Gone are the days where sex toys were housed in lurid and intimidating sex shops or where the topic of sex was only relegated to the streets of Keong Saik.
These days, sex toys are sold right next to your shampoos and it’s as easy as picking up your prescription. While this progress is encouraging, it is seen as only the beginning for Meryl Lim, 28, and Jacqueline Kee, 33, Good Vibes x Hedonist founders.
For them, the key to a more sex-positive Singapore is through education, dismantling the stigma associated with sex, and, of course, closing the orgasm gap.
Two very different paths
So, how does one become the owner of a sex toy company? Well, both Meryl and Jacqueline were on two different paths before they found their calling to empower women to own their sexuality.
Ex-business manager Meryl had a rather successful stint at The KraftHeinz Company for five years where she even had the chance to work in Australia. When she was back in Singapore in 2019, a global restructuring took place, and the Singapore office closed down. While Meryl was offered a position in the UK, she turned it down to fulfil her dream to travel the world.
Now, this was where things got interesting. Meryl sat down with a bunch of her friends to brainstorm for her Instagram handle for her romp around the world. The name, “Good Vibes Only”, was tossed around, and Meryl couldn’t help but think how much it reminded her of a sex toys company.
Funny how it might sound, but a true story! That’s how we started talking about sex that night for the first time ever and the more we spoke about it, the more I realised how seldom we spoke about this [sex]. Also, how reliant I am on Google to answer my sex questions and started questioning why we tend to avoid this topic as a whole.
It just simply didn’t make sense, it was just like an ah-ha moment for me. Given how so many of us are or bound to have sex in life, why are we not taught better on how to prepare for sex or simply to have better sex? After all, sex is a part of human needs.That night was where everything started, something just clicked within me.
Meryl Lim, Co-Founder of Good Vibes & Hedonist
Indeed, the best things often happen over a beer with friends. For Jacqueline, things shifted when she approached 30. Like many of us anxious about turning the big 3-0, she used that fear as a push to challenge herself to pursue something she was passionate about.
“So, I took a 180 turn on my career decisions and went on to become a fitness instructor at Ground Zero, took a course to become an ACE Certified Fitness instructor then later became a Matchmaker and Date Coach at Society W”, recounted Jacqueline.
“This made me realise how much joy it was to empower others to discover their authentic self and positively make an impact on someone’s life. During this period, I had also re-discovered sex toys and started practising more self-love and acceptance with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and it truly helped me to blossom into the person I am today.”
These experiences left a huge imprint on Jacqueline; she wanted to share what she felt and learnt with other women and help them take control of their own pleasure and happiness with a sense of confidence.
It is also important to note that growing as “a typical Asian kid”, these conversations surrounding sex and pleasure were not the norm for her. Jacqueline felt alone and felt “the lack of support navigating these conversations even nearly into adulthood”.
Therefore, starting the Hedonist came very naturally to Jacqueline.
“The sex toys has always been a conversation starter, but the bigger picture was always to create a safe community for people to talk about pleasure and be educated about sex positively without any shame or judgement.”
At this point, it is important to note that Good Vibes and Hedonist were two separate companies. However, it didn’t take long before they decided to join forces.
Merging Good Vibes and Hedonist
“Being two female founders of our respective startup in such a niche industry, the partnership simply made the most sense to join forces and share learnings”, said Meryl.
Good Vibes caters to the ‘girl next door’; the brand is an introductory course into sex toys with a curated range of three beginner sex toys that emphasise personalisation and self-love. In contrast, the Hedonist is for the more seasoned purveyor of sex toys with a wide range of 50 products that serve to expand the customer’s discovery of pleasure.
Furthermore, as Meryl explains, Good Vibes focuses on customer acquisition which is key in our low penetration market. The Hedonist brand is focused on maximising the basket size and returning customers, where about 20 per cent of their customers return.
Therefore, the merger of Good Vibes and Hedonist fortified a stronger platform for organic growth in Singapore and their plans for global expansion.
After all, as Meryl asserts, there is no shortage of high-quality sex toys on the market. That’s why Good Vibes and Hedonist both adopted an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) /white labelling model where they directly source toys from the open market and brand them instead of purely being a distributor and carrying one of the popular global brands.
Even though peddling sex toys is indeed a rather raunchy career choice, both Meryl and Jacqueline fundamentally believe in more than just selling toys but changing society’s perception through driving sexual education content and active community-building efforts.
“Everyone is beautifully unique in their way, and our anatomy, sensitivity, and personality are never the same, so it’s important that people have a select range of products to try and know what works for them.”
“Sex toys is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’, but it’s a tool that, if found right, is a gift that keeps on giving,” said Meryl.
Running a sex toy business in Singapore
As with any startup and first-time entrepreneur, there were the usual bumps in the road but running a sex toy startup presents a unique set of challenges.
A fledgling business like Good Vibes relies heavily on online marketing, which poses a challenge when platforms like Instagram (IG), Facebook (FB), and Google Ads are heavily regulated.
Meryl explains that on IG and FB: “We are never allowed to advertise with an image of a sex toy, no matter how discrete looking it may be.” While these platforms have an advertising policy for sexual health, such as contraception products, they do not have guidelines for sexual pleasure-focused advertisements.
On top of that, Meryl notices that their posts ‘disappears’ or are taken down for explicit content even though it is just an illustration. This phenomenon is not just with Good Vibes; Meryl notices it with her competitors where their IG account was banned despite having clean content.
“That’s a living nightmare for us to potentially have years of effort and our biggest traffic driver platform destroyed overnight.”
Then comes the issue with Google Ads. “Due to the nature of our industry, we are never allowed to do retargeting ads, meaning more opportunities left on the table that Good Vibes cannot pursue”, said Meryl.
The same goes with payment gateways, which was a little trickier than Meryl thought. Again, it comes down to the nature of the business that hinders approvals since ‘adult’ content or products are not allowed with major payment gateways.
From getting rejected from Stripe due to a technicality, switching to PayPal but due to higher charges was not a good fit to finally landing with Shopify. “Even though they too mention that adult category is banned, [Shopify] seems to be more flexible and accepting for our brands,” Meryl mentioned.
Of course, not all the challenges were as disheartening. For Jacqueline, it reminded her of the work that needed to be done to ease the social stigma of how Singaporean viewed sex and sex toys.
While some Singaporeans may think it’s a joke at first when they find out that a woman like me, runs a sexual wellness company they end up quickly becoming in line with my words when I start educating them about what sex, pleasure and masturbation can do benefit their wellbeing and mental health.
There is definitely a lot of unlearning and relearning to be done about this among Singaporeans. By being authentic and practising what we preach and being the first in Singapore to put our face to a sex toy brand, it has helped us to resonate a lot better with our followers.
Jacqueline Kee, Co-Founder of Good Vibes & Hedonist
The “double taboo” of female sexuality and being Asian
The topic of women and sexuality has always been a source of contention. On one hand, embracing your sexuality would quickly brand you a ‘slut’ or overly promiscuous. On the other hand, having no sexual experience or preferring not to talk about sex would quickly earn the title of ‘prude’ or ‘frigid’.
It’s always between a rock and a hard place, and even more so when the topic of sexuality is brought up in an Asian context.
“Women, especially Asian women, have always been brought up to be a subservient role. We are still very much influenced by our culture and religion, and that is something that paired with the subject of sex and pleasure becomes a “double taboo”.”
The lack of openness and conversation in Asia has a profound effect on women and how they see themselves. Good Vibes x Hedonist are always on the path to challenge and break through those barriers. It is the hope that more physical events, workshops, and pop-up spaces will create safe spaces “to get more people to be surrounded by other open-minded individuals to create acceptance and diversity”.
Meryl and Jaqueline make it a point to note that these hush-hush tendencies we have towards sex also affects men.
Despite being a female forward business, we always stress that men should always be included in our conversations and their role is just as important to a woman’s happiness and pleasure. Men who prioritise not just their own needs but their partner’s needs are what women want.
Meryl Lim and Jacqueline Kee, Co-Founders of Good Vibes & Hedonist
“That being said, we are also now beginning to see that there is a big gap in the community for men to speak up about sex,” said Meryl. While it is true that women do face undue scrutiny when speaking about sex, society makes it difficult for men to be as open about sex as well.
There is a huge amount of pressure for men to always perform and for them to lead the charge in terms of sex drive.
“There is a perception that men go around talking about sex, but the reality is that most grown men don’t go around talking about sex. Single guys may go around talking about their conquests with friends. However, men who are in committed relationships generally do not talk about the topic of sex often.”
Indeed, men don’t always have sex on the brain, but their reticence on the topic is equally worrying. “If they aren’t asking questions or getting the right answers, then both genders won’t be fulfilled, and that is the problem”, Meryl puts forth.
“Both parties have to be responsible for their own sexuality and be able to come together as a whole.”
Looking towards to the future
Meryl and Jacqueline hope for a more sex-positive Singapore where we can talk openly about sex just as we would discuss the latest flick on Netflix.
Even though we have miles to go, there has been some positive momentum that gives Meryl and Jacqueline some hope. Getting interviewed by mainstream media outlets indicates that society is opening up and more receptive to discussing these issues.
Plus, collaborations with other small business owners such as Sunday Social Market help to normalise the purchase of sex toys.
Having your sex toys next to other products such as handmade jewellery or artisanal soap makes purchasing sex toys as pedestrian and ordinary as picking up some new clothes. The Hedonist has been present at Sunday Social Market for years, and sales have always been promising at these events.
Looking forward to 2022, the Good Vibes x Hedonist brand has big plans for more “pleasured and simply happier human beings”.
They are currently focused on growing their team to accelerate their growth, not just in Singapore but also in the Asia region.
“Even though we have had organic sales overseas, we hope to be much more targeted in positioning ourselves as the Asian sexual wellness brand focused on driving education and growing penetration in our region (pun intended!). In terms of financial target, we plan to achieve S$1 million sales within the next three years.”
Financial goals aside, breaking the sex taboo and having more conversations about sex and sexual well-being will remain key in Good Vibes x Hedonist’s mission. So, look forward to more workshops and exhibitions that centres over pleasure and women empowerment for 2022.
Featured Image Credit: Good Vibes x Hedonist