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How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

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Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

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It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Vaginismus: solutions to a painful sexual taboo

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Many women use terms such as ‘failure’ or ‘freak’ to describe themselves

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Vaginismus is often a problem from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences

Vaginismus is often a problem from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences

Vaginismus is a very common but rarely discussed problem. Most women I see with this difficulty will not have discussed it with anyone else, not even female members of their own family or girlfriends. The silence that surrounds the issue and the sense of shame experienced sometimes serves to compound the difficulty itself. Many women with whom I have worked will use terms such as “failure” or “freak” to describe themselves, wishing they were “normal” just like every other woman.

Before seeking therapy, they will often have suffered this distress over a long period of time, not feeling able to embark on or enjoy sexual relationships. The thought that they may not be able to conceive through intercourse is frequently a huge anxiety for these women.

What is vaginismus?
Vaginismus occurs when the muscles around the entrance to the vagina involuntarily contract. It is an automatic, reflexive action; the woman is not intending or trying to tighten these muscles, in fact it is the very opposite of what she is hoping for. Often it is a problem right from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences. In most cases, the woman is unable to use tampons or have a smear test.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of vaginismus is difficulty achieving penetration during intercourse and the woman will experience varying degrees of pain or discomfort with attempts. Partners often describe it like “hitting a wall”. This is as a result of spasm within the very strong pelvic floor or pubococcygeus muscle group. Spasm or tightening may also occur in the lower back and thighs.

What are the causes?
Vaginismus is the result of the body and mind developing a conditioned response to the anticipation of pain. This is an unconscious action, akin to the reflexive action of blinking when something is about to hit our eye. This aspect of vaginismus is one of the most distressing for women as they really want their bodies to respond to arousal and yet find it impossible to manage penetrative sex. The more anxious they become, the less aroused they will feel and the entire problem becomes a vicious cycle.

Vaginismus can occur as a result of psychological or physical issues. Often it is a combination of both. Psychological issues centre around fear and anxiety; worries about sex, performance, negativity about sex from overly rigid family or school messages.

Inadequate sex education is often a feature in vaginismus, resulting in fears about the penis being able to fit or the risk of being hurt or torn. There can also be anxiety about the relationship, trust and commitment fears or a difficulty with being vulnerable or losing control.

Occasionally a woman may have experienced sexual assault, rape or sexual abuse and the trauma associated with these experiences may lead to huge fears around penetration. There are physical causes too – the discomfort caused by thrush, fissures, urinary tract infections, lichens sclerosis or eczema and the aftermath of a difficult vaginal delivery can all trigger the spasm in the PC muscles. Menopausal women can sometimes experience vaginismus as a result of hormonal-related vaginal dryness.

Treatment
Vaginismus is highly treatable. Because every woman is different, the duration of therapy will vary but, with commitment to the therapy process, improvement can be seen quite rapidly. Therapy is a combination of psychosexual education, slow and measured practice with finger insertion and/or vaginal trainers at home and pelvic floor exercises. Women with partners are encouraged to bring them along to sessions so that the therapist can work with them as a couple towards a successful attempt at intercourse.

Vaginismus can place huge stresses on a couple’s relationship as well as their sexual life; therapy can help the couple talk about and navigate these stresses. This is particularly important for a couple wishing to start a family.

What do I do if I think I have vaginismus?
Make an appointment with the GP. It will be helpful to have an examination to out rule any physical problem and have it treated if necessary. The GP is likely to refer you to a sex therapist, a psychotherapist who has specialised in sex and relationships through further training. They have specific expertise in working with this problem on a regular basis. You can also refer yourself to a sex therapist but, because of the very complex and sensitive nature of sex and sexuality, it is important to ensure that they are qualified and accredited. Sex therapists in Ireland may be found on www.cosrt.org.uk

GEMMA’S STORY
Robert was my first boyfriend. We waited six months to try sex, mostly because I was a virgin and very nervous. My mother had always warned me about not getting pregnant and I think I was too scared to try. When we did try, it didn’t work, it was disastrous. We tried again and again but he could not get in.

Every time we tried, I ended up in tears and over time I started to avoid sex. Robert was really patient but I know that it was very tough for him and I felt guilty. We thought it was a phase and it would improve with time. It didn’t stop us getting engaged because we knew we were right for each other.

Eventually I got the courage up to go to the doctor who diagnosed vaginismus – the relief of having a name to put on it was huge. She referred me to a sex therapist. I was embarrassed even talking about it, but quite honestly it was a relief to finally discuss it all. She explained everything about my problem and started me practising with vaginal trainers. I even got to start using tampons, something I never thought I would be able to do.

Robert also came to the sessions and that was a big help. We were given exercises to do at home together that helped me relax a lot. I made a lot of progress over a couple of months and, finally, last Christmas we got to try intercourse again. Success! Our sexual relationship is completely different now, no more worries and lots more fun.

I feel as if a huge worry has been lifted off my shoulders.

Complete Article HERE!

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Long-term relationships may reduce women’s sex drive

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Female sexual function is an important component of a woman’s sexual health and overall well-being. New research examines the relation between female sexual functioning and changes in relationship status over time.

Female sexual functioning is influenced by many factors, from a woman’s mental well-being to age, time, and relationship quality.

Studies show that sexual dysfunction is common among women, with approximately 40 million American women reporting sexual disorders.

A large study of American adults between the ages 18-59 suggests that women are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction than men, with a 43 percent and 31 percent likelihood, respectively.

Treatment options for sexual dysfunction in women have been shown to vary in effectiveness, and the causes of female sexual dysfunction still seem to be poorly understood.

New research sheds light on the temporal stability of female sexual functioning by looking at the relationship between various female sexual functions and relationship status over a long period of time.

Studying the link between relationship status and female sexual desire

Previous studies that examined sexual functions in women did not look at temporal stability and possible interactions between different female sexual functions.

But researchers from the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University – both in Finland – looked at the evolution of female sexual desire over a period of 7 years.

The new study was led by Ph.D. candidate in psychology Annika Gunst, from the University of Turku, and the results were published in the Psychological Medicine science journal.

Researchers examined 2,173 premenopausal Finnish women from two large-scale data collections, one in 2006 and the other 7 years later, in 2013.

Scientists used the Female Sexual Function Index – a short questionnaire that measures specific areas of sexual functioning in women, such as sexual arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and the presence of pain during intercourse.

Researchers took into consideration the possible effects of age and relationship duration.

The average age of the participants at the first data collection was 25.5 years. Given that the mean age was quite low and the average age of menopause is much later, at 51 years, the researchers did not think it necessary to account for the possible effects of hormonal changes.

Relationship status influences sexual desire over time

Of the functions examined, women’s ability to orgasm was the most stable over the 7-year period, while sexual satisfaction was the most variable.

The ability to have an orgasm improved across all groups during the study, with single women experiencing the greatest improvement.

Women with a new partner had a slightly lower improvement in orgasmic ability than single women, but a higher improvement than women who had been in the same relationship over the 7-year period.

The study found that women who had stayed in the same monogamous relationship over the entire 7-year observation period experienced the greatest decrease in sexual desire.

By contrast, women who had found a new partner over the study duration experienced lower decreases in sexual desire.

Women who were single at the end of the observation period reported stable sexual desire.

According to the researchers, relationship-specific factors or partner-specific factors that have no connection with the duration of the relationship do have an impact on women’s sexual functions. Consequently, healthcare professionals should account for partner-specific factors when they treat sexual dysfunction in women.

However, researchers also point out that sexual function needs to be further examined in a short-term study to have a better understanding of the diversity in sexual function variation.

Strengths and limitations of the study

Researchers point out the methodological strengths of the study, as well as its limitations.

Firstly, because the study was longitudinal, it reduced the so-called recall bias, meaning that participants reported their own experience with higher accuracy.

The study also benefited from a large study sample, validated measures, and structural equation modeling, which reduces errors in measurement.

However, the authors note that the long 7-year timeframe may not account for short-term fluctuations, and varying sexual functions may interact differently when studied over a long period of time.

The study did not examine sexual dysfunctions.

Finally, the authors mention that they did not have access to data about cohabitation, or about the duration of singlehood.

Complete Article HERE!

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Raising a gender nonconforming child

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An interview with Eileen O’Connor

By Kim Cavill

gender-nonconforming-child

Eileen O’Connor, blogger at No Wire Hangers Ever, lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses. She has been published on Huffington Post 26 times and appeared on the WGN morning news. Recently, she wrote a blog about raising a gender nonconforming child. I asked her for an interview and she very kindly accepted.

Hi Eileen! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I am a working mom of four. I have been married to my husband for eleven years. My kids are 9, 8, 7, and 6 years old.

Sex Positive Parent is about teaching parents how to talk to kids about sex and relationships, including conversations about gender norms. Gender norms are expectations and rules about the the way women and men “should” look and behave. As the parent of a gender nonconforming child, what do you want other parents say to their children about gender norms?

I would love people to know that my kids want the same thing every kid wants: to be loved and accepted. They may not fit the gender norms when it comes to the clothes they wear, but they are just clothes. Clothes don’t define who they are as people.

Excellent advice for all of us, I think. What sorts of things have other adults said to you about your child or your parenting. How did those things make you feel?

I have been told that I’m “making my kids this way”. That “God doesn’t make mistakes”. I have had grown ass adults tell my kids that they can’t be something for Halloween because their gender. And my favorite is “you’re the parent. Tell them no”. At the beginning I worried about what people thought. I didn’t know how to respond. Now I just laugh at people’s ignorance. I don’t have time for that nonsense. You go ahead and tell your kids no all he time. I’m going to let mine live their lives.

Wow. Any parent can tell you that making a child be anything is an uphill battle, right? On your blog, you wrote, “At the beginning we were hesitant. We said things like, ‘You’re a boy and boys don’t wear dresses. Be a man! Stop being such a little sissy!’ You know, the normal things you say to a toddler questioning their gender role. But we soon learned his love for all things fancy wasn’t going away. We could either accept him the way he is or we could make his life and our lives miserable. We CHOSE to accept him for who he is. He did not CHOOSE to be this way.” Can you describe your thought process in coming to that realization? I’ve worked with families who flat out refuse to allow their child to express their gender outside societal norms, even when that expression persists for many years. What do you want to say to those parents?

When my kids first started to show an interest in gender non-conforming clothing, I started to research it. The first article I read said that children who struggle with their gender are way more likely than gender conforming kids to commit suicide. That’s all it took. My husband and I discussed and decided we weren’t going to spend one second having them feel bad about who they were. I immediately went to Oldnavy.com and ordered them both new wardrobes. To parents who are struggling I want to say that it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. And the sooner you can accept your child the way they are the happier they will be. An the happier you will be. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace your child just the way they are. Nothing you can say or do will change who they are. Nothing. Not one God damn thing.
Also would you ever try to change your gender conforming child? Would you ever try to convince your heterosexual child that they are homosexual? No, you wouldn’t.

The risk of suicide is extremely serious. Statistics consistently show that children who are gender nonconforming experience a much higher risk of suicide, as well as bullying and violence. Having a supportive family goes a long way toward mitigating those risks. And you are very right that it isn’t feasible to control someone’s gender or sexual orientation. At best, you can temporarily regulate their expression. How do you balance the parental desires to raise independent children, but also keep them safe in a sometimes dangerous world? How do you deal with fear?

We’re lucky that our kids are still little and are being raised in such an amazing community. Our kids are surrounded by family and friends that truly accept them for who they are. They are in a school with 27 cousins. That’s a built in security system. Of course I fear what will happen when they get older, but I’m not going to worry about that now. I learned a long time ago that we have to take it one day at a time.

That’s such good advice, taking things one day at a time. I absolutely loved this statement that you wrote in your blog: “And for any parent out there that doesn’t want their kid playing with our kid because he wears a dress? Joke’s on you. We decided a long time ago that our kids weren’t allowed to play with kids who have closed-minded parents. We’d much rather raise a gender spectacular child than an asshole.” A lot of people feel that the current political climate has shown a spotlight on deep divisions running through the fabric of an increasingly diverse American society. As members of that society, how do you think we should address those divisions, some of which are gender-related, going forward?

I think every person just needs to choose kind. Always remember you never know what another person is going through. If everyone could always do this and treat people with kindness, things would be fine. Also I think that things are so much better now then they were when I was growing up. So I know things will continue to improve. Over the summer I was at the pool and I overheard a convo between a group of people in their 60’s-70’s. They were talking about gender non-conforming children and how they didn’t agree with it. All the while my little boy was swimming right by them in his bikini. It made me happy. Mostly because I knew they’d all be dead soon and I won’t have to worry about them for very long.

What a perfect illustration of how simply living life can be a form of protest and bring about change. Aziz Ansari, one of my favorite comedians, does a bit about interracial sex and says something to the effect of, “Well, you can think it’s wrong, but I’m still going to f*ck white girls and there’s nothing you can actually do about it.” Finally, my favorite question from the French host, Bernard Pivot, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

You’ll eternally be a size two and the wine is unlimited.

LOL. Thank you, Eileen, for your time and your words. Readers, make sure get more of both by following her blog on ChicagoNow, and you can find her on Facebook/Twitter.

Complete Article HERE!

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How I Went From Being a Psych Major to a Sex-Toy Creator

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Like many little girls, Alex Fine wanted to change the world.

Her approach was a little uncouth — by young adulthood she decided the best way to make things better would be to give people a better understanding of human sexuality. Alex and her partner Janet Lieberman founded Dame Products in 2011 to do just that — and to ensure every single woman could have an orgasm when she wanted one.

The women designed toys that could work WITH couples during sex to ignite arousal and pleasure. Their first product, Eva, launched on Indiegogo and quickly became the most successful crowdsourced sex toy in history. And Dame’s latest invention, the Fin, made news as Kickstarter’s first-ever sex-toy crowdfunding campaign.

“I grew up empowered by sexuality, but aware of its dark side. I have felt empowered by my sexuality since I was very young…”

Even very young, I was aware of my femininity. The only epiphany I ever had about sex was when I grew boobs. I remember waking up and being like, “Oh my God! I officially have boobs.”

I first experienced slut-shaming in sixth grade, when I kissed three boys in one night. They were all my good guy friends and they were like, “What would it feel like to kiss a girl?” and I said, “I’m a girl, I could show you what it feels like to kiss.” I’m an open person. That’s me.

It only bothered me the next day, when I got to school and everybody was talking about it. People were so mean to me that day and called me a slut. I did not kiss a boy for like two years after that.

I caught on early to the power of sharing stories about sexual experiences

In high school, I dated the same guy from freshman to senior year. I lost my virginity to him… and got HPV. I wanted to share what I went through with my health class. My teacher told me not to — she said it would be a really awful idea because kids can be so cruel. I told her that was wrong: “You are telling me not to share my experience and you are perpetuating the cycle.” I refused to shut down and pretend these things hadn’t happened. So I kept talking — and other girls started coming to me to talk through their own stuff.

As high school graduation approached, I was seriously considering becoming a sex therapist. I am so fascinated by the psychology of gender and sex and how it shapes our society. I wanted to be a part of this conversation. I ended up going to Columbia University for a masters in clinical psychology. It was during that time I realized this dialogue was one I wanted to have.

My goal was to figure out how to make the biggest impact

Growing up, my father really instilled in me the entrepreneurial spirit. It was a belief that there were no limitations on what I could do — and if I didn’t know how to do something, I could look it up on the internet and get the answers I needed. I think a good entrepreneur has this really ridiculous belief that they can figure out how to do anything.

I remember mapping possible futures out for myself in grad school. I could become a sex therapist, sex educator, teacher… And then I added, “I could make a vibrator.”

I circled that last sentence on my idea board. The thought resonated with me. My goal has always been to help people — especially women — feel empowered and aware of their own sexual identities.

So, it was in that headspace that I ended up working in a consumer goods company. I wanted to learn about what it means to be a brand and sell a product around the world — and that’s when I started drawing out what would eventually become the Eva hands-free vibrator for women to wear during sex in order to close the orgasm gap.

Complete Article HERE!

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