An Interview with Liz Klinger of Lioness
It’s not everyday that you hear about a vibrator that gathers biodata to help women have better sexual experiences and track their orgasms. So when I met Liz Klinger, CEO and co-founder of Lioness, I had a million questions.
I love female-founded companies, especially ones that focus on making women’s sex lives better. Lioness is based in Oakland, California and because we are both located in the Bay Area, I have had the opportunity to work alongside Liz and learn all about the “how” and “why” behind creating a smart vibrator.
It’s all super fascinating, which is why I asked Liz to share a bit more for the Shine section of my blog where I highlight amazing humans making unique contributions to sexual health.
Here’s my interview with Liz.
MB: How did the idea for Lioness originate?
LK: How I got into this — It’s a bit of a winding road (I go much more into it here in my interview with Wellesley if you’re curious). Basically, Lioness was initially inspired by my own needs. I had a lot of questions about sex growing up, but like many of us, I grew up in a family where we simply didn’t talk about sex. We weren’t super religious, we just didn’t talk about it—at least not beyond, “don’t get pregnant.”
Art became my means of expression. Art could radically change the way people thought of their own or other people’s sexuality and pleasure in ways words could not accomplish. I loved it, but it was nearly impossible to make a living doing it, especially during the peak financial crisis when work was really hard to come by.
I was really lucky and found work with a really interesting crew of folks at an investment bank… But my heart was with creating new things and doing something related to sex and pleasure. With the support of my (now) husband, I set out to figure out how to make this all work.
I began selling intimacy products (basically, peddling vibrators) and that experience very quickly affirmed that I was not the only “weird” person who had questions about sex and pleasure. As it turns out, whether a person is 18 or 108, everyone has questions about sex.
And pretty much nobody had anyone to turn to, hence a lot of people talking to me as a young 20-something who really didn’t know much but was willing to talk about it. And everyone was so different, so there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. These conversations—and the questions from which they were born—became the basis for Lioness.
MB: What were some of the challenges with designing Lioness and how did you overcome them?
LK: A lot — it may not look like it on face value, but basically, Lioness is very similar technologically-speaking to an early iPhone (plus sensors) built as a medical-grade, ergonomic, flexible vibrator. It’s a complex device on its own — you have to figure out how to build a physical product, with sensors (make sure they’re calibrated correctly), with the data, privacy/security structure, firmware, software… and make sure it all works together.
On top of that, when prototyping, unlike most companies that could make a handful of prototypes to share/get feedback from users, we had to create (hand build) custom prototypes for each beta user to make sure that it was safe for users to test. Because of the complexity, some of these took around 80 hours to build at peak complexity to make sure all of these different aspects worked.
The only solution to this really was to just buckle down and do it, be extremely lean with your capital and resources (especially given the very limited investment that women and sextech founders tend to get on average), and crunch through.
Sometimes I joke that life would have been so much easier (and we’d make so much more money) if we just went into enterprise SaaS (Software as a Service), but I think introducing something new that’s life changing for some people has been far more fulfilling in the long run.
MB: What has been the most surprising outcome of introducing the world to a smart vibrator?
LK: It’s always most exciting to see what people do with Lioness. You’re never too sure what will happen until it’s out in the world.
A few examples:
We’ve seen folks experiment with cannabis and orgasm data.
A pop star launched her musical career by creating music from her own orgasm data using the Lioness, which resulted in a lot of press and fascination.
An athlete realized the severity of her concussion after seeing the (drastic) change in her orgasm data.
There’s a lot more, but those are definitely some of the more surprising ones we’ve seen. I can’t wait to hear about more ways people use their newfound knowledge of themselves to improve their lives or create new things!
MB: What do you hope people gain from using Lioness?
LK: My biggest hope from our work with Lioness is that people can start seeing their pleasure from a new perspective and realize just how much we still don’t know.
We tend to have a lot of unchecked assumptions about sex — the popularity of our article on vaginal tightness being one of many topics out there that many still have assumptions about, or our understanding of the role of alcohol and pleasure — opinion there seems to be pretty polarized between alcohol being akin to an aphrodisiac or a mood killer.
And then, there’s also the belief in partnered sex that our physiological response is very correlated with how attached, in love, however you may want to call it we are with a partner… which can sometimes be true, but not always. There are a LOT of factors that can enhance or impede our experience of pleasure.
It’s not our fault that we’re not on the up and up when it comes to knowledge of sex — history hasn’t been on our side.
If you look into the history of research and pleasure, especially physiological pleasure, there hasn’t been a lot of historical shifts on our understanding of how arousal and orgasm work from a physiological perspective since the 1980s. A lot has changed in the last 40-or-so years, which means there’s a lot of opportunity to learn more — as long as we have an open mind about it.
Myisha Battle is a sex and dating coach who loves to refer her clients to innovative and helpful sexual wellness products. To learn more about Lioness, check out their website and use code SEXFORLIFE for $15 off your purchase.