Dame co-founder and CEO Alexandra Fine tells us how to get rid of cold feet and close the pleasure gap…
When it comes to self-care, treating yourself to a new face serum or deep-conditioning treatment feels like a no brainer. Want to test out a new shade of eyeshadow? Of course! Supplements and powders that promise to make you feel the best you’ve ever felt? We’ll take three, please. But turn the conversation to self-care of a different sort — self-love, specifically — and a lot of people get sheepish.
But they shouldn’t. Sex and sexuality are natural, healthy parts of human existence and should be treated as such. As Alexandra Fine puts it, “(almost) all people come from sex, yet it’s something we as a society still struggle to discuss.” And as the co-founder and CEO of Dame, a line of personal massagers and sexual aids and toys, she should know. Like finding the right mix of ingredients and products for your ideal skincare routine, figuring out what works for you sexually is incredibly important. And Dame is here to help.
Fine spoke with Free People about the origins of the company, how to shop for a vibrator, the “pleasure gap,” and the quickest way to make date nights better.
Let’s start at the beginning: How did Dame come to be?
Early on, I discovered my passion for improving our culture’s relationship and experience of sex. I went on to earn my Masters in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University. I felt I could make a bigger difference by starting a company — so that’s what I set out to do.
While I was making vibrator prototypes in my kitchen from silver dollar coins and plastic wrap, my soon-to-be co-founder Janet Lieberman-Lu (an MIT alumna with years of product development experience) was also thinking about starting a sex toy company. She knew that sex toys weren’t being held to the same standards as the other consumer goods and that she had the skillset to ensure that they were. It only took one breakfast meeting to know we had the complementary skills to start something special… Sex can feel really good and I want to help people access that pleasure.
How do you approach designing and introducing a new product to the line? What kind of research and testing goes into a product launch?
For most of our products, it takes about a year from the time we start to work on it to the time that we release it. Everything that we have released so far took at least 10-18 months between the time we started [the] research to the time that we released it.
We do surveys to make sure we’re solving the right problem. We do beta-testing to make sure we’re executing our design in a way that aligns with what our consumers want it to do. When we build our color palette, we want to include elements of femininity and masculinity, elements [that are] bright and fun and more muted and discreet — we know people view sexuality differently.
What makes Dame products unique in a crowded space?
We’d have to say it’s our development process. When developing any of our products, we apply extensive research, smart design principles, and — perhaps most importantly — empathy.
Through our research arm, Dame Labs, our customers inform essential parts of our product development process. From the type of stimulation a product provides to where each button is placed, we test every detail with real people to ensure we’re providing real solutions for the bedroom, instead of offering what we think is best. The Dame community is working to humanize a product space that isn’t always speaking to the audience it serves.
What is the “pleasure gap”? Why is it so important to Dame to close it?
The pleasure gap illustrates the disparity in satisfaction that people with vulvas experience in the bedroom, versus their cis male counterparts. Cis-women are four times more likely to say that sex wasn’t pleasurable in the past year, and cis-men have 20 to 50 percent more orgasms as heterosexual cis-women in partnered sexual encounters. So, the disparity is there!
Dame is committed to closing these pleasure gaps and we invite our customers (and everyone) to be a part of these conversations. There are still a lot of research gaps around what exactly vulva-owners identify as pleasurable and how people experience sexual pleasure during both solo and partnered sex. Together, we can help everyone have immensely pleasurable sexual experiences that are fulfilling, empowering, and equitable.
What would you tell someone who’s never purchased a vibrator before? Is there a “right way” to shop for one? Why is approachability important to Dame?
First, you need to ask yourself exactly what you’re looking for in a vibrator: broad or pinpointed stimulation? How much power/vibration would you like to experience? Are you primarily looking for a toy for use with a partner or solo? Explore with yourself (sans toy) to figure out what you like and try to do some research online, read testimonials, articles, and more. Consider how you’d approach buying another product that you’d expect to be reliable, satisfying, and long-lasting.
In terms of approachability, we aim for products with aesthetics that are friendly and inviting while also being simple. Our products have an element of being cute without being infantilizing.
What about advice for someone who’s never used a vibrator before?
To us, using a vibrator is another part of your wellness routine. Remember that you deserve to invest in your sexual wellness just like any other part of your life. Also, there’s no one “right” way to use a vibrator! We have tips on our website, but it’s mostly about finding what feels good to you.
What ingredients and materials should someone look for in sex toys and accessories? Any that should definitely be avoided?
This also comes down to [personal] preference. If you’re looking for more power, a toy with a hard plastic exterior (think: Legos) will provide that. A toy with a coating/silicone construction or exterior may feel a bit softer to the touch and potentially be a bit more malleable for different levels of stimulation/targeting.
In terms of what to avoid, don’t use a silicone lubricant with your silicone toys — it can disintegrate the material and damage the toy itself.
Your lubricant, Alu, is plant-derived and pH-matched to a woman’s body. Why is this important in the grand scheme of vaginal health? How did you land on these ingredients?
When it comes to lubricants, additives like glycerins and parabens are well-established no-go’s, while a poor pH balance or excessive concentrations of compounds can cause pain where you’d rather feel pleasure.
Alu is an aloe-based lube that is pH-balanced and iso-osmotic, for a body-friendly glide. It’s perfect for penetration and safe for use with silicone toys. Plus, it contains natural ingredients that promote blood flow and reduce inflammation.
“The Duo” is billed as a “couple’s kit.” Any tips for introducing your partner to a sex toy?
Try bringing up new sexual experiences and desires with your partner before foreplay or having sex. Make a list of turn-ons and share them with your partner, or make a map of your body and color in erogenous zones to give to your partner beforehand.
Opening up communication beforehand allows for you to fantasize or brainstorm new ideas consensually, so that you can focus on pleasure in the bedroom with no hesitation. And when all of your tools are in a convenient pouch next to the bed, it’s even easier to start those conversations!
Talk to me about the socks in the Duo kit!
Researchers at the University of Groningen found a simple way to increase pleasure: wear warm socks! In their study, nearly 80 percent of couples reached orgasm while wearing socks, while only 50 percent managed to climax without them.
By adding a layer of comfort, couples increased feelings of safety and lowered anxiety. We believe the more vulnerable we allow ourselves to be during sex, the closer we feel to each other. What better way to get rid of cold feet and close the pleasure gap?
+ Find all Dame products here.