Currently we have 40 sexologists and MD’s in training for this. We offer a four level certification programme for this.
We expect to have over 300 trained by the end of the year. These sexologists and MD’s are located in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Viet Nam, India and Singapore. The plan is to establish a large international training network within two years. Training programmes are also being setup for couples when they visit resorts. This allows them to receive private training in a remote location. Hedonism II is the first resort in the world offering this launches October 17th in Jamaica.
(The top picture shows Valeriya Pchelenko and Steve McGough at HardwareCon in February)