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.
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.
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!