It’s been a while since I posted Part 1 and Part 2 of this epic interview with the Liz Klinger, founder and CEO of Lioness. Her company makes a hella-smart vibrator that tracks arousal and orgasm patterns in users, then feeds that data back in the form of handy charts. In the process, it teaches consumers about their bodies, their pleasure, their preferences, and more. In Part 3 of the interview, we go deeper into mapping pleasure and anatomy, the lack of sex research, and anorgasmia!
Lynsey G: I want to talk a little bit about the research aspect of Lioness, because I was digging around on your website, and it said that you had seen a lack of forward momentum in researching female sexuality since the 1980s. Could you expand on that a little bit?
Liz Klinger: That’s a good question. I’ve asked different people and I’ve not gotten a definitive answer on it. A lot of it is going to be theory. We’ve asked people in sex research. We’ve asked therapists, a couple of folks who were working in the eighties, “What happened?” And we’ve gotten different hypotheses. Like, it’s because Reagan became president in the great conservative era, so to speak. Some people think it was Clinton, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and a lot of sex-negativity happened around that time. Some people also bring up the HIV/AIDS epidemic when there was a lot of fear about sex and about pleasure, and a lot of shuttering and cloistering [of] the potential to delve into more research, and get funding, and get support for funding and research.
At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s any one thing, and those are all just guesses. There could be something else. I think, historically, research and a desire to understand female sexuality has never been super popular. Not really. So there’s also that going on, too, during that time and now.
LG: Yeah, I feel like like there was Kinsey, and then there were Masters and Johnson, and they took us pretty far, but it almost feels like medical science got to a point where they were like, “Female sexuality is hard, and we don’t want to do it anymore.” And then they just kind of stopped. That’s the impression that I have gotten. I’ve been reading about how the understanding of the clitoris as an actual part of the human anatomy has disappeared and then come back multiple times over the centuries. I’ve been reading about how the G-spot is still this huge mystery to the medical community. And it feels like we have all these researchers and scientists just sort of throwing up their hands.
LK: It’s similar to the question, “How can you not know?” There are a lot of factors at play. One of the other things is the decline of federally funded research. There used to be a lot more research that was funded by the government. Just basic research. And there’s been a decline of that in more recent decades.
Now, there’s a lot of big companies that are funding a lot of the research that is happening with nutrition. This is sort of a whole separate conversation, and I don’t know the nuances of it as much, but it basically mirrors a lot of the conversation about fat-free diets and who was funding that like way back in the nineties, early two thousands, and looking at the effects of that now. When you look at research related to pleasure, there isn’t a really big entity that has a financial incentive to step in for that topic. So they have lost a lot in the federal funding for basic research. There’s no one jumping in to fund things, so you’re just left with very little money and very few opportunities to fund this research that could be happening.
LG: Yeah. That’s a really good point. There’s no power players in the sex research area. So what I’m seeing is that companies like yours are jumping in to fill the space with smaller solutions, but they’re still getting somewhere. Can you tell me about when you were getting Lioness off the ground? What was your motivation for wanting to make these unseen parts of female pleasure visible?
On Growing Up Clueless
LK: Growing up, I had my own questions about sex and pleasure and reproductive health—sexual health more broadly. And I didn’t have any reliable places to turn to. My parents are great, but, you know, we’re from the Midwest. Even growing up in the Bay Area, there wasn’t really a conversation about sex. Parents didn’t talk about it with their kids. You knew it was there, but you didn’t talk about it. When I was 13, I started having a lot of pelvic floor pain during my period. They were irregular and long, and it was awful. I was not going to school. My mom knew that there was some problem. But no ob-gyn would see me within three months. And I was like, “I’m in pain right now. I need to see someone.”
It was incredibly frustrating because it was very apparent to me that nothing mattered except for pregnancy and STIs. So, if you had something that sounded like that, you’d be taken in pretty quickly. But if it’s just period pain or some of mysterious pain that you can’t directly connect with one of those two things, then we will see you in a couple months. I don’t think it was malicious. Doctors are very busy and, with pregnancies, there’s a lot going on there.
But it was apparent that there’s a lot of things that that you experience with reproductive health that fly under the radar, and sexual pleasure became one that was more and more obvious to me. Because I’d never heard anything about it. I sought out resources on the Internet as a kid because I was like, “Well, this is the place where people talk about this stuff, and there’s forums.” But even there, if I had questions, it was hard to find something that felt applicable to the questions that I had, based on my own experiences. So these thoughts and experiences loomed in the back of my head growing up.
I ended up exploring a lot of topics related to female sexuality and sex through art initially, in college and then a bit after that. And I knew that that was something that I really, personally enjoyed. I enjoyed creating things, and I was able to explore these different ideas that were difficult to address. Then jumping from there, when I was in the real world, I got a real job. I was in finance, I didn’t want to stay in finance, and I wanted to find some way to do something that I loved and cared about. And I knew I liked making things, and I liked this topic. So I eventually left that job because I didn’t really see a future path that I’d take where staying in finance would get me there. Got to selling sex toys like in a Tupperware-party style.
LK: Bringing in product, talking to people, very quickly I found I wasn’t the only weird one with questions about sex and my body and all the things that I felt embarrassed about when I was first starting to delve into this topic. A lot of other people have these questions too, and it’s not uncommon at all. So many people have questions, and I’m the first person that they’re turning to for this. I’m this young person, and I don’t really know that much. That was concerning to me. I’m like, “Huh, there’s something going on here. Something that’s not working.”
So that was really what got me thinking about making something in this space to help people. It started with my own experiences, and I saw that other people had similar experiences. Having questions, having few places to turn, especially because everyone’s so different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all advice for people. And then making something and iterating on that and coming out with what eventually became Lioness.
LG: I guess one of the pitfalls of creating a sex toy is that you can only make so many different types of sex toys. So each line that you put out is just one thing. So people with a specific anatomical setup and a specific set of desires and triggers can use it. You can’t actually please everyone. But Lioness is kind of able to do that because it’s geared toward a specific individual experience for every person.
LK: Yeah. And the hope is to come out with different types of products, too. There are so many different experiences, and different sensations, and different everything. So hopefully this is the start of something more.
On Educating Through Vibrators
LG: Going back to the OB-gyn who didn’t know what the clitoris actually looked like, and thinking about people’s different experiences with their bodies. Are you finding that through Lioness, you’re educating people about their anatomy?
LK: It’s not something that we’re, like, “This is the clitoris. This the vagina. This, that, and the other thing.” But, for some people, there is an aspect where they’re getting more acclimated to their body. You’re becoming more intuitive about your body and how it works and your different responses. And it may not be something that you’re like tracking minutely in the moment, but as you see different trends or different observations over time, you can start to notice and point out different things.
So, when I was talking about the different types of orgasms, how they change from a cannabis or stress or alcohol or from having a concussion or, for some folks, dryness, because there are people who who have anorgasmia. They’re able to see when they’re able to enjoy things more or less based on what they’re seeing on their own chart, like, “Hm, this is happening here versus this other time when this is happening?” They’re triangulating what is a good experience for them, or what is a situation that could give them a good experience.
LG: I hadn’t been thinking about that as a possible use case. Someone with anorgasmia using the product to enhance their experience, but without necessarily the end goal of finding an orgasm.
LK: Yeah, yeah. There are people who definitely do that.
LG: Wow, that’s really great. This is maybe reaching, but have you had any users who come in anorgasmic and learn enough about their bodies that they actually become able to orgasm? I don’t really know about anorgasmia, so I don’t know if that’s a thing that could happen, but I’m curious.
LK: It’s really just hard to say because not everyone talks to us about their experiences. But there was one person—I think her review is on the website—who talked about how she used to have painful intercourse. She was able to use the Lioness to see what circumstances would enable her to have less painful sex. And then she talked about how having this data, she had more clear memories of these experiences, and talked about it with her boyfriend. Because of having all that information, she was able to have better sex with him because she had a sense, “These are the things that have created a better experience for me when I was masturbating. So I can replicate that when I’m having sex with my boyfriend.”
And there was another person that who talked about how they were able to have a vaginal orgasm for the first time with the Lioness. I think it’s probably a similar sort of thing, where you’re becoming more acclimated with your body. You’re starting to notice more about your own body’s reactions and nuances. So you’re able to know when is a good time to have a vaginal orgasm. Or like what sort of things help you have great vaginal orgasm versus a clitoral orgasm? Or however you define those things and terms for you. One person I’ve worked with more closely told me more about her experiences. She has anorgasmia, and she’s been able to learn more about what’s better for her, versus that experience. She’s able to get closer to having experiences that she enjoys.
LG: That’s great. It gives me the warm fuzzies to know you’re really helping people.
Sign up to my newsletter and never miss another interview!