My Sex Positive Story: Bryony Cole

In this third instalment of our sex positive journey series we hear from Sex Tech School founder Bryony Cole.

Bryony Cole Future Of Sex

Carol Battle (co-founder, The Good Bits) met Bryony Cole over Zoom in lockdown Melbourne, to talk about sex tech, sex positivity, and what working in a sex-related industry can do to your career.

CB: How do you identify?

BC: Open, sex-positive heterosexual. How people are identifying is changing and evolving — but we all love a label don’t we!

CB: Tell me about what you do. 

BC: I run in the sex tech industry. I started out doing a podcast, which is in its second season now, called Future of Sex, that exposes the evolving world of sex and tech.

Since 2016 I’ve been diving into all different areas of sex tech. I discovered this is an industry that’s so much bigger than I thought. And there were a bunch of people doing interesting things. I moved from podcasts to running events in New York to then public speaking, which has pretty much been my pre-COVID life for two years.

You know, jumping about around sex tech and saying, isn’t this amazing. Everyone needs to know about this. And part of that for me was thinking, Oh wow, why didn’t I know this existed? And how do we get more people into it?

And so for me, coming from a tech background, I was really inspired to run hackathons and innovation jams, where we could encourage more different voices, different sorts of bodies, abilities into this growing space called sex tech, that has these incredible valuations and to work out how we get different people to innovate around different products because everyone’s different with their sexuality.

Satisfying sex stories at The Ripped Bodice

I’ve learned so much over the past four years. I’d love to share, to invite people in, in a bigger way than just a weekend. So I launched Sex Tech School, as the next gateway if you’re interested in sex tech.

It has everything I wish I’d learnedat the start that  took me probably six months, and packaged it into six weeks.  It covers everything from branding to community engagement to where are all these people in the world. It’s just like encouraging people to take their first step, dip their toes in.

BC: What were some of the initial surprises for you when you were learning about sex tech?

CB: When I first heard of sex tech, I was like, this is so cool, sex robots.

And then I met these guys doing VR sex. I thought that was really cool, but way bigger, like a groundbreaking moment for me, was discovering the people behind all of this.  The people—many women— doing interesting things in developing interesting products, catered towards different audiences and not the ‘pale stale and male’ crowd, who largely run the tech industry that I was involved in.

So everything from products which help with painful sex to O School, which is a sex education platform. I realized pretty quickly as I started getting involved in the community that a lot of it was based in New York.  I would host these dinners and learn more and more about the industry and sort of embed myself in the industry and look, every single person I meet, I’m like, Oh yeah, that should exist, but why hasn’t that existed before 2020 or 2019? So it really could go on.

Sometimes it’s not as sexy as a sex robot sounds. These can be really simple innovations.

I think that’s what was probably a surprise.  The people running it, they could be me. And they’re building stuff for my body and for different bodies and sexualities.

I definitely had that moment. A lot of people do, we talk about this in Sex Tech School.  Putting your name to sex can be very confronting, because there is still so much stigma around it and social stigma.

I no longer encourage people to just go for it because I think there are so many ramifications.

It’s so particular that to where every person is at, and it was such a journey for me to get there.  Once you’re there, you kind of go for it. But you have to know in some ways that you’re never going to be ready to do that because the amount of trolling and things that come your way is real.  That’s like any going public in anything I guess. Sometimes it’s more the personal side, like what will my parents think?

CB: What’s that journey been like for you? 

BC: When I thought everything was anonymous, I thought podcasts would be anonymous. It was confronting because I didn’t have a real backup option financially.  I kind of dove in thinking, I’ll just do this, but I can still get my consulting gigs in the tech world.

It became apparent that you can’t put your name publicly to sex and do that, which was a bit of a rude shock.

It was tough.  My parents are so supportive now, but they were scared about what people would think.

People say the craziest shit and YouTube is the worst.  I’ve developed a thick skin. I think a process has also beendeveloping my sophistication and talking about sex and my knowledge. It hasn’t been easy and it’s still not easy.

Last year I remember thinking about how do you de-sexualize the sex conversation in a way.

Take the sexiness out of it so people can kind of get beyond people looking at you like you must swing up the chandeliers every half an hour.  It’s kind of fucked up to say, but in some ways, having a partner, when you’re speaking publicly about these things can also be a good shield. I’ve spoken to men starting in their careers in sex tech and are scared about what women will think when they try to go out on a date, “they’re going to think I’m a deviant”. So it does swing both ways too.

Satisfying sex stories at The Ripped Bodice

CB: What are you excited about at the moment?

BC: Oh so much!  I’m excited that there are so many people starting to move into this industry. I think what I’m excited about is more the cultural conversation that’s happening around sex.  It’s less about the technology and more about the amount of attention sex tech is getting as a legit and credible industry.

Cindy Gallop has fought for that for 10 years, but now we’re seeing this critical mass. And for me it feels like we’re at this birthing moment.

Let’s add in the fact that everyone got stuck at home and realized how critical, how essential intimacy is.

People bought food, drinks and sex toys and we realized that dating and connection is so important.

It has sort of put the spotlight on sex tech to the point where now I feel like we’re about to see some serious attention and capital put into the sex tech industry at large.  That is something I’ve been waiting for for a while. And I know people who have done so way before me, it’s just like, it’s time!

CB: It’s a change for the investors to be able to accept it.

BC: The market is changing very quickly, it’s so interesting. I think five years ago it felt impossible.

People are much more engaged. Sex tech was a grassroots movement, but now we’re seeing the attention from bigger companies and VC funds that are going, looking over and going, Hey, what is this industry where interested in.

So it’s early stages, but I feel like returning home to Australia now. That’s how great I feel about it. Whereas a couple years ago I felt like, but no one knows what the fuck I’m talking about. And now everyone’s like, this is great. Let’s learn more about this.

So for me, I personally feel the attitude has changed a lot in a short space of time.

CB: What are you the most hopeful about? 

There are so many challenges to this industry and we all hope that they would change.

If I was to flip it to what am I most challenged by? What do I hope will change?

The censorship of the media platforms and social media technology that make it really hard for us to grow.

Simple things like opening bank accounts or email addresses or finding the money or finding a manufacturer. I’m just hopeful that all this is changing as we get this momentum.

CB: Tell me what it means to you to be sex positive. 

BC: It’s such a funny term.  I feel like I didn’t really understand it until I was immersed in it for the last four years.

For me, sex positive today is all about the future of sex that’s being open with less judgment. Shame-free knowing that your sexuality is fluid and changes around how you feel about yourself and how you feel about other people is sex positivity. In a nutshell, when I break it down for people who  are right at the start of their sex positive journey.

Good Sex Stories Helena Nista

The questions that I get most is am I normal? And this fixation about whether people over there that are having sex the right way. I love the saying about “normal” being a setting on a dishwasher.

There is no norm to sex and that’s sort of a real foundational part of being sex positive; we’re all completely different and that’s totally great.

CB: What would a sex positive utopia look like to you?  

BC: I think that’s the idea that everyone is free to do or express themselves sexually however they like without harming anyone and without being harmed, you know, that’s that’s the ultimate sex positive utopia for me.

We recommend you check out Sex Tech School, as well as the Future of Sex podcast and Instagram.

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