Introducing Billie, founder of Ferly, a taboo-smashing sex-positive start-up putting women’s positive experiences at its heart.
What is Ferly and how did you get into it?
My company is Ferly and I’m Billie, the CEO. My co-founder Anna and I created Ferly during a six-month social impact accelerator called Zinc. The accelerator set us a mission to build businesses that would transform the mental and emotional health of women and girls in the developed world.
Anna (my co-founder) and I were frustrated that once again sexuality was left out of the conversation despite the fact that we know sexual well-being is as important as mental and physical well-being.
The two of us know this on a deeply personal level as well. We have both navigated sexual violence and sexual assault and in both cases our mental and emotional well-being suffered. As a result of this, we were forced to ask some big questions about what our sexuality meant to us.
It was through this process that we realised there are a lack of tools and support systems out there. And it was through hundreds of conversations with people that we realised you don’t have to be a survivor of trauma to have a complicated relationship with sex and more importantly pleasure.
Our relationship to sex is heavily influenced by the type of education we have, the media we are exposed to and the culture we are born into. More often than not, it’s not super positive. Women are heavily objectified, education is framed through a negative lens of pregnancy prevention and disease avoidance and our culture shames sexual exploration and sexual confidence.
We wanted to smash these taboos and create a space where everyone can explore what pleasure means to them and in doing so, they will be able to understand and nurture their most important relationship, the one they have with themselves. After all, sexual well-being is well-being.
What is your vision for the future of Ferly?
To create an amazing, intersectional and welcoming community that showcases the individuality of sexuality. Beyond that, we also want to widen society’s understanding of sexual well-being to be beyond the physical.
Right now lots of business exist to improve the physical experience of sex whether that’s through sex toys, lubricants etc but very few businesses exist to support us navigating the emotional triggers that flare up with our sexuality.
We want Ferly to fill that gap and be your go-to; whether you’re navigating rejection, overcoming body image issues, wanting to communicate better or simply understand what turns your brain on so you know how to turn your body on, Ferly’s got you!
Once we’ve established ourselves a little more we want to implement outreach programmes that support vulnerable communities. We’re a mission-driven company who put people at the core of our business and that means all people, not only those that can afford a monthly subscription to Ferly.
What are the key trends you’re seeing at the moment that influence your work?
Healthcare is starting to understand that we can’t exist in silos and that it’s important to take a holistic approach to our well-being. In science this is known as a systems-based approach and it underpins Ferly. Our framework is built upon something called a biopsychosocial model which basically means we factor in the biology, psychology and social context of an individual so that we can support them in building the most positive relationship to sex and themselves.
2019 has also been coined the year of the vagina and people are talking about ‘The Pleasure Revolution’. This is important because society is opening up a dialogue about female sexuality which will hopefully normalise the investment in tools that support sexual well-being. It also highlights the importance of female pleasure in healthy relationships – something that has been shamed for many years.
From a more technical perspective, we’re seeing a rise in biofeedback tools to help treat conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, headaches etc. Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness over the bodies physiological reactions in order to manipulate them. From a pleasure perspective we can use biofeedback to enhance our experiences.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had since starting to work in sextech?
Everyone assumes I’m really sexually confident and that I must have a wild sex life full of all sorts of kinks. They also expect me to talk about it and to divulge all but that’s not who I am and I struggle to navigate that external pressure with my own values.
The other more beautiful surprise that comes from working in sextech is what others have chosen to share with me. Their vulnerability and openness is inspiring and I feel very privileged to be the keeper of so many honest and raw stories. I know that sounds contradictory but there’s a difference in inviting someone to share and expecting someone to share.
Finally what I’ve been blown away by is that others operating in this space are incredibly open, empathetic and accepting which is such an amazing culture to be a part of and very different to the masculine and homogenous environment of my previous industry.
When it comes to sex, what’s the one thing you wish everyone knew?
Sex starts with you, not another. The most important relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves so take care of it, get to know yourself intimately and don’t let yourself be defined by another. I know it isn’t as easy as that because the culture we live in heavily dictates what is ‘normal’ but that’s why it’s so important to step back from that and spend time with ourselves.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
An actress! I was really into performing arts and dressing up. I would spend all my free time making up and acting out stories whether alone or with friends that I gently encouraged to participate in my crazy fantasies.
What was your sex education like growing up?
I honestly have no recollection of it at school. I think we had a couple of biology lessons on procreation but beyond that I can’t remember. I learnt about periods because we used to wear these awful white summer dresses as our uniform and one of my friends came on during lesson and there was blood all over her dress.
I remember it was so scary and she was running around screaming. It must have been so traumatic for her and it was really unnerving for all of us. I was also petrified of tampons and didn’t get over that fear until I was about 19!
I remember finding a stash of pornos and being super curious about them when I was around 11/12 so I think I ‘learnt’ a few things from that but I didn’t start masturbating until university when my roommate gave me a lecture on how important it was to know my body and own my pleasure!
Beyond that, my parents have a super loving and tactile relationship and it taught me a lot about respect. The rest was/is trial and error. I’m still learning and consider myself a beginner.
Creating Ferly has blown my world wide open and I’m starting to truly understand things in a way I only thought I did before. It’s an evolving process just like our sexuality.
What are you currently working on that you are willing to share?
Our app! Ferly is a space for women to explore their sexuality and discover or rediscover what pleasure means to them. We’re doing this through sessions that introduce powerful tools to help us navigate personal challenges e.g. rejection, orgasm etc. Stimulating stories that encourage us to explore our fantasies and our boundaries. And finally, sensual sounds that help women transition from their stressful day into a headspace that can receive pleasure. We’re in testing mode at the moment but if anyone would like to get involved e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘I’ll test Ferly’.
Who else in the industry do you admire or look up to?
I really admire all the female founders in this space. Sextech is still a very male-dominated industry, starting a tech business is still a very male-dominated endeavour and raising money for any sextech business is incredibly difficult because society buckets sex with drugs and gambling which very few investors want to touch. For a woman to look at those odds and go for it anyway is incredibly inspiring and the businesses they are building are truly responding to a human need. It’s not tech for tech’s sake. I think that’s really fucking cool.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to break into the industry?
Listen to podcasts like Bryony Cole’s ‘Future of Sex’, read books like Emily Nagoski’s ‘Come As You Are’ and look out for events like Kate Devlin’s SexTech Hackathon. Absorb yourself in the material so you know where you want to focus and then reach out to everyone working on that issue. The people in this industry and so supportive and welcoming, if you’re proactive and focused people will make time for you, I’m positive of that.
Do you have any practical tips that someone could use tonight to enhance their pleasure?
Be intentional! Rather than rushing straight into the physical act take a moment to let your mind catch up. Create space to transition, let go of whatever happened during the day and bring awareness to the current moment. You can do that by taking deep breaths, listening to some music that helps you relax or go and take a nice long shower so you can really unwind.
We often rush straight into ‘doing’ but this can often mean we’re still incredibly distracted by whatever’s running through our mind from the day. Sex is just as much between the ears as the legs so find a way to create space in your mind so you can really enjoy the moment.