If you were to stumble upon anything from Maude, a new female-owned sex essentials company, chances are you wouldn’t know what it was. Their products (which include a $45 vibrator, a $25 bottle of lube, and a $12 bag of condoms) don’t have any of the usual giveaways: no stereotypical feminine colors, no suggestive packaging, and no phallic details that may make you want to hide the items under your bed. The lube could pass as a bottle of soap. The vibrator looks like a piece of decoration you might pick up at Ikea, save for the obvious silicone material. Everything is minimal, beautiful, and gender neutral.
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But this was the goal for co-founders Eva Goicochea and Dina Epstein, who set out to try to make their customers feel good about their sex lives. “It’s funny because even ‘sex positive’ has been appropriated by this idea that you have to scream it from the rooftops,” Goicochea said. “We’re trying to say sex positivity just means you make it more comfortable for people to think about it. The last thing we want to do is make people feel judged.”
The two first met at a panel in Los Angeles, and prior to Maude, Goicochea was one of the first to work at the ever-popular Everlane, where she headed social media, culture, and hiring. Before that, she once worked as a legislative aide in healthcare, a “detour” that made a significant impact on her. When she decided to enter the sexual wellness space, she approached Epstein for advice, since she had previously designed for the sex toy industry. But she found that Epstein wanted to join the team, and thus became Maude’s co-founder and chief product officer. Now, Goicochea, the CEO, runs creative and marketing, while Epstein manages all product ideations and manufacturing. The company itself is backed by a women-owned VC firm.
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“It was really important to us to build a company that was for all people,” Goicochea says. “Part of starting this company was very much about also changing the internal culture of the sexual wellness industry.”
Epstein adds, “I think when you’re talking about sex products in general, and you’re sitting there designing in a room that’s all men at a table talking about what to design, for the most part, for women, you already have a disconnect,” alluding to her own experience designing sex products for a larger company.
So they set out to flip the tables and create a company that would treat people, and their sex lives, with respect. The two did a survey with over 600 people, ages 18-71, and found that many said sex products didn’t speak to them because they were pedaling one specific brand of sex: one that was raunchy or heteronormative or not inclusive of other ages or genders, and one that displayed one ideal body type.
“It’s not just inclusivity in the sense of talking to people in a broader way,” Epstein said. “It’s also through your packaging and your messaging.”
They incorporated feedback into their decision to make everything inclusive (nothing is marketed for one specific person or one specific relationship), and if you look at the company’s Instagram, there are no peach or eggplant emojis; the allusions to sex are much more subtle or even nuanced. It’s about the mood, the vibe and making sure your essentials are accounted for. You can even enter information about yourself on the website, and they’ll build you a personalized kit. And as they continue to create more products (the two show me a massage candle that has a similar aesthetic to the rest of their items), Epstein says they’ll approach it through the lens of carving out a space for people to think about their sex lives in a comfortable way. It’s a conversation that leads to bigger and broader questions: How do we perceive sex? How do we feel about it? How do we treat it? How do we integrate it into our lives?
In Call Me By Your Name, the movie that swept the awards show circuit earlier this year, there’s one scene where Michael Stuhlbarg, who play’s Timothée Chalamet’s father, gives an emotional monologue about sex, relationships, and heartbreak. He says, “Just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once and before you know it your heart’s worn out, and as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.” This particular line hit home for Goicochea, who says she hopes Maude can help people find a new perspective on sex, one that’s happier and satisfying—and starts with self-love.