Tech startups want to destigmatize sex

Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.

Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.

Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.

Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy. 

This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”

A market worth billions or trillions?

Four rounds for women-led startups, and a huge Series A for Motif

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

February is now behind us, but we gathered the troops to send it off in style: Connie Loizos was here, Kate Clark was in, I was around, and NEA’s Jonathan Golden joined us, as well.

It was good to have a full contingent on hand, as there was a lot to get through:

  • ThirdLove raises $55 million: Direct-to-consumer undergarment company ThirdLove raised a huge round this week, picking up $55 million on top of the roughly $13 million it had raised before. The company is well-known for having a plethora of sizes for bodies of all types. The company’s round was one of four from women-led businesses that we wanted to highlight this week.
  • Dipsea raises $5.5 million: Dipsea just , but it’s launching out the gate with $5.5 million in capital. The company’s subscription app ($8.99 per month, or yearly at a discount) provides short-form audio erotica aimed at the women in the market. The company is female-founded and fits into a recent trend we’ve seen of audio content picking up new money as the genre’s listening base expands during this, the second golden era of podcasting.
  • Rockets of Awesome raises $19.5 million: Our third woman-led startup that picked up capital this week is Rockets of Awesome, which sells subscription-based clothing for kids to parents. The new round contains a strong infusion of money from Foot Locker, a brand that we’re all aware of. Notably, Rockets of Awesome intends to dip its toe into the physical realm with its new money.
  • Coterie raises $2.75 million: Wrapping up our list of women-led companies that have raised this week, Coterie raised a smaller round to help fuel its Instagram-ready-party-in-a-box business. Sadly I didn’t get to mock Instagram during the show, but we did get to learn all about what a “friendaversary” is.
  • Wrapping the topic on women in venture, and women founding and running startups, we looked at a few data points here, and here. Summary: There’s more work to do.
  • Motif raises $90 million: Returning to our running look at companies that have raised outsized rounds, Motif, a spinout, raised a $90 million Series A. I wanted to know if we can all such a thing a Series A, and Jonathan told me to stop being such a square.
  • Uber versus Lyft: Closing out, we wanted to call ourselves out for being wrong about Uber and Lyft not taking shots at one another this close to their IPOs via discounts. They are, indeed, back on their bullshit.

All that and February is behind us. Here’s to March and what’s next.

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