Sex + Dating

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

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.

Once you settle on a master plan, serendipity happens

I'm no engineer; so I started studying up and attending engineering meet-ups and events. And through this, Janet found out who I was, tracked me down, and met me for brunch to talk about my ideas. It was very clear from that moment forward that our passions were completely aligned.

It took me six months of drawings and figuring; and then three months for Janet to take my idea and develop the actual product. Then we had to find a manufacturer who could make Eva for us. It was really hard to find somebody willing to perform the labor-intensive process we were requesting: using sonic welding to encapsulate the motor and keep it quiet, applying a silicone overcoat on the electronics at room temperature so we don't expose the electronics to heat (a process only done in like NASA or aerospace manufacturing).

Finally, we secured a manufacturer and had lift-off.

Dame Products is a lot more than a brand to us

Janet and I needed a name for our company, and finally settled on Dame. At first we didn't really like it; but after using it for two days, it stuck. Dame: a very strong woman.

My brand doesn't just care about you buying this sex toy. I think that's what really sets us apart. We care about the quality of the product and each person's experience with it. We care deeply about how you feel about sexuality -- and we care about how women are perceived as sexual beings in the world.

We just launched our second product, Fin, on Kickstarter, and already surpassed our funding goal of $50,000. We're also working really hard on Eva II. I know Janet, in particular, is really excited to zero in on Eva again. There are going to be a lot more products coming from us. We really also want to engage more and talk to people more about these issues.

My advice from all this? Live your life in a way that feels like you can be authentically be yourself. Spend time thinking about what that means for you. Who are you? And what do you want to do? Equip yourself -- then, just go out and do it.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Alex Fine is the co-founder and CEO of Dame Products. She has a masters in clinical psychology from Columbia University, hosts a sex-talk radio show, and is always pursuing opportunities to learn more about sexual health. Learn more at DameProducts.com.
This story was told to Gigi Engle, Thrillist's Sex and Dating staff writer. Follow her lovable crazy on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @GigiEngle.