Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
A spritely and fearless entrepreneur, Emily Sauer founded Ohnut - an intimate health wearable for painful sex, that allows you to customize the depth of penetration. She also co-founded the Lady Bits League, a monthly roundtable of empowering women, co-creating a deeper understanding of how sexual identity informs our collective lives. Previously, Emily was a Technical Director on high production photo shoots working with revered photographers including Nadav Kander. She gained additional entrepreneurial experience by founding a successful digital equipment rental agency, and due to her reputation for charisma and attention to detail, media corporations, blockbuster brands, and entertainment companies like NBC, Adidas, and Time Magazine hired Emily for her expertise. Emily also gives lectures at the School of Visual Arts and taught kickboxing at Cornell University, where she graduated with a BFA.
For over 10 years, Emily Sauer had quietly endured deep dyspareunia (pain during sex). She refused to recognize it as a real physical (let alone emotional) problem. She defined herself as confident woman and a desirable partner – being “melodramatic” about pain wasn’t in her nature. Though looking back, it didn’t even occur to her that a solution could exist. For Emily, painful sex during deep penetration was something she accepted...but never really got used to.
As a result of growing frustrations from an avoidant medical system, Emily worked tirelessly, collaborating to develop an intimate health wearable (cue pouring silicone in kitchen montage). The response from the product was staggering. Doctors started calling. People she didn’t know started emailing to beta test the product. It was both heartbreaking and hopeful to find out every single one of these people felt like they were struggling alone.
When Emily started this journey, she called upon a community she didn’t know. Now Ohnut is backed by renowned surgeons, pelvic floor physical therapists, and sexual health educators all over the US. Ohnut is guided by a medical and scientific advisory board. This board is launching a clinical study with the product. As of recent, several cancer research centers have reached out to offer Ohnut to their patients.
What is the idea behind Ohnut and how did you come up with it?
I've always been a conversation starter. But there was one conversation I wasn't having -- and I didn't realize how much it was affecting my life. Painful sex for me, was something that made me feel bad about myself in addition to being a physical discomfort. I was too embarrassed to speak to anyone other than doctors about the challenge, and when those doctors couldn't help me... I couldn't help myself either. So I surrendered to a new normal, and dealt with this alone. Finally my frustration came to a head after a decade, and I came up with the idea of customizing the depth of penetration. All of a sudden I had a reason to share this idea with friends, strangers, even family. The response sparked a complete paradigm shift for me. I wasn't alone at all.
When did all start and do you have other members on your team?
Once I mustered the courage to start a conversation around painful sex late 2016, I was amazed to find people wanted to talk about painful sex and how it affected their lives. I have a small but mighty team of all-stars, including a medical and scientific advisory board of experts in the painful sex space.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
From coming up with an idea to customize the depth of penetration to launching Ohnut's Kickstarter, it's been two years. At the beginning of 2017 I started prototyping in my kitchen (where I currently live in Brooklyn) from Jan 2017 until Sept 2017 when we landed on the current product version. After attending my first medical conference in Feb 2017 (ISSWSH) I was blown away by how eager doctors were to get involved with Ohnut and offer it to their patients. The range of patient applications for the product is enormous.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The hardest part about starting Ohnut was opening up that conversation around painful sex. Since then, I've been challenged every day - from learning to manage a team, to differential diagnoses of deep dyspareunia, the scientific properties of polymer blends, even Mailchimp. I continue to grow as a founder through this process.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Business-wise, I'm proud that Ohnut has attracted so much support from the medical community. Our scientific advisory board includes experts like Stephanie Prendergast, gynaecological surgeons like Adam Duke, and Susan Kellogg, a pelvic health specialist on the editorial board for the Journal of Scientific Medicine. On a personal level, every single story from every single product user - moves me. As challenging as it is for me to figure out every little business detail from scratch, it is the core human connection from Ohnut - that is most significant.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
Talking about female sexual health in 2018 is still stigmatized. It's exciting that new conversations are opening up around this topic EVERY DAY from medical professionals at IPPS, ISSWSH, AASECT - to the female entrepreneurs of the Women of SexTech, all of whom have built the foundation for an Ohnut conversation.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
So far so good! When I started Ohnut, it began as a conversation around painful sex. I called upon a community I didn't know and now doctors, educators, business leaders, and so many others welcomed me with open arms. People of all genders have been extremely supportive.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Absolutely! #WomenInTech sets an example that redefines leadership and possibility that isn't based on gender. In my experience pre-Ohnut, I know that I didn't seek a solution for painful sex as hard as I could have... because I didn't think a solution could be possible. When women stand up as leaders, and set that example, and show that we're capable of creating solutions and possibility - we become stronger not just as individuals, but as a powerful community. I didn't think I'd ever be here, and I'm honored to be a part of #WomenInTech movement.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
If you're passionate about your idea and are thinking about starting a business, start a conversation with your friends, family, and people on the street. Find out if other people share your interest for your product. Bring people together to talk about your idea. I am passionate about bringing people together, and honoring the brainpower of the collective whole. I started the Lady Bits League because I didn't know how to talk about sexuality outside of my personal experience. Now we have a growing group of empowered women, and we just threw our first Sexual Wellness Summit event.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
In the next five years, I foresee women in wearables and healthcare stepping up and creating products that are made specifically for us with our holistic needs in mind. What's also incredible is that upcoming female makers and business women, like myself, see how important it is to include men in these conversations and products.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech / health tech?
There are so many women I admire. The specific women I'll call out are a part of my team: Susan Kellogg, Stephanie Prendergast and Rachel Gelman.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. 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 @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.