This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Do Women Want To Compare Orgasm Stats?

Startup SmartBod boasts, “We make learn­ing about your arous­al and or­gasm less like fum­bling alone in the dark and more like dis­cuss­ing your Fit­bit’s step count with friends.” WHOA, SIGN ME UP. Except don’t because that sounds terrible? People want to do this? Founders Liz Klinger and James Wang think so. Masturbation should be competitive; that’ll improve the world!

According to Clare Thorp, “The statistics generated by the app will also allow you to see how your satisfaction compares with other users[,] like a leaderboard for orgasms. […] Liz Klinger hopes that it will give women reassurance, and cut through the nonsense that people peddle about their sex lives. […] It’s the ultimate answer to that perennial question: ‘Am I normal?'”

Instead of telling everybody that they’re normal, which is statistically impossible just like everyone being exceptional, why not encourage people to accept their orgasm profiles—or whatever term SmartBod plans to use—the way they are? Klinger and Wang are kidding themselves if they don’t realize that people are going to worry about climaxing too quickly or needing super intense vibration. Look at how people react to disparities in Instagram likes.

hors d'vours.jpg
Photo by tox brown.

Based on the SmartBod website and a story by Patricia Yollin, Klinger and Wang are motivated by the admirable desire to help people understand their bodies and optimize pleasure. As Yollin explained, “Klinger and Wang figure that the urge to quantify, measure and explore one’s body should logically extend to female excitement.” Often I read sentences to which I react, “This is everything that’s wrong with Silicon Valley,” but seriously, this is everything that’s wrong with Silicon Valley. Though earnest, the metric-based attitude is extremely clinical. Example: “One beta tester was able to talk to her partner and say, ‘Look, here’s data. We should have foreplay for this long.'” Granted, that information is potentially sex-enhancing, but geez, what a bloodless way to present it! Oh baby, gimme them statistics.

To be clear, I don’t think that the SmartBod vibrator is an entirely terrible idea. I’m all for dispelling shame and having unabashed discussions about sexuality, especially female sexuality. Helping people have more and better orgasms is a good thing. What I am saying is that I agree with Jim, a commenter on Yollin’s article:

“Hard to imagine this going mainstream. […] I just don’t think anyone wants to turn pleasure into some kind of lab experiment, homework, study topic, [or to] and share this kind of info, presumedly on Facebook or something.” I feel ya, Jim.

1950's relaxation
Photo by frankieleon.

There is something about SmartBod that actually disturbs me, rather than merely setting off my “dumb startup” alarm. Rampant gender essentialism. Which is true of most sex-toy companies, and basically most of the world, but if you’re going to position your company as enlightened and progressive, perhaps you should attempt to actually be progressive. From the SmartBod website:

“Using advanced biometric sensing and statistical methods, we help you characterize your sexuality—how fast you get aroused, how long it generally takes to orgasm, and when sex would feel best—both individually and within the diverse sexual spectrum of the aggregate female population. Finally, as a company with strong female technology, design, and executive leadership, our product is women-centric at its core, from our choices to use the same materials as those used in medical devices to tailoring our device’s ergonomics to how woman [sic] actually hold vibrators.” [Bold added.]

It’s great to be a feminist company with a “women-centric” product. (Although I must note that they steer clear of citing feminism by name.) I am all about lady-focused businesses that put their money where their mouth is. However, conflating vaginas with womanhood is transphobic. The end. Doing so is violent to women who don’t have vaginas, and violent to men who do.

As always, I’m interested to see how this plays out. Send me links (@sonyaellenmann). Hat tip to Dave Pell’s newsletter NextDraft. For more brand-behavior mysteries… The Miraculous Bumbling Starbucks!

Starbucks Competing For Corporate Cluelessness Award

Joe Berkowitz for Fast Company: “This Is What Happens When You Walk Into Starbucks And Talk To The Barista About Race”. The entertaining article points out some of the ludicrous aspects of Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign. I emailed the link to a friend, who prefers to remain anonymous for job reasons, but commented:

“This reminds me of Netflix saying it was going to split the company into two brands and no longer have a single brand aimed at people who wanted to watch movies. I mean… it’s true that I pay separate fees for the DVD’s and the streaming… but two separate brands was just stupid. I mean, one of those ideas that you didn’t test on anyone. #RaceTogether is just such an idea. Massively stupid and damaging to the brand… but probably not forever. It will go away, and then people will forget about it after a few months.”

Basically. To enforce my friend’s point, I had totally forgotten about the Netflix fiasco! Remember how bad the new name was? Qwikster. Bahaha. I love when brands phenomenally mismanage things.

Starbucks UGLY SIDE !!!
Photo by Ahmad Ziyad Maricar.

See also: Hamilton Nolan mocking the Starbucks initiative, Khushbu Shah rounding up salient tweets, and Hayley Peterson reviewing the hilarity of a Starbucks exec deleting his Twitter due to #RaceTogether criticism. Bruh. How can you lack self-awareness so profoundly?

Jokes aside, Tressie McMillan Cottom makes the most humane observation:

“It takes a lot of training and a lot of institutional support to teach people things they would rather not hear. I wonder what kind of training and support the hourly wage baristas at Starbucks will get.”

Instapaper Saves You from Terrible Web Design

I have vehement feelings about web design, especially since I read a lot of articles online. The overall principle is that simplicity trumps everything. Well, everything except functionality. I wanna be able to frickin’ do whatever I’m trying to do on the website!

Usually all I’m trying to do is read something. However, most online publishers don’t prioritize my ability to process the content they post. I find this astounding. Don’t they want me to derive value from their sites and feel motivated to return? Apparently not. It’s baffling.

Here is my rubric for judging a website:

  1. Large font. Like, 16-point Times New Roman or larger. (Unfortunately, text is almost never big enough. Luckily I can fix the problem with Ctrl+.)
  2. Black-on-white text. Any other combination is less readable. Pale grey text, even on a white background, is especially obnoxious.
  3. Minimal visual clutter. Adblocking is a phenomenal help, but I do feel guilty about using it on websites that I want to support.

According to these rules, The Awl is a good website, but not a perfect one. Its sister site The Hairpin sucks. Medium is even better than The Awl. (I considered taking screenshots to document the websites’ current forms, but on the other hand, whatever.) The rest of the internet publishers range from “mediocre” to “I can’t believe this is a professional endeavor; shoot me”.

Photo by Johan Larsson.

AND YET! THERE IS HOPE. I recently started using a service called Instapaper, which Ryan Holiday suggested in one of his articles. Instapaper exists as a website, Chrome extension, and phone app. The service enables you to save articles to read later and has an adaptable interface similar to the Kindle app. In their own words, “Instapaper is the simplest way to save and store articles for reading: offline, on-the-go, anytime, anywhere, perfectly formatted.” Usually a brand’s self-description is hyperbole, but not in this case. Instapaper is right on the money.

But wait, are they? Without running tons of ads, how can Instapaper be financially sustainable? The answer is Instapaper Premium, an upgrade that costs $29.99 per year, which I just bought. I don’t even want the expanded features, although I may use them now that I have them. What I want is to support technologies that make my life — in this case my media consumption — better.

Curious about the articles that I’ve been queueing up? Check out my Instapaper profile.

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