Working in the Sex Toy Industry Taught Me a Lot About Sex

Advice on Sex Communication

I’ve always been fascinated by human sexuality and confused by why people don’t talk about it more. This led to some funny interactions as a child. After following the steps to become a sex therapist, getting my master’s in psychology and then subsequently realizing I’d make a crap therapist, I took a step back to reevaluate my place in the world. And when I saw that the sex toy market was flawed and regressive, I decided to refocus my energy on creating solutions to an outdated category, and Dame Products was born.

In the past four years of running a vibrator company, which has involved countless focus groups and rounds of product testing, I’ve absorbed a thing or two about sexual preferences, fears, aspirations and misconceptions. If you’re looking for healthier, more fulfilling sex, here are some of the most important things I’ve learned.

1. Pop culture has sex allllll wrong.

Advice on Sex Communication

I bet you can pinpoint the first TV show or film that gave you a notion of how sex worked. For me, it was Sex and the City. The show influenced how I thought sex was “supposed” to go for years of my life (and this is my livelihood!). On the show, sex always went a little something like this: Two individuals (usually one cis woman and one cis man) start passionately kissing, undressing and knocking a few things over (required!) as they make their way towards a horizontal position. Then they get under the covers, immediately start having PIV sex (PIV = penis-in-vagina) and soon come at the exact same time.

There’s … a lot to unpack here. First, at least 70 percent of vulva-havers report needing clitoral stimulation to orgasm, while only four percent state that PIV sex is their most reliable way to orgasm. Second, if you’ve ever orgasmed at the exact same time as your partner, raise your hand. If your hand is up, awesome. If your hand is down, also awesome. Orgasming at the same time is not common. If this is happening, it’s probably because you’ve both put a lot of work into understanding each other’s rhythms. Finally, ever heard of foreplay? Hollywood apparently hasn’t.

TV shows and movies exist as a stand-in for our underfunded and heavily censored sex education curricula, which can be dangerous because they’re not just promoting false ideas — they’re setting unrealistic standards. In the end, not only is it overwhelmingly common to not come at the same time as your partner or not come from penetrative sex, but sex has no script. On-screen sex is a sliver of an enormous pie, so don’t ever let that make you feel abnormal or dissuade you from trying new things.

2. Everyone (and I mean everyone!) has unique preferences.

Sometimes at work, our team members take early stage vibrator models home to try out. The next day, we’ll all come back to the office with feedback. And every time, even though the vibrators we try are identical, the feedback is completely different. Sometimes I even wonder: Did we all really try out the same vibrator?!

Whether I’m talking to people during focus groups or trying products myself, I’m reminded again and again that when it comes to sex, nothing is universal. The human sexual condition is complicated by differing body types, our psychological preferences for what turns us on (or off) and so many other things. Sexual preferences are diverse and evolving. One type of sex is not inherently more pleasurable than another. What works for one partner might not (and probably won’t) work for the next. And you can’t assume to know anything before you try it out yourself.

In the end, what matters most of all is that you’re experiencing pleasure (and, obviously, not negatively impacting your partner). If we all allow ourselves to experience pleasure outside of the constraints of social expectations and scripts, I think we’d be surprised by the breadth of our sexuality.

3. Sex is sort of gross, and that’s okay.

Advice on Sex Communication

It’s worth calling out that sex is … well, just one big exchange of bodily fluids. I like to put it that way because it shines a light on how silly it is to expect sex to be clean. There’s no question that most Americans want things to be sterile. In fact, I’d say most of Western culture believes that our minds must overcome our animalistic tendencies, that keeping something pristine is better than it being pleasurable. The danger with this obsession with cleanliness is that it renders very natural things taboo.

If we can’t accept that we are animals and that sex is messy, we limit ourselves and our options for pleasure. I’m not asking you to disregard all of your preconceived notions overnight, but being honest with yourself, your partner and the situation will help break down one of the biggest barriers to real pleasure. And I promise I’m practicing what I preach: I’ll never forget the first time I got a little poop on my finger when I was … experimenting with my partner. Game-changing.

4. Good sex is about constant communication.

Sex can be love, sex can be hate, sex can be work, sex can be play, sex can be painful and sex can certainly be pleasurable. It can be whatever you want as long as it is what you want! And there’s really no way to know what you or your partner wants without good communication — I’m engaged to my partner and have been with him for years, and yet we are still (often) on different pages. Sometimes I totally think he’s going to be into something sexually, and then … he’s not. And honestly? That goes both ways. This can even change from day to day. No matter how “well” we think we know each other, we still have to check in every day. Moods change, preferences change, desires change.

Sex is nothing without communication. And that includes non-verbal communication. Body language, tone, nonverbal vocalizations and facial expressions are all real ways we communicate with each other, too.

Censoring yourself can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration and resentment. Your partner can’t read your mind, and you can’t read theirs (as much as you might sometimes think you can), so finding a common language — whether it’s words, body language, eye contact or something else — is essential. This also goes for acknowledging when your partner isn’t communicating in any noticeable way and emphatically checking in with them.

Are there lessons about sex you’ve learned throughout your life and feel others need to know? I’m all ears!

As CEO of Dame Products, Alex Fine translates the nuances of our sexualities into human-friendly toys for sex. A lifelong student of sexual health, Fine earned her master’s in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University.

Photos by Madeline Montoya.

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