We Need More Latina-Owned Sex Toy Stores

I recently decided to indulge in some new vibrators because what else do I have to do? And with COVID-19’s maje sex toy boom and a lil persuasion from by BFF over FaceTime, I hoped a sex toy would be the answer to my quarantine woes like it seemed to be for everyone else.

That wasn’t the case. My initial quest to buy either a nice clitoral vibrator, maybe a bullet vibrator, or even a fancy-looking rabbit vibrator, turned into something I wish it hadn’t: me, a Latina woman, unraveling the lack of diversity in the sex-toy industry.

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As a consumer, I consistently make an effort to shop from BIPOC-owned small businesses (highly, highly recommend you do the same). And when I did a quick Google search for Latina-owned sex toys, I could only find two options. Two! Options! People! Femme-focused pleasure shop ROAR and sexual wellness shop bloomi.

I wish I could say I was surprised there weren’t more.

I grew up in a pretty conservative household in Puerto Rico. The word “sex” itself would make my mom panic—despite the fact that she regularly watched novellas that had some of the steamiest sex scenes at the time (explain that one, Mom…). Let’s just say talking about sex toys wasn’t exactly a common thing in my family.

But this Google search led me to asking the question: For a culture that is so often sexualized, why are there not more Latina-owned brands cashing in their piece of the $26.6 million (and counting) sex toy industry pie? Let’s just say, experts have some thoughts.

Reason #1: The conservative Latinx culture

Despite what most often is depicted in mainstream media, Anna Xiques, founder of ROAR, believes the lack of representation in the sex toy industry has a lot to do with sexist undertones rooted in Latinx culture.

She believes Latinx culture often portrays wives and mothers as maternal and virginal, similarly to the Virgin Mary. So if a woman is in a heterosexual relationship with a cisgender man, that could hinder her desire to pursue a career in sexual wellness because of its “taboo” nature, says Xiques.

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Licensed psychotherapist Eliza Boquin says that Latinas are seen as virginal because of the intersection between gender, religion, culture, race, skin color, sex, and colonization. “Historically, women’s sexuality’s main function was to serve as a source of pleasure for their cisgendered men partners,” Boquin says. “Latinas, in particular, are socialized to serve everyone’s needs and either suppress or deny our own. This is often celebrated as the ideal woman who never complains and selflessly serves everyone never expecting anything in return.”

Because of this narrative, a Latina who owns a sex store—or even purchases a sex toy—can be seen as promiscuous, easy, and attention-seeking. “Being a woman who embraces, celebrates, and owns her sexuality is risky and requires courage and a ton of self-awareness because the world will push back. It makes people uncomfortable. Add to that being a Latina and the scrutiny goes up considerably,” Boquin said.

Reason #2: The “perfect Latina wife and mother” trope

Transformation and energy mentor Karina Velasco added that the Latinx culture often holds a double standard for women. “The Latinx woman is trained to use her seduction and looks to get the man she wants, but once in the relationship, she has to play hard to get because she wants to be ‘wifey material,’” Velasco says.

You can guess how that perspective affects Latinas who want to own a sex store—let alone open a sexual wellness business.

Sure, a Latinx woman may be deemed as super sexual, primal, in touch with her body, and whatever else for owning a sex toy (or wanting to own a sex toy business), but she could also be seen as not ‘marriage material’ for the very same reason, says Velasco.

To a lot of those in the Latinx culture, if you are selling sex toys—or really, doing anything pertaining to the sex toy industry—that would impair your ability to be a good wife and/or mom. (Which we know is the farthest thing from the truth.)

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Reason #3: The lack of sex-positive education

Lack of sex-positive education = the main reason there aren’t more women in the sex toy industry, says Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of bloomi.

Think about it: If you combine the misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy themes, already heavily rooted in the Latinx culture, with a lack of comprehensive sex education, you’re going to get couples who don’t know how to have healthy discussions about sex, says Boquin.

And being uneducated about sex, desires, wants, needs, sex toys, and everything else can bring an onslaught of unhealthy judgment. Unfortunately, for a lot of Latinx women, “sex lives are often negotiated upon traditional gender roles and expectations versus focusing on a mutually satisfying, pleasured-centered relationship,” says Boquin.

Basically, if it’s hard to introduce sex toys or other pleasure-enhancing accessories to your sex life, it’s even harder to own a store that sells them.

Reason #4: The inability to raise capital funding

Alvarez Story, who specialized in sexuality studies in college and spent ten years helping brands develop sex toys, birth control items, and arousal devices, noticed that she was the only Latinx woman in the room. “That inspired me start my own marketplace,” she says.

But the obvious racial disparity that most Latinx women deal with, in whatever career they pursue, wasn’t the most difficult thing she had to deal with. It was securing the funding to start bloomi.

“I actually had trouble raising capital,” she said. “Most BIPOC founders don’t have the means to do a family and friend round, where they can get money from their loved ones to start their business. We can’t go to them and ask for a $25,000 check because we’re usually children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves, and we don’t have that generational wealth, so that’s a systemic issue.”

This also happens when BIPOC owners of small businesses try to apply for traditional bank loans. They typically don’t meet the requirements, such as providing collateral or even already having an established business.

Alvarez Story clarified that it’s not like BIPOC people aren’t starting businesses with well-hashed-out ideas, they just lack the resources that could take their business to the next level and actually profit from it. “We don’t have access to venture capital,” she stated. In fact, a 2018 report revealed that Latinx women received 0.4 percent of $400 billion in venture capital funding between 2009 and 2017—and only 58 Latinx women have ever raised over $1 million in venture funding.

So how can more Latinx women get involved in the industry?

“It doesn’t cost a lot of money to have an idea,” Alvarez Story says. If you’re a Latinx woman interested in raising funds or gaining access to venture capital—whether you want it to be for a sex toy shop or not—she recommends starting by registering your brand as an LLC. (You can do that here).

Following the registration of your small business, research how to fund a woman-owned small business by using the U.S. Small Business Administration as a resource.

Of course, it also helps to invest in some business courses, but if you don’t have the means to go back to school, SkillShare has amazing courses about pretty much anything you want to know—from marketing on Instagram to brainstorming ideas for your small business. The premium membership, which gives you access to all the courses on the website, only costs just $19 a month or $99 per year.

Where we go from here

Personally, I find it infuriating that, as a woman, I can’t even step out of my building without a man commenting on my body. Especially when they find out I’m Latina and immediately want me to call them “papi” or ask if I’m “a freak” in bed.

But what’s even worse: Men want to sexualize Latinx women…until they want to take control of their sexuality and actually profit from it. Suddenly, that same woman becomes “too easy,” “a slut,” or “unworthy of love.” Oh, the irony.

So, how about we stop exoticizing Latinx women in general—and especially when they want to open stores that make pleasure more accessible? It’s high time to dismantle these stereotypes, conservatism, and capital funding issues to make room for more inclusive brands. My wallet is ready.

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