On an average day in the office, a man sits at his desk thinking of the night before.
As he glances at his phone, a message pops up on the screen. It reads: “I can’t stop thinking about yesterday. I wish you were here now.”
Quite an innocuous message, the guy thinks at first. But then his mind starts to wander. He begins to imagine the sounds of his lover showering in the room next to him: her body hot under the water, her fingertips lathering soap over her figure…
If this sounds like the start of an erotic tale, that’s because it is. It’s one of 2k sensual audio stories produced, a Berlin-based startup helping women tap into sexual pleasure through the power of audio.
‘A space for exploration’
Female pleasure has traditionally been neglected in society, says Lepique. Not only is the whole adult entertainment industry geared towards men, “and what they like,” but there is also very little scientific research on how women experience pleasure.
“There’s quite a lot of data on how male orgasms work, but female pleasure is something that is less understood,” explains Lepique, adding that women haven’t typically been given the “space or education” to explore themselves sexually.
“We put a man on the moon before we discovered the clitoris, which should give us an indication of the state of play here,” says Dominnique Karetsos, general partner at Amboy Street Ventures, which claims to be the only female-led fund in Europe focused on sexual health.
“The beauty of Erotic Audio Stories for Women is that it gives women a permissible starting point to explore their bodies — using a sense that they normally wouldn’t have considered.”
For many consumers, pleasuring oneself is still largely a taboo. When you have an audio erotica at the “touch of your fingertips,” says Karetsos, you don’t have to worry about your neighbour seeing a parcel with a sexy item inside, or talking to your partner about bringing a vibrator into the bedroom.
“The reason it’s so appealing [to consumers] is that it carves a safe and private space for people of all sexual orientations to explore, experiment and relax.”
Customers are willing to pay for the content too. for example, charges £4.49 for a monthly subscription and has accrued a six-digit number of subscribers since its founding in 2018. A number of loyal customers are willing to shout about their positive experiences with the app:
Sexual pleasure for wellbeing
It shouldn’t be forgotten that pleasure is a ”vertical of health,” says Karetsos, and is central to our overall wellbeing.
Barcelona-founded Emjoy — which raised a $3m seed round last year — is one startup that is leaning heavily into that idea, offering a combination of fictional audio erotica stories and audio sexual wellbeing guides.
Andrea Oliver Garcia, the company’s founder, tells Sifted that the inspiration for founding Emjoy came from two very contrasting sides of her life: her background in venture capital, and her own underwhelming sexual encounters as a young woman.
“I started having sexual encounters as a teenager but I didn’t have my first orgasm until I was in my early 20s. For many years I thought there was something wrong with me. It was such a taboo for me that I wasn’t discussing it with my friends,” she says.
But when she began to read more about the issue, Oliver Garcia realised that there was a problem much bigger than her that needed fixing.
“Studies show that 40% of women have some kind of sexual dysfunction. That might sound like an ugly word, but the two most common sexual dysfunctions are women having low libido and women having difficulty attaining orgasm,” she says.
“From my background in venture capital, I had seen the success stories of meditation and fitness apps and I was really surprised not to find anything similar focused on female se*ual wellbeing.”
Oliver Garcia says that the startup tries to differentiate itself from the competition by ensuring that all of its wellbeing guides are scientifically informed, with the guidance of Emjoy’s in-house sex therapist.
Emjoy currently offers around 300 separate wellbeing guides — tackling issues like low libido, inability to climax consistently and body image acceptance — but Oliver Garcia hopes to broaden the demographic appeal of the app by creating more bespoke content for older women.
“It’s a matter of diversifying themes and topics,” she says. “We don’t have anything about how your sexuality evolves during or after pregnancy. When you have children. When you have been married for a long time. How the dynamics with your partner might change if you’re getting closer to menopause. What are the changes that your body is experiencing? That’s a lot of content that is still missing in the platform.”
The startup has also recently responded to criticism around trans inclusivity and added a full collection of stories for trans women on the app.
Oliver Garcia says that investors were initially slow to grasp the potential scale of the women’s sexual wellbeing market, but attitudes are beginning to change as wellbeing continues to boom as a sector.
“We had to educate investors a lot about the market opportunity and the market size, and about how many women were going through these struggles and issues,” she remembers. “This has changed a lot in the past two years. In the last six or seven months, I’ve got so many requests from investors that are interested in talking to us because they started exploring this ‘tech-for wellbeing’ space.”
A maturing market?
Growing investor interest in sexual wellbeing solutions seems to be matched by a growing enthusiasm from users. Oliver Garcia tells Sifted that Emjoy tripled its paying subscriber base last year, while London-based Ferly (which also focuses on sexual wellbeing) saw daily organic downloads grow by 65% during lockdown.
“Any time you have an underserved consumer category — like female pleasure — and you add fast-paced, accessible digital innovation — it creates a very scalable and sustainable business model, with multiple revenue options like subscriptions or partnerships,” says Karetsos. “This is very appetising to investors.”
Also appetising is how audio erotica has the potential to expand into other verticals. Karetsos says that audio erotica brands will now begin to include mental wellbeing into their offering. Meanwhile, mental health apps will start to include ‘bedroom talk’ as a relaxing, audio feature.
Femtasy, for example, already offers meditative stories, as well as “affirmative” and comforting (non-explicit) content like love letters. Lepique says the company is looking into developing other types of content in the future, but is keeping her cards close to her chest in the meantime.
While Femtasy didn’t have problems raising funds from angel investors, Lepique says audio erotica is harder to finance than other health verticals:
“As a startup in the sextech and femtech space, you have to be extra professional and extra data-driven to be taken seriously,” she says.
Cindy Gallop — founder of “social sex” site Make Love Not Porn and a founding member of Women of Sex Tech, a network of women working in the sex tech space — adds that female founders have a much tougher time raising capital than men.
She points to the case study of US men’s health startup Roman — which offers solutions for issues like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and genital herpes. Having a male founder, she argues, helped the company attract far more early funding than Modern Fertility — a comparable business founded by a woman which focuses on women’s sexual wellbeing.
“Roman, in its four years of existence to date, has raised in total $897m. It’s valued today at $5bn. The enormous irony is that what that has enabled Roman to do is to expand into women’s health with ‘Rory’ and to build out an overarching healthcare platform called ‘Ro’,” she says.
“Meanwhile, Modern Fertility has only been able to raise the paltry sum of $22m. Ro has just acquired Modern Fertility for the pathetic sum of $225m. We can’t build unicorns, because we’re women, and yet we have unicorns in waiting. How fucking unfair is that?”
Dominnique Karetsos of Amboy Street Ventures says that the gender funding gap is still compounded by investor squeamishness around sexual pleasure.
“Here’s the thing, vulva owners have a hard time getting funding — period. Irrespective of what we’re selling,” she says. “Ultimately sexual health falls into the ‘vice’ category for many investors — alongside sex, gambling etc. when it shouldn’t.”
Gallop has started the process of raising her own sex tech fund, AllTheSky, to try and address the shortfall in funding for women sex tech founders.
Her experience with Make Love Not Porn has revealed numerous problems that many sex tech founders face, such as not being able to use major payments providers like Stripe, which she says class businesses like hers as “high risk”.
“Every business obstacle I encounter is a huge disruptive business opportunity in itself. I want to fund the Stripe of se*tech to remove the business inhibitors we all face, and to build out the entire underlying ecosystem to make sex tech the next trillion dollar category in tech.”