When I first come across Andrea Barrica on YouTube, she’s standing in front of a large audience. Her bright smile is offset by dimpled cheeks, her bare arms covered in tattoos — in one hand she’s holding a microphone, in the other she’s hefting a purple 3D model of a clitoris. She’s fresh and she’s engaging and she’s injecting a little bit of humor into a topic that makes most adults squirm in their seats.
“I have some presents for you all … I have a life-sized version that I will pass around later.” She pats her pockets. They’re empty. A woman comes near the stage and hands her something. She takes it and holds it up enthusiastically. “They found my clit!”
I have to talk to this woman. She calls me the following week at nine in the morning pacific time and my head’s swimming with questions. I’ve spent the morning reading about orgasms and sex tech and fell into a rabbit hole conversation with a girlfriend about whether or not marijuana delays orgasms. Not my usual early morning coffee conversation, but I’m finding myself in a new normal during COVID-19 self-isolation, so everything’s unprecedented at this point.
I tell Barrica that it’s Sex and Startups month at Lioness, and I’m throwing myself into conversations with women like her, female founders of sex-related startups who don’t get enough shine. Sex is such a personal thing that conversation about it is often considered taboo. Deciding to launch a startup is an undertaking in itself, doing it while shaping conversations about sexual wellness has to be a beast of a different kind.
Barrica is no stranger to tech. After studying at the University of California, Berkley, she cofounded inDinero, a platform that provides startups and small businesses with the knowledge they need to understand their company’s financial health. She led the team to over $3 million in annual recurring revenue. Later, she became a venture partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at 500 Startups where she invested in companies and helped founders with fundraising, storytelling and growth.
This revolution will be televised.
Raised in a religious, conservative family that only taught abstinence, Barrica says there were no resources to give her the help she needed when she was older and ready. “I was coming out of the closet and dealing with things in my personal life and there was not a lot out there,” she says.
In 2017, she and Kelly Ireland teamed up to set out to change that by launching O.School, an online platform people can use to build sexual confidence through medically-accurate videos, articles and live streams.
“A lot of people were like, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ I learned early on people weren’t going to understand. The adult world should be accepted in tech. It should be treated like mental health startups. So I started paying attention to how to frame it. I only spoke of it in terms of sexual wellness and information. The same way we would talk about yoga and yoga mats,” Barrica says. “When I first started out raising our first rounds of funding, when I had pushback, [I would explain that] PlayBoy went public in the 1970s, why isn’t there anything between Planned Parenthood and Pornhub?”
It’s a question she poses and answers in her 2019 book, “Sextech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness.” Barrica believes sexual wellness is the next blue ocean for tech entrepreneurs and investors.
She’s not alone. Barrica says the sex wellness industry, is projected to reach $122 billion by 2026. It’s even been booming during the Coronavirus pandemic. Griffin Wynne reported at Bustle in April, “According to Samantha Caffrey, a representative for Womanizer, We-Vibe, and pjur (three pleasure brands with sales up 263% from last March in countries that started quarantining in March, like Italy and Spain), sex toys have become the apocalypse product to stock up on.”
And, in case your Netflix algorithm failed you, earlier this year the streaming giant partnered with actress and Goop Founder Gwyneth Paltrow for a six-part series titled, “The Goop Lab.” The series explores a number of wellness topics — from psychedelic psychotherapy to the power of energy fields. So I ordered a pizza, poured a hearty glass of cabernet, and sat down to watch one of the most talked-about segments, episode three, “The Pleasure is Ours,” which dives into sexual wellness and the female orgasm. American sex educator Dr. Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross, CEO of the Betty A. Dodson Foundation, fielded questions from Paltrow and Goop Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen throughout the 36-minute episode. From explaining anatomy to teaching women how to explore what makes them feel good. The piece culminates in a live female orgasm demonstrated by Ross during a one-on-one workshop.
She told Glamour magazine’s Jenny Singer in April, “Sexual freedom for women is a life goal, my reason for being.”
Though the series has been criticized by some for making unsubstantiated health claims (most of the backlash revolved around the other episodes), the third episode received praise from everyday women.
How can women learn to be a bit freer, to have better understandings of our bodies and our needs? Sure, we can ask our gynecologists certain questions, but most of us wouldn’t feel quite so comfortable saying, “Hey, doc, what are some car sex positions that are actually comfortable and feel awesome?”
So we resort to chatting with girlfriends, and for those more explicit questions that we don’t want to be judged for wanting answers to, we usually turn to the internet, cached data be damned (and later erased).
This is why Barrica’s work matters.
“O.School is focused on medically-accurate information about sexual relations. We have a team that understands Google Search,” Barrica says. “Content is pretty key for us and the way we think about the space. If you Google, ‘why does my clit hurt?’ You get us. It’s not like WebMD. They don’t use words people Google. They don’t want to say blow job.”
“Our most engaging product is our orgasm order form.”Andrea Barrica, O.School
The feedback is what she finds so gratifying. “It’s 2020 and there’s so little out there and we’re really excited when we get notes from people. I’ve helped 70-year-old women have their first orgasms, 17-year- olds who have experienced trauma, start their healing journey. Those types of experiences are motivation,” Barrica says.
And, if she has her way, women around the world will be visiting O, and having them, for a long, long time.
P.S. The car sex positions thing? It’s totally a real question on O.School! Don’t say I never gave you anything.