Sinclair: What inspired you to create Lioness Health?
Liz: My inspiration to start Lioness stemmed from my own needs. Growing up, I had a lot of questions about sex, but like a lot of us, I grew up in a family and place where sex simply wasn’t talked about. We weren’t super religious and it wasn’t perceived as negatively, but it just wasn’t something we’d really talk about—besides “don’t get pregnant.” The lack of conversations only made me more curious about sex. Why was it talked about with nods and inferences, when it seemed like a pretty important part of our lives? It made no sense to me.
Initially, I explored these questions through art. But like all artists, I had to find a way to make a living. I didn’t feel fulfilled keeping my creative life separate from what I do for a living, so even though I had landed a pretty solid job working at an investment bank, I eventually took the risk to leave and figure out how to bring things together into something I’d really enjoy.
Then, I stumbled upon an opportunity to sell intimacy products direct to women—and I loved it! I very quickly discovered that I was by far not the only “weird” person out there who had questions about sex. Whether you’re 18 or 108, everyone has questions about sex.
At first it was a huge relief that I wasn’t alone, but then it was worrying because some of the questions I heard were pretty integral to an individual’s self-confidence, health, and relationships. You’d think that people would ask their doctors these questions, but most didn’t, and the ones who did were often dismissed or given a few resources that were often unvetted or not particularly helpful.
So here I was, this young 20-something who didn’t really know that much, who often became the first person someone would turn to because I created the space for conversation. Furthermore, everyone’s questions and experiences are different, so advice was never one-size-fits-all. A lot of these experiences later became the groundwork for why we started Lioness.
Sinclair: Where do you hope to take your brand in the next 365 days?
Anna: We started Lioness by listening to our customers—women from all walks of life—tell us about their personal stories and what they wanted or needed for their sexual health. It won’t change in 365 days or (if we’re still around) 365 years.
We’ll continue to push the boundaries of sexual wellness and health and provide great products for women to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Maybe with lots of orgasms.
Honestly, aside from a healthy dose of going to therapy regularly, co-founding Lioness has been one of the biggest driving factors in changing my relationship with my body and pleasure. I felt like not only was I heading my trauma head-on, I was owning it. – Anna Lee
Sinclair: One of your reviewers called your vibrator the “FitBit” for vaginas? Is that about right?
Liz: That’s gist of it! It wasn’t something we thought of overnight — we did quite a bit of iteration and feedback from people before we got to the Fitbit-like idea. We even were skeptical of it at first — we were wondering what the value of that data would be to people. We even presented it in an unsexy way…something like, “statistics about what your body does during arousal and sex.”
To our surprise, people were intrigued. Their eyes lit up, they started asking questions that were often deep in the back of their minds, where the answers highly depended on their own body and unique experiences — questions that they didn’t realize they could ask or explore. Basically the same sort of questions with the same sort of urgency I’d get when I was selling intimacy products.
Looking back, I think it’s because there is such limited information out there about sexual pleasure and ways to effectively improve that people want some information to at least move the conversation and their understanding forward. Sexual pleasure is also not always intuitive — it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on in the moment (you want to enjoy the moment, after all), and especially harder to get a birds eye view and see some of the things that might be affecting it that aren’t always obvious. If you want something specific, Lioness is more like a sex diary where you can track your experiences, see what changes and why.
Sinclair: What do you want your customers to be able to know and do as a result of using your products?
Anna: YOU. ARE. NORMAL! We hear a lot of stories and questions from our friends and customers wondering if it’s normal for their bodies and sexual responses to do X. So much of media makes us have so many anxieties about whether our bodies are “normal.” I even catch myself falling into that thought still.
I think the beautiful thing about Lioness is being able to learn about your own body through your own data so you can see proof that, “Oh! That’s just how my body is!” and you’re not comparing over what a tabloid article told you an orgasm is supposed to feel like. You get to own your own body and give yourself the permission to self-experiment and feel good about your awesome body!
Liz: Everyone approaches Lioness with different questions and interests, but above all else, they’re curious to try something new. My hope is that Lioness can spark curiosity and become a way for people to learn, explore, and take control of their sexual pleasure. And have better orgasms if they want that, too!
Sinclair: You encourage your users to experiment and track changes, and you’re bosses at biohacking! What’s the importance of experimentation and awareness when it comes to sexual health?
Liz: It’s three things:
- Having a fresh perspective on your sex life. We all carry a lot of baggage as we grow older, so having this completely new way of seeing your sex life can bring a new perspective on how to change or make things better. It’s like being a painter who takes a step back from their painting after working on it for hours and hours — seeing your painting from another perspective can give you new ideas to make it better. It’s like that but for your sex life.
- Listening to our bodies. Our bodies are complex systems and a lot of things influence each other. Our mental health impacts our appetite, our sleep, our sex lives…and a whole bunch of other things. And the inverse of that is true, too. By being able to track changes, we can start picking up on things that weren’t obvious without being able to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
- Having fun — I think this goes without saying! But honestly, it’s easy to get into routines, and routines can get boring sometimes. This can help provide a structured way to change things up.
Sinclair: What was a recent turning point for Lioness Health?
Anna: I think a really big turning point was us finally shipping our vibrators! I think, for any hardware startup, it’s quite a rocky journey for years of pouring your heart into bring your idea into something physical. The sleepless nights on conference calls with China, the months of prototyping, and hours of looking at Pantone color chips… To be able to hold your own product in your hand is just one of the best feelings in the world. It’s been a big shift from focusing on building Lioness to selling Lioness.
Sinclair: Anna, on your website you said, “I’ll be honest, I felt a lot of guilt and shame around my own body until just about 3 years ago.” What were some factors that led to the changes in how you viewed your body?
Anna: I’m going to get a little intimate here, but I’ll try to keep it short! As a child, I went through years of sexual trauma…which as an adult, resulted in a feeling that I felt like I didn’t deserve to like my body or sexual pleasure. I felt like that for many, many years. Honestly, aside from a healthy dose of going to therapy regularly, co-founding Lioness has been one of the biggest driving factors in changing my relationship with my body and pleasure. I felt like not only was I heading my trauma head-on, I was owning it. I got to own how I felt pleasure, what I liked, didn’t like, and gave myself the permission to explore and love my body.
Sinclair: Liz, on your website you said, “I came from a more conservative, Midwestern upbringing where sex just wasn’t talked about much.” What are some messages you’re still trying to unlearn from childhood regarding sex? What response have your folks back home had to your work with Lioness Health?
Liz: Honestly? I still have issues with my own body image, and that affects my self-confidence and sex drive. I had an eating disorder growing up, and even though it’s been over 10 years since I had unhealthy eating, the negative thoughts about my body still linger.
Even though I’m much more confident than when I was younger, I still avoid looking at most pictures or reflections so I don’t have to notice my body as much. I know that I’m being way overly critical, but I’ll probably always need to keep my thoughts in check.
On a lighter note—what did my family think of my new work? At first my family was surprised at what I was doing. They were mainly concerned for my safety, but they had the best intentions at heart. Now, they’ve become some of my biggest supporters, and we’ve been able to open up the conversation more about the importance of having a healthy sexuality. They’re fantastic and I’m so glad they’re my parents. 😃
Sinclair: In your magazine titled, “Is Tighter Really Better?” you wrote: “Enforcing bullshit standards on women’s bodies has been done to death. When it comes to drawing the line between the “haves” and “have-nots”, a lot of men and women point fingers at the unsightly bulges, rolls, and abnormalities of the female body. Whether it’s the chest, the butt, the stomach, or facial features, all parts of a woman’s body are up for discussion.” What was the response to this article from your readers?
Liz: I was surprised by how much response we got from this! A lot of the response was positive and people leaving feeling more informative and energized. Some folks didn’t really read it and still debated about tightness, but welcome to the internet.
Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work each day?
Liz: Hahah, to be honest, seeing Bim, our office puppy. He was 12 weeks old when our co-worker adopted him, and he’s grown a lot since he joined Lioness! He’s one of our rising star engineers. 💙
Sinclair: What is something we often get wrong when talking about sex?
Anna: I think one thing that makes me cringe is when media tells us what an orgasm is supposed to feel like. It puts a panic in some people when they don’t think they’re having orgasms because theirs doesn’t feel like that. Past research done in 1982 and what we’re also seeing at Lioness is that there are different pelvic floor movement patterns during an orgasm depending on the person. So you may not be having that ~explosive~ orgasm like in the movies because that’s just not the way your body works!
Sinclair: How about sexuality? What’s something we often get wrong when talking about this?
Liz: Sexuality is complex. It’s not just what you see at face value. It’s not just who you’re dating at the time or who you’ve dated before.
Something that made me feel really sad recently was hearing about the treatment of men who identify as bisexual, or who’ve dated or have had sex with both men and women throughout their lives. While sexual fluidity and bisexuality is more commonly accepted (relatively speaking) for women, it is still not very accepted for men. A lot of people assume that men can only be attracted to men or women, and I think that does a lot of disservice towards men’s sexuality.
In talking to several therapists about this issue, they mention stories of men married to women who also have sexual attractions towards men, but are told by a previous therapist to get a divorce if they’re at all interested in men. The therapist is assuming that just because a man is interested in another man, that he’s gay and he’s hiding it. There can be a lot of shame and guilt for being attracted to more than one sex, and having a professional or authority dismiss your experiences can only make matters worse.
Sinclair: What are some ways we can work to create safer and more inclusive spaces for women?
Anna: When early startups ask this question to us, the first thing I like to suggest is literally have it written in your company values that is shared with all employees and new hires. Make sure every new hire you have coming in chats with one of your co-founders or CEOs so they understand how serious the company’s values in creating a safe environment for diversity and inclusion.
Other than that, the biggest one that women and people have been pleading for ages is to just LISTEN. Listen, listen, listen! It’s hard for us to take criticism especially when we think we’re one of the “woke” ones, but we all have to remember nobody is perfect. We have to be continually be willing to listen and learn when we do or say something that might be hurtful or isolating to others.
Listen, own up to your mistake and learn to be better. This applies, of course, to not just making a safer space for women, but for all individuals in order to create inclusive and diverse spaces.
Sinclair: What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self?
Anna: Learn to surf now!!!! Why are you wasting growing up in LA if you’re not going to learn to surf in warm water?! It’s so much harder surfing in freezing water here in the Bay Area.
Liz: Everything is going to be O.K. I worried about a lot of things back then. A lot of things were legitimately concerning, but I could have had a much better outlook towards dealing with the stress and anxiety.
Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?
Liz: My keyboard-mouse-monitor arrangement. I lost my USB dongle for my mouse (again) and had to revert to using my laptop keyboard and mouse…office ergonomics are a real thing.
Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?
Anna: Self-care when you’re running a startup is extremely important since it’s easy to swallow yourself up in work. My favorite way to practice self-care is surfing in the mornings before work and skateboarding after work, both without bringing a watch or my phone, so I can’t check the time!
It doesn’t matter how much you already know, anyone can benefit from some sexual exploration. A willingness to be curious, learn more, and expand our minds would do us a lot of good in matters of life and sex. – Liz Klinger
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Anna: I picked up gardening last year and the obsession lately has gone FULL FORCE. There’s plants in the office, plants inside my house, plants on my driveway, just EVERYWHERE. This morning, I just saw the first sprouts from my radish and cucumber seeds which makes me so happy!
Liz: Running and getting outside. I’m fortunate to live in the Bay Area where the weather is amazing year-round, and there are some beautiful trails even just 15 minutes away from me. It’s always super refreshing to get out and in the sun!
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?
Anna: Raccoons keep digging up all my container plants! haha.
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?
Liz: When I left my job at the investment bank. It was during one of the worst job markets in recent history, and I didn’t have very concrete plans of what I’d be doing next. I was able to pick up some jobs here and there, but I felt so awful and worthless, especially since a lot of my friends had their careers and were making money.
But the flexibility and having a supportive partner gave me room to explore and find what I loved. I was able to take classes at community college to learn how to 3D model and I ended up selling sex toys through direct marketing – both things that ended up being extremely helpful when I started Lioness!
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Anna: Does anyone else have those moments where old sayings and things your parents used to say to you as a kid come screaming back as relevant lessons in your adulthood? It happens to me almost on a weekly basis. Overall, I’ve decided for me, life boils down to three things:
- Do good to yourself and others.
- Try your best.
- Enjoy nature.
If I’m doing those three for the rest of my life, I’m happy.
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Thank you @dearibby for your thorough research and storytelling, @drhollyrichmond for your expertise, and @instylemagazine for making this story possible in the first place (link in bio!). 🙌🏽 we are all breaking down barriers and opening up conversations, and it’s incredibly fulfilling 💛
Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people in Sextech that we should follow and why?
- Shout outs to Mia over at tabú revolutionizing sexual education. IG: talk.tabu
- Sending love to Nienke in Holland for her Sexual Healing project, sensory tools for women affected by sexual trauma IG: studionienkehelder
- Highlighting the brilliant Emily at Ohnut helping prevent painful sex. IG: ohnutco
- Saying yes to Dr. Sophia Yen at Pandia Health delivering birth control. IG: pandiahealth
I could go on and on! There are so many amazing people revolutionizing sextech!
Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Liz: Start somewhere. Even if it seems small and insignificant now, by working on it consistently and being creative with how you get there, you can be on your way towards your dreams before you know it. It may not be your dream path or your initial dream goal—it usually never is—but you’ll get to somewhere you’ll probably like.
Also, ask for help. It can be really tough to ask others for help, but remember that you can pay it forward later — that’s how all of us get started, even people who seem to be masters at their craft!
Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?
Liz: Live your best life now.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?
Liz: It doesn’t matter how much you already know, anyone can benefit from some sexual exploration. A willingness to be curious, learn more, and expand our minds would do us a lot of good in matters of life and sex.
Anna is the co-founder and VP of Engineering of Lioness, a sexual wellness company that built the first and only smart vibrator that help people learn more about their own bodies. Before Lioness, Anna was a mechanical engineer at Amazon Lab126’s Concept Engineering Team building the Kindle Voyage and Dash Button. In her spare time, she volunteers as a mentor for the Women in STEM Mentorship Program at UC Berkeley as well as at Scientific Adventures for Girls which provides hands-on STEM afterschool programs for girls in elementary schools. She has spoken at SXSW and universities around the world such as UC Berkeley and Chalmers in Sweden. Instagram. Twitter.
Liz Klinger is the Co-founder and CEO of Lioness, a company dedicated to improving the lives of women by opening up the conversation around women’s sexual health using technology. After leaving her job at an investment bank to pursue her passion of gender and sexuality, she sold intimacy products to women of all ages. Liz has been featured in the The New York Times’s Women of the World and was named a Ladies We Love by Ravishly. She has given a TEDx talk on pleasure-based sex education, interviewed on Huffington Post Live’s morning show, and spoken at top universities about women’s health and technology. She’s also an award-winning artist and her work has been featured in a number of publications and independent shows. Instagram. Twitter.
Lioness is a company dedicated to improving the lives of women by opening up the conversation around women’s sexual health using technology. Their first product is a vibrator and an app that helps people self-experiment and learn more about their own bodies and pleasure. Lioness is available online and in select retailers in the United States and Canada. Instagram. Twitter. Website.