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.

Ode to an Office Job

17 Dec

Retro-Looking Office Waiting Room

Ah, the weightless fulfillment of full-time work! After four years of contracting and freelancing, a temporary yet full-time position with a local employer has been rapturously simple. When you spend so many months in self-employment land, a numbness to the pressure of the juggling act slowly seeps into your mind, dulling but not eliminating the swirling, colliding to-do lists and goals.

From the first day I set foot in the artificially lit, cubicle-laden office in November, I could feel the burden of self-employment being silently peeled off of me. How wonderful it can feel to have a solution to empty days—an agent of deeply relaxing, frivolous weekends. I had forgotten (had I ever really known?) about the freedom of a full-time job.

It is the freedom to feel that what you’re doing is enough, and that the time when you are not at work is truly your own to do with what you like. Although my current work is not forever, it bears with it the reminder that the demands of a job are not necessarily infinite—requirements do not always span across weekends and week nights and complicated client lists.

I’ve written a poem that attempts to capture the funny reality of office work—the wonderful security, the comfortableness, the predictability, the prosaic simplicity that is both wonderful and completely absurd.

The Good Water

Back and forth behind my cubicle door
strangers silently trudge over the grey carpeted floor
to a grouping of items that calls out homey comfort
with drippers and chillers and brewers at alert.
They come to heat and fill and rinse at the sink.
They like to say hello, but mostly they drink.
Because it’s well known through office chatting and fodder
that this spot in the corner’s got superlative water.

This clear-bodied stuff doesn’t cure boredom or depression.
It won’t make you tingle or laugh.
The good water doesn’t taste special or splendid.
It’s not bubbly or sparkly, not served by carafe.
It comes out of a machine that’s plugged into the wall.
Push a button or two and it fills your glass tall.
When examined up close, the difference is miraculously small.
It’s just a bit colder and warmer, that’s all.

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