Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Melanie Cristol is the founder & CEO of Lorals, a sexual wellness brand that helps people across the world have more frequent — and more pleasurable — intimate experiences. Melanie and Lorals have been featured in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Fast Company, Autostraddle, Playboy, and other publications worldwide. She is a frequent podcast guest on shows such as Art of Manufacturing, Girl Boner, How Cum, and Women Who Tech. Prior to founding Lorals, Melanie worked as an attorney at the international law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where she represented consumer-products, healthcare, and technology companies, as well as individuals. In a highlight of her legal career, Melanie was part of the legal team that secured gay marriage rights for the western United States. She has also fought for LGBTQ rights in California and Ohio as a field organizer with the National LGBTQ Task Force. She is located in Los Angeles, CA.
Melanie, what is the idea behind Lorals and how did you come up with it?
I was on vacation, and we couldn’t have oral because we didn’t have dental dams. It’s hard to find them in stores in the US, much less on the coast of Mexico. But even if buying one had been a possibility, using it would have been such a disappointment. I wanted to feel sexy, and a flappy sheet of rubber just didn’t fit the bill. So….we just didn’t have oral, and that was a big disappointment.
After the trip I went back to my lawyer job, but I kept thinking about dental dams. I started having conversations with friends about their oral sex experiences, and so many of them were saying no to oral sex when they wanted to be saying yes. Some said no because they were worried about STIs, others said no because they felt self-conscious, others said no because they’d been through sexual trauma and oral sex felt too intimate, and others said no because their partners had scratchy facial hair and oral sex physically hurt. I realized that a better dental dam, one that people actually WANTED to use, needed to exist. If it were sexy, if it stayed in place, if it heightened the experience rather than detracted from it, so many people could say yes to oral more often. So I quit my law job to reinvent the dental dam.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
I've been developing the technology for Lorals since 2015, and we reached the market in November 2018. Currently we work with several contractors for various functions, and two of us are full time.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle was finding a manufacturer. I located a great manufacturer who had a lot of experience making condoms, but when I told them that the product would be used for cunnilingus, they said they weren’t interested. Then I connected with other factories who were fine with the nature of the product but weren’t interested in taking on new projects. I also needed a factory that could make a very high-quality product. Lorals had to look silky and beautiful. They needed to be incredibly stretchy and not break, and they needed to be ultra-thin for maximum sensation. They needed to taste great and have no remnants of a rubber odor. That’s a tall order. I ended up trying out a few factories, and the one I chose (miraculously) fit all of these criteria, plus they turned out a beautiful product.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge is getting people to talk about oral. Customer stories, introductions to stakeholders - there’s a lot of stigma associated with sex, and particularly oral sex, and particularly oral sex for the benefit of women, transgender, and non-binary people. We’re trying to make these discussions commonplace!
What are your projects you are currently working on?
Lorals is currently seeking clearance from the U.S. FDA, which would allow us to market our products as dental-dam alternatives that protect against STD/STI transmission. As part of this process, we need to develop the testing equipment to make sure every pair doesn’t have any microscopic holes that an STD could pass through. We’re also working on developing a version for size 16 (46) and above. Currently, the product fits a US size 0-14.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Don’t let imposter syndrome get to you. Every single first-time entrepreneur by definition has never done this before. Get used to figuring things out for yourself and asking for help when you need it.
What will be the key trends in the sex tech and fem tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
More women, non-binary, and trans people will create products for their own needs, expanding intimacy options to reflect the diversity of our lives. And as taboo around sextech decreases, more of these brands will get funding allowing them to grow into massive companies like Hims and Roman.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic.