Liz Klinger is the CEO and founder of Lioness, the company behind a super-duper-smart vibrator that records the arousal and orgasm patterns of its user. Then, it creates user-friendly data sets and makes charts to show the user what their orgasms look like! I think the Lioness is brilliant.
Back in late 2018, I sought Liz out for an article I was preparing for a major sex-positive publication. Afterward, the magazine decided not to publish the piece. Now, I’m presenting the entire interview with Liz here because there was just too much fascinating material to let it go to waste! In this first part of the interview, we talked about making the invisible parts of sexuality visible, how little our medical “experts” can be about sexual anatomy, and concussions’ effects on orgasm.
This is Part I of a three-part interview with Liz; read Part 2 and Part 3 when you’re finished!
Lynsey G.: I’m starting to realize that, especially Lioness, but also a whole host of other companies are trying to remedy the fact that people don’t know anything about sexuality. Either medical research hasn’t kept up with us, or the knowledge that medical researchers and professionals have is not being disseminated properly.
So I’ve been seeing these private companies that are like, “Hey, look, we’ll do the work that the research and the medical community and sex education have not done.” Lioness was the first company that I thought of when this occurred to me, so I want to talk to you about that gap in information that exists in the world, and how Lionesses working to fill it. What do people, specifically with vulvas, not know that they don’t know about themselves?
Liz Klinger: Yeah, it’s a good question because…Let me just think about this more. There’s a lot of layers to that. I mean, in some ways I don’t even know where to start with that question, because there are so many aspects to it and so many reasons…
There’s a lot that we do not know. I’m thinking about the topic, and I’m thinking about how about a month ago I had a friend who’s been a practicing OB-gyn for at least 10 or so years. We met, and she was like, “Liz, I discovered something so interesting this past week. Did you know that the clitoris has this whole [internal] structure to it? Like it has these wings!”
LG: She didn’t know that?!
LK: Yeah, I was kind of shocked. You know, this is an OB-gyn telling me this! She’s gone through medical school. She’sgotten, all the credentials. She’s gone through medical school for reproductive health, and she doesn’t know what the structure of the clitoris is! They go through so many other things, but not that. But at the same time, I’ve heard stuff like this before from other doctors and therapists. Just what people do and do not know. So it was also not surprising because this was not the first time I’ve heard something like this from a doctor or from an OB-gyn, even. And it just…yeah.
I asked her why she thought she never learned that, why her colleagues never learned that in medical school. She thought that it was because they teach what you can prescribe, basically. Like, what you can prescribe with a pill. And there isn’t really anything that you could think of that would be prescribing something for a clitoris. Maybe there could be something for vaginal dryness, for STIs, for pregnancy…the list goes on.
But this was a conversation that I had recently, so it’s top of mind. And it illustrated to me just how much we don’t know. Even people who are professionals in the space sometimes don’t even know.
That’s why my first reaction [to your question is] just silence. I don’t even know how to answer that. It’s so much! There’s just so much that we just do not know. And it’s not any fault of our own. There’s so many reasons for it. Certain professionals that a lot of people turn to may not know [because] it’s not in their curriculum. And, you know, that is also societal. There is so much embarrassment. And there’s so many different reasons for it.
My answer is just: There’s so much we don’t know. And tying in to Lioness, we’re looking to build, to kind of fill the gap of information. Basically, our role is that we see this information out there, that there is some information out there, and we’re making it possible to visualize what you cannot see. That’s probably our biggest thing from the beginning—being able to visualize what is normally invisible to people. And that in and of itself can be a powerful thing.
LG: That’s a really, really interesting line of thought. I was thinking about the clitoris—you would think that the medical community would teach it, just because it’s a basic question of anatomy in that region of the body. Right? But that, I guess, is made more complicated by the fact that so much of it is not visible. And so it’s not necessarily going to come up. But that also is maybe one of the underlying issues with female reproductive and pleasure system, that so much of it is unseen. It has this whole aura of mystery about it because it’s not a visual thing. Whereas, you know, with male ejaculation—that’s the money shot in all porn. Because that’s what you can see and it’s the proof that pleasure is happening. But there isn’t as clear a correlation for people with vulvas.
LK: Yeah. We are making a lot more of that visible than what we’ve had before. You’ve seen some of [our] charts of orgasms or arousal curves, and what all that looks like.
Okay, let me back up. So, basically we’re making this stuff visible that’s normally invisible, and we’re combining this with what has been typically recommended in sex therapy. So it’s basically diaries, tracking. Because a lot of what happens in our sex lives, be it sex, masturbation—I’m kind of putting it all in a bucket right now—it’s not always in the moment. It’s also often hard to figure out what’s causing what. What is affecting what. You look at diet or exercise or sleep or anything else, like stress. I could rattle off a bunch of things. But you could look at any other aspect of your life.
I’ll say eating as an example. Food allergies can be notoriously difficult to figure out. Like gluten allergies or even just sugar sensitivity or things like that. Because for digestion, there’s a timeframe between you eating something and then you digesting something, and it’s different for everybody. And if you’re getting sick from something, sometimes it’s a certain ingredient, sometimes [it’s] the time that you’re eating it, and sometimes it’s just a plain old allergy to something. Sometimes it’s something like your stomach or your digestive system is not processing certain things correctly. There’s a host of different things that are going on that are affecting your experience with eating something. Right?
So, similarly, if I’m using sleep as an example or anything else, including pleasure, there are so many different things that can affect your experience, or can change your experience. Some of them are more obvious, some of them are less obvious. There’s a whole bunch of different reasons why you may have a certain experience one time versus a different experience at other times. Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not. And especially when it’s not, it can be really hard to figure out without having being conscious of it, having ways of tracking and understanding and getting a more intuitive sense of things through other forms of information, basically.
LG: So you’ve built a system that tracks it for users, so that people can have easy feedback rather than sitting there and racking their brains about what made them come faster. Who has time to do that?
LK: Exactly. You want to have fun when you’re pleasuring yourself or when you’re having sex. You’re not going to be noticing like, “How does this work?” When you’re told, “You should notice how you’re feeling in the moment, and have an orgasm right now,” it’s like, “No, I don’t want to be goal-centric or notice all the other things around me at a time where I just want to like relax and enjoy myself and clear my mind. I just want to have fun!”
LG: What are some of the different metrics that people have been tracking? What are Lionesses capabilities there?
LK: If you look at the app, what you see with a lot of the charts, with the different waves, those are pelvic floor movements, or vaginal contractions. And why those are interesting is you can start seeing different things, converting what your orgasm looks like, see how your orgasm changes over time from different things, or just plain old time. Some of my more memorable stories that I’ve heard from folks have been like things people experimenting with cannabis and pleasure, and seeing how different types of cannabis or forms of consumption can change the experience. Or people who are tackling different health issues seeing their changes in pleasure and seeing how it affects their own experience.
Did you see the concussion one?
LG: I glanced through it, but I didn’t do a super deep dive. Tell me more about it!
LK: That one was particularly interesting because she had come to us initially thinking that something with the vibrator or the software had like broken, or something was not working correctly. Because normally, she had an orgasm that looks kind of like a—we call it the volcano type. There is a large spike. Versus something that’s more wavy, I guess [would be] a layman’s way of describing it. So basically, her orgasms had become different. They were pretty much the opposite of what they were before her she had a concussion. And we were going back and forth on this. We didn’t know that it was a concussion initially, so we were just like, “Okay, let’s see what’s going on here.”
We tested different things, like looking for coding errors in the software, or anything like that. But then as we’re going on this back-and-forth and we weren’t finding anything, there was a gap in time between when she had gotten back to us. She said, “Sorry, I had this concussion, and I’ve been staying away from bright screens while I’ve been trying to recover from it.”
And we had done the effects of cannabis on pleasure and orgasm at around the same time as having this exchange. And seeing some of the potential changes there could be with just different mental states made us think this could be something to do with the concussion. Because we weren’t finding anything wrong with the software or the product. So we said, “Okay, first, see your doctor because that sounds pretty bad. Take care of that first. But then, see in maybe a couple months if the data changes. We’re not quite sure what’s going on. Just see what happens.” And sure enough, a couple months passed and her orgasms were starting to look back to normal.
LG: That makes sense, but it’s not something that most medical professionals would think of.
LK: Yeah. It’s not something that you’re gonna hear about very often. So it was interesting because it’s not something that we expected when we were making the product. She’s younger, she’s an athlete. And she was just like, “Oh, it should be fine. I can walk it off.” That type of person. Like she saw [the data], and she was like, “Wow, my orgasms are really shitty. I should do something about this.” So she started taking her health seriously after that because it was kind of scary to see. You know, you see like all these different effects on your body, and for her one of them was shitty orgasms.
Now read Part 2 and Part 3 of the Juicy Cuts with Liz Klinger of Lioness, where we’ll go deeper into the importance of pleasure for overall health, learning about your body, and the dearth of sex research!
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