Unbound promotes the radical idea that vibrators for women and femmes don’t actually need to look like penises
With its sex-positive ethos and distinctly minimalist aesthetic (think Glossier, but for vibrators) Unbound is a subscription box service that aims to take the embarrassment and shame out of buying sex toys. Looking more like something you’d find at The Conran Shop rather than something you’d use to get off, everything from the packaging down to the design of the actual toys is Insta-worthy. The brand’s Bean vibrator could easily be mistaken as a Comme Des Garçons fragrance, which is definitely an upgrade from the obscenely realistic dildos of the past.
Polly Rodriguez, one of the founders of the Women of Sex Tech organisation, created Unbound after cancer radiation treatment left her menopausal at 21. She tried buying her very first vibrator in an effort to reclaim her sexuality, but the experience made her realise how inaccessible and antiquated shopping for sex toys can be. She wanted Unbound to be a safe place for women and femme-identifying people to explore their sexuality – but more importantly, she wanted to offer an antidote to society’s misogynist framework of self-pleasure.
We spoke to Rodriguez about how women are taking over the sexual wellness industry, and in the process, getting rid of the cultural stigma around getting off.
How did your experience with cancer inspire Unbound?
The doctors never talked to me about what it meant for my sexuality, and I realised how, if I had been a man, that conversation probably would have gone much differently. It would have been one of the first things to be addressed. After going through that, I shopped (for a vibrator), but I realised, ‘Why is no one making beautiful products that make women feel good when they shop in this category?’ It wasn’t until years later that I realised there weren’t any real women leading this industry.
Why do you think women still feel stigmatised for seeking self-pleasure?
Most often it’s because of men who have told women what sexuality should look like and should feel like. There’s one really dark, cynical side of me that feels that it’s a mechanism to keep women down. Then there’s the other side of me that says we haven’t been given the proper education and access to information. I think that goes back to a puritanical inability for us to talk about sex and sexuality in a healthy way.
What makes Unbound different?
We focus on really minimalist designs, and not making products really phallic. I think (sex toys) are unnecessarily in the shape of a penis a lot of the time, especially when women need clitoral stimulation, which is vibration or suction. So we really try to make things that, if someone were to leave them out on their bedside table, they wouldn’t be mortified if someone walked in.
“I want everyone in America to own a vibrator” – Polly Rodriguez
Unbound caters to a lot of different needs. How important is diversity to you and for the sex industry in general?
It’s vastly important. People have such different sexual interests and needs, as they should. We realised we should carry anything that our customers are interested in with the fundamental belief that as long as they’re consenting adults, it’s not our place to judge. We need to make an effort to ensure that everyone feels like they’re part of the conversation and enjoys their sexuality, be it people with disabilities, or non-gender-identifying individuals. We focus on women first, but we’re actually currently collecting research so we can develop products for non-gender-identifying people, and women in the trans community.
Do you think that having more women involved behind the scenes in sex tech could de-stigmatise our attitudes toward sex toys in the future?
Absolutely. It’s interesting to me seeing how many of our sales are dictated by pop culture and women being examples for other women. The Rabbit, for instance, has been a bestseller forever just because of Sex And The City. Women who are willing to break the mould and say, “This isn’t weird, I do it” give other women permission to say, “I’m going to be sexual, too”.
What do you wish to change about the industry, and about our understanding of female sexuality?
I want everyone in America to own a vibrator. In the three years I’ve been doing this, I’ve realised women, generally speaking, are all looking for permission to enjoy their sexuality. So the goal is to give everyone permission to enjoy their bodies. Going through cancer, I realised that our bodies are actually incredible, and we shouldn’t be scared of them, we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. It’s crazy to me that it’s this radical notion for women to love their bodies. You’ll see this drastic tectonic shift in the way society functions at large when women really do start loving their bodies.