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20 Things I Learned Working at a Women’s Intimate Wellness Company

23 Jan

at work

If you’re like me, when you accept a job working at a place that’s part women’s intimate wellness, part luxury sex toy brand, you probably have some pretty big expectations. And did I mention this gig was in Shanghai? At the very least, I figured that: 1) Everyone I worked with would be blissfully liberated mentally and otherwise; 2) There would be loads of free goodies; and 3) I would be the new office prude who would be coaxed into my future, fully realized self à la Almost Famous.

Interestingly, my experience did not involve as much of the gasping, guffawing and giggling as I expected. Sure, there was the shock factor, but there was so much more that I hadn’t anticipated: The internationally tentative nature of sexuality, the monetizing of female body issues, my period’s environmental footprint, major women’s health problems that go ignored, and much more.

20 Things I Learned Working in the Sex & Wellness Industry:

  1. Daaahhhhling—Never “vibrator”, always “personal massager”. This is the first rule of working in the classy sex toy industry.
  2. The French think that all Americans are sexually liberated, while Americans (ironically) tend the think the same of the French. The truth: We’re all in the closet.
  3. Working at a sex toy company doesn’t make you any less prude—a job’s a job. A lot of the people who worked in my office were so embarrassed about their work that they didn’t even tell their own parents what they did for a living.
  4. The number of disposable menstrual products used in one year by American women is equivalent to the weight of 6 Titanics.
  5. One in three women struggle with bladder control.
  6. Most of us don’t know the correct name for our own genitalia—it’s not the “vagina”, it’s the “vulva”.
  7. The “try to stop peeing mid-stream” Kegel trick is actually bad for you. The habit can prevent you from fully emptying your bladder, possibly causing pelvic floor health problems.
  8. Tampons and other disposables pose ignored health risks, including exposure to a substance that’s proven to cause cancer. Tampons are often created with synthetic fibers that go through a chlorine bleaching process that produces toxic by-products such as dioxin.
  9. Menstrual products such as tampons are “regulated by the FDA”, but the data that the FDA relies on to determine if a product is safe is supplied by the tampon manufacturers. The FDA does not conduct independent tests to confirm industry-reported data.
  10. Menstrual cups are not just for hippies and totally worth a try. Select a reusable one in medical-grade silicone for a healthier, greener, cheaper period.
  11. Young girls are starting to menstruate younger and younger, and the earlier age of first menses has been linked to lower socioeconomic standing, obesity, stressful family life and more.
  12. Most women don’t even know the name of the most common vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis, which affects anywhere from 10% to 64% of the female population at any given time.
  13. There is such a thing as a “period sponge”. They’re natural sea sponges used to, well, you know.
  14. Reusable menstrual pads are also a thing. Think of them as underwear accessories—it’s more glam.
  15. Flushing disposables down the toilet creates major septic problems and costs cities big time—especially in developing countries. Even if your products are labeled “flushable”, they can create major problems.
  16. The women’s intimate wellness industry will try to convince you that you need special products in order to stay fresh and clean, but they’re just trying to sell you shit. Your body has its own way of keeping things balanced, and it’s totally fine to stick with clean hands and warm water.
  17. Weightlifting for you vagina—it’s  a thing. Just trust me.
  18. Stress can actually make your period late, but it’s not the time right before menstruation that causes the delay. Instead, it’s the time before ovulation that’s to blame.
  19. Writing a “cool” infographic about incontinence is really hard. “Just make it really fun, like a magazine article!” said my boss. The best I could muster was upbeat real talk.
  20. A lot of women use products not intended for intimate use (i.e. petroleum jelly) intravaginally, which has been proven to cause infections. These infections can, in turn, increase a woman’s risk of sexually transmitted infections.

New Reflections on Life in America

14 Nov

Self Portrait in Shanghai

When you go on a journey, something magical happens—and it’s not just the trip itself. I’m talking about something that lasts a little longer than the present—a feeling that lingers like the scent of a roasted chicken or pie long after you’ve eaten. Every single day I spent in Asia was full of fantastic challenges and new experiences, but I didn’t discover the real fruits of the voyage until I’d been back in the United States for many weeks.

When I first returned, people asked me how I was handling the readjustment to American life. Did I suffer from culture shock? I was so happy to be back with friends and family after twelve months that I couldn’t imagine being unhappy. At first, being home felt like riding a bike–autopilot. Living in a spacious house with a full kitchen felt familiar and easy, drinking water from the tap was both completely normal and slightly thrilling, a soft, double-padded mattress was a welcomed addition to my nightly routine.

But, behind these welcomed comforts, a strange new sensation that I hadn’t had before began to creep ever so subtly into my being. It was a feeling I had rarely, if ever, felt at home: apathy, a quiet disconnection. Minnesota was my home, and yet I felt without a place there to call my own—no social routines or apartment or work or community with which I could fall into place. I was blissfully and terrifyingly dislodged.

Yes, there’s the shock of appropriating a foreign culture, but what about the decision to take or leave a past life?

I realized that stepping outside have given me a gift: the opportunity to break away from the deeply engrained habits and routines that had embodied my daily life before. The distance created by my time overseas offered me the clarity necessary to see my previous habits and routines for what they were. And once I could really see them, I was more than happy to cut some of them loose.

Turn that Racket Off
After spending time under the diligent eye of the Great Firewall of China, I found the constant political mudslinging of democrats and republicans much harder to swallow. On the one hand, living in a country with a heavy censor was frustrating and limiting, but oh the sheer joy of being released from the pointless, alliterative coverage of politics in America! I’m afraid that I’ve completely lost my taste for the constant wailing and doom of the national news.

Food for Thought
When it comes to China, the headlines about food safety are infamously attention-grabbing:

16,000 Pigs found Dead in Chinese River
H7N9 Bird Flu and Swine Flu May Combine and Mutate in China
Chinese Officials Find Rat, Mink, Fox in Meat Marketed as Lamb

But you know what doesn’t get as much coverage?

Majority of Chinese Population NOT Obese
Chinese Eat WAY LESS Processed Foods
Chinese Ride Bikes, Walk Daily
Chinese DO NOT SNACK all the Time
Chinese Eat HALF AS MUCH Meat during Meals

I think you get the picture. Our food culture in America sucks. Big time. I went to China expecting to be appalled by the food, but it’s the situation here in America that’s actually scary. It’s all the processed junk, people!

To Drive, or Not to Drive
Before I left for China, I sold my car. The act was liberating and distressing. I couldn’t imagine living in Minnesota without it. But since I’ve been back, I have in many ways enjoyed life without a car. There’s no stress from searching for parking, no insurance and repair costs, no liability of an accident, and it forces you to slow down, be more thoughtful and less go, go, go, hurry, hurry, hurry. But it’s not always easy to try and walk, bike, or take public transportation in Minnesota. The winters are harsh and the Twin Cities’ bus system is time consuming when travelling anywhere outside of Minneapolis or St. Paul. I’ve now lived in two different cities with killer metro systems: Paris and Shanghai. If only we could have such a system here in the Cities.

I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time abroad because I know that these experiences will continue to inform my thoughts and actions throughout the rest of my life. I’ve learned that in order to see yourself and your home, it is necessary to first live elsewhere, and as others live.

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