Sextech Revolution author, Andrea Barrica is the CEO and founder of O.School, a judgment-free, sexual wellness online resource where visitors can learn about sexuality and pleasure. But this isn’t always the space Andrea was comfortable existing in. She grew up at a strict Filipino Catholic household and her sex education in school consisted of fear-based tactics.
It wasn’t until Andrea began her own quest to figure out and find answers about our own sexuality that she realized how little information on the topic is actually out there. She was shocked to discover that the sexual wellness tech space basically consisted of Planned Parenthood and Pornhub without anything in-between. This combination of personal experience and her own background in startup investing led Andrea to realize that sexual wellness is the next blue ocean for tech entrepreneurs and investors.
In this episode of Author Hour, Andrea talks about her own experience, O.School, and the reason why tech investors and entrepreneurs should turn their attention toward the recession-proof sexual wellness tech market.
Nikki Van Noy: Andrea, thank you for joining us today.
Andrea Barrica: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nikki Van Noy: We’re talking about your book, Sextech Revolution, which as I was saying to you before we started rolling here, this is a topic that I’ve never read about before and that’s so rare in the book world to actually have a different topic.
Andrea Barrica: Yeah, I was really shocked myself when I started to research sexual wellness as a category, especially as an entrepreneur and as a former venture capitalist. I was working at a venture capital fund and I really didn’t know any resources out there that were about the business side of the sexual wellness industry.
Nikki Van Noy: Amazing. Let’s back up a little bit here and first of all, let listeners know about your background with founding O.School and how you got there.
Andrea Barrica: Absolutely. I’ll start really back. I grew up Filipino Catholic. I grew up in a very traditional Filipino American home where we went to church every Sunday and there was absolutely no discussion about sex whatsoever. I had the abstinence-only sex-ed from the church and then I had the very fear-based sex-ed in school. And so, for me, the only thing I was really ever taught about sex growing up was never to have it. That was pretty much it.
Fast forward, and I really didn’t have a relationship to sex or sexuality at all. I did the very good daughter thing, and I waited till marriage. I thought I wanted to wait till marriage, and I put all of my efforts and time and energy into work.
I started building accounting software at about 20 years old. I teamed up with two other entrepreneurs and we got into Y Combinator. In the first few years of my technology career, I was learning everything I had to in order to build our company. After that, I was actually tapped to work in venture capital as a venture partner and entrepreneur and residence at a global seed fund called 500 Startups.
At those two places, I really got the operational experience of startups. Then I got the wide view, across the different types of businesses and business models. During this process was the time that I really started to think about my own problems.
Again, I was in the closet sexually. I had definite issues I was working through. It was ironic that I was working on the internet and internet companies, and just thinking about the internet all day long for my work. But then, when it came down to my own issues, the internet wasn’t helpful at all.
Identifying a Need
I found that it was Planned Parenthood or Pornhub. That was it. I was working in very traditional spaces. I started to talk to my friends and different people that I knew and that I trusted about sexual wellness and sex tech as an industry. I was getting a lot of feedback that said, “This is really not something that traditional tech and venture look at.” It’s a different ecosystem, and most people can’t tell you the big businesses in the space, right?
If you ask people who are the big tech companies that you can recognize, they’ll tell you about Amazon and Facebook and Google and all of these types of companies. But yet, when I started to really dig deeper into the adult space and the sexual wellness space and all these awesome spaces, there were no big brands that people could tell me about.
Nikki Van Noy: I’m going to interject, hold that thought please, just a couple of things. I want to tether this down in time a little bit. Around what year was this when you were on the lookout?
Andrea Barrica: I started to become obsessed in 2016.
Nikki Van Noy: So, recently? Wow! Did you know what you were looking for or was it just sort of the way we go to the Internet sometimes, where there’s this vague notion that the answers are out there somewhere?
Andrea Barrica: I just became really curious about the subject. I started going to a lot of in-person classes. I was lucky enough to be going through this in San Francisco, where there are a plethora of options to get educated in person–there are workshops–there are so many people that I could learn from at Good Vibrations. But what I found too was that it was very extreme. I had a curiosity about learning the space, but it was oftentimes spaces that were for advanced folks or people who were really deep in their education about things.
Just basic things, like how to have an orgasm is one of the areas that a lot of people, especially women, struggle with. I definitely was in a spot in my life where I started to become curious about, “All right, well, how am I going to educate myself on this thing that because of the upbringing I had, I had no people to talk to?” I had no one to learn from and I was really lost. Going through this process, going to in-person classes healed me, changed me. I became overnight, just more powerful in work and my relationships and friendships. It just was a really life-changing experience.
Around this time in 2016, when I was starting to finally feel my own power, in my own sexuality, I started to become obsessed with this question of, “What if I hadn’t been born an hour or two away from San Francisco. What if I’d been born in the middle of Wyoming, or Oklahoma, or Kansas?”
I started to look at resources elsewhere. It started to really nag at me. Why hasn’t the Internet solved this problem? Why can’t people go online and find these types of awesome experiences that I was experiencing in person? That’s what led me on the journey to start building prototypes, which eventually became O.School.
Sexual Wellness and Education
Nikki Van Noy: Okay, I want to go in there, but this calls to mind a question for me, which I’m guessing you’ve thought about. I mean, clearly the Internet is not averse to sex because porn is all over the Internet. Why do you think it is that sexual wellness and sexual education was almost entirely ignored?
Andrea Barrica: Oh man! We need a lot more time.
Nikki Van Noy: Saddle in folks.
Andrea Barrica: You know, it is really that as a culture, we’ve evolved to rely a lot on religious institutions to tell us what’s okay and not okay. And a lot of what’s okay in our culture is informed by that. Not by doctors, not by the medical and evidence-based institutions and public health institutions. A lot of it is just stigmatized and taboo.
I mean, this extends to so many parts of society. You know, I love to talk about how this is represented in tech, in the fundraising, and the venture capital community. But even outside of that, it’s not surprising that it hasn’t reached the private sector in the business world if you consider that the average medical doctor only gets about ten hours of sex education themselves in medical school.
Nikki Van Noy: Woah! I did not know that. That is stunning.
Andrea Barrica: A lot of the things that we talk about where the Internet evolved because of porn and adult content, they were huge drivers for technological innovation. Yet again, as I said before, it operated in a different ecosystem. Kind of in a dark ecosystem. You have to have different funders, different platforms, different technology, different tools, and it’s ironic that the porn world really pushed technology. Yet it’s largely ignored when you talk about tech. Because it’s taboo.
That stigma again, it’s so far-reaching, it starts from, even the earliest experiences that people have, being taught about their bodies, to public school education, to religious institutions, to the way that sex education is funded. Over two billion dollars has been spent on abstinence-only until marriage education, even though, we know that there is absolutely no evidence that it decreases rates of STI’s or teen pregnancy.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah.
Andrea Barrica: It is definitely a cultural and widespread problem. That’s really the point of the book is answering this question–why didn’t this happen yet? Why aren’t there more brands that help people with their sexuality in holistic and medically accurate ways? Not just porn, which is not a bad thing by the way. I’m not anti-porn. It’s just there’s so much more than porn that’s needed for there to be sexual wellness for everyone globally.
Nikki Van Noy: Well, absolutely. I’m far from an expert on this topic like you but I think that the issue is, if porn is the only thing available, then there’s a certain sector of the population that will use that as some form of education in a way. There is so much more to sex and sexual wellness than what we see in porn.
Andrea Barrica: The defacto sex educator in the world right now is porn, I would say.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah.
Andrea Barrica: The average exposure to porn due to the exposure to mobile phones, right? The average age that a person gets access to a mobile phone is around nine to ten years old. And unsurprisingly, that now coincides with the average exposure to hardcore pornography.
There’s so much porn on the Internet and without the context and the education and the cultural communication that’s needed–family communication and openness, this is a recipe for a lot of pain. I’ve seen this firsthand because I do speak to college audiences regularly every year.
I feel that generations today have different struggles and additional struggles because of the technology that allows them to see this. I don’t think that again, the answer is banning all porn or censoring all porn, it’s really not the answer. The answer is having a society where it’s okay to talk about sex. Where there are brands and great companies in the private sectors who are aiming to make this type of education widespread and accessible. And, making it so that it’s not something that people have to struggle with alone, and Google alone, and who knows what they’re going to find online?
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah.
Andrea Barrica: That’s really the problem that we’re trying to solve. When explaining O.School to people, they often really struggle to think of examples of companies where it’s not just for titillating or arousing purposes, and it’s not also just medical–do I have a problem that I need to go see a doctor about?
There’s this whole wide, amazing world of information and content and stories and experiences that really are just about getting back to this idea that sex should feel good. It’s okay to talk about it and it’s an important part of our health and wellness, just like yoga and meditation.
The thing that is baffling to me is that it’s 2019 and it’s still hard to convince people that you should be spending as much time thinking about, how much water you’re drinking and how many hours of sleep you’re getting. People really aren’t thinking about what’s my sexual wellness, what’s my relationship to my sexuality, and how can this be improved for overall better health?
You know, science tells us, the evidence tells us, that pleasure is part of sexual wellness. It is an important driver of immunity, of better sleep, of things that are really good for overall health. There’s a rampant problem with stress and sexual pleasure is one of the ways that we can really help that.
There are millions of people struggling in some way or another with dysfunction. Sexual wellness products, like vibrators and lubricants, are really key to helping there. Yet, we don’t have the language or the spaces to talk about that sometimes.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s interesting, you know? I feel like in some ways, as a society, we are very focused on sex, but you’re absolutely right that it’s in a specific voyeuristic way. I don’t think anyone has ever talked to me about sexual wellness if I really stop and think about it. I’m 41 years old, I don’t think that’s ever happened. Including my doctors.
Andrea Barrica: This is a very common experience and we’ve spoken to hundreds of doctors now who want to, but also, it’s really difficult for them. There are many people in public and professional situations where they know that people are struggling with this, but it’s difficult for people, even in those positions, because they haven’t been educated, or they have past shame, or they’re afraid of what their funders or their bosses or their colleagues will think. This is a social problem. This is a widespread problem.
On the other side of it, there is this overwhelming need for these things–from the consumer side, from people who know what it’s like to struggle with these problems. I know from my experience, I didn’t have any education, and it did lead to many years of feeling really lost and really afraid of how to deal with these problems. What I hope with the book is that more people jump into the space, because we need more innovators.
We need more people who are speaking up about this, because as I said, sexual wellness is more about wellness than sex. The fear that it’s going to degrade into something that’s dirty or bad or potentially harmful is, I think, keeping the conversation from happening.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, absolutely. So, I have a couple of disparate questions for you, and then I want to look at the industry more and where you think it’s headed in general. My first question for you, let’s just give listeners a little bit more of an idea about what O.School is all about–it’s sexual wellness. What types of things can they find there?
Andrea Barrica: At O.School, we produce and are so proud of having medically accurate information about sexuality, pleasure, and gender identity. All are things that are hard to talk about for people. We have tools, videos, and lots of different ways that people can explore and really get in touch with their own experience of sexual wellness, including people who are asexual. For them, a good sexual wellness relationship means having no sex. For some people that means that they are having lots of sex with different people. So, we cover dating, and we cover all these types of topics for people online.
Nikki Van Noy: And then for you, who came from this strict upbringing where sex wasn’t talked about, what has it been like personally to go from that to being in this field?
Andrea Barrica: It’s been amazing. I love my work, I love being able to help other people with something that I struggle with myself. O.school is something that I really needed when I was younger. A question I get all the time is how your parents feel about it, and my heart always swells when I get this question because my parents are absolutely my biggest advocates now. They both tell people who disagree with what I do how important they think it is.
I have told people that arguably one of the best things to come out of O.school, is the process of being able to connect with my parents in this way and have them not only reflect on the upbringing that I had, but have them apologize, and also reflect on the ways that they needed O.school growing up. That has been such a healing and awesome experience and I love helping other people all around the world with their parents.
Because again, sexual wellness is really about getting rid of shame. It is about feeling good about yourself and the things that you want and feeling good about saying no to what you don’t want. It is also about coming to terms with your truth. Coming to terms with my truth and coming to terms with my family has been a huge, huge source of power for me. Actually, when I talk to people about O.school, it is often about their parents and their families. What I want to say is there is an integration that has to happen.
What O.school tries to help people do is integrate their life outside, too often, what feels like their secret sexual life. I know that work very personally and being able to help people with that is life-changing for them.
Education for Everyone
Nikki Van Noy: You know it is so interesting. I realized as you were saying that, there is this part of me that even as a parent myself now, my parents are just firmly in this box of my parents. I know they had a life before me and that they were younger, but that doesn’t entirely land in some way. I realized as you were saying this, that if current generations need this, certainly they went through this experience when they were younger of shame and fear-based education and not being able to have these conversations. So, that is really incredible to be able to open it up to them.
Andrea Barrica: Absolutely. And one of the biggest misconceptions about what we do at O.school and what I do as a sexual wellness entrepreneur is that sex education is for kids. And that is just not true. Everybody throughout their whole life needs to be educated. As we know, there is learning about sex at an early age, which is critical. You need to learn about bodily autonomy and consent and health and anatomy.
Then, later on, you start to have different experiences. You start to explore desires. You start to date. There is education needed there about how to communicate, how to ask for what you want, how to explore different types of relationships. Then maybe you have a baby, and what happens then? How do you reconnect with your pleasure after you have a baby, or when you get divorced, or when you have a medical problem? Maybe you are struggling with anxiety and depression.
Sadly, for a lot of people, one of the things that we definitely want to do more of is helping people with reclaiming their bodies after sexual trauma. There is so much of this.
I remember when the #MeToo movement was really happening, I had a lot of people who were excited about O.school because the only acceptable conversations about sex are when it is about the really scary and bad things that happen about sex.
What is not okay is to talk about the healthy and the healing aspects of sexuality. When the #MeToo movement was happening, we had a lot of people who are excited to balance that supporting people who’ve experienced sexual trauma still live full and happy sexual lives.
Nikki Van Noy: You are you saying so many things that are so obvious, but that I had never really stopped and thought about in a linear way before. You are absolutely right that how we tend to talk about sex is when it’s these very dark topics.
Andrea Barrica: I always say too that it is like what is allowed in business. You are allowed to talk about sexual dysfunction. There is lots of funding that goes into pharmaceutical solutions for things like erectile dysfunction. You know, take Viagra. You see Viagra commercials on TV.
But if you talk about things that help people feel good, especially women, absolutely that is not acceptable to talk about how to make sex feel pleasurable.
It is okay to talk about erections, but when you talk about vaginal dryness and wanting to increase lubrication, “Oh no, that is inappropriate,” right? This is a major gender-based biased that needs to change absolutely, immediately because the future generations aren’t going to stand for that.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah and thank God. Thank God for that. It shouldn’t be stood for. So, let’s take our conversation in that direction, looking at the future. So first of all, in the short time since you have opened up O.school, have you seen the sexual wellness industry grow at all or are there more options than there were when you are initially looking a few years ago?
Andrea Barrica: Absolutely. It is a burgeoning blue ocean space. There are so many great companies that are starting. I don’t have time to name them all. There are so many new sexual wellness product companies. There are new content companies.
Absolutely what is important is that all of us who are in sexual wellness know in our hearts and from our data and experience running our companies that there are billions of people in the world who want the things that are offered. That is very different than tech companies who are inventing products for problems that don’t exist, which since I have been living in Silicon Valley, I can tell you there are tons. I have useless things and it is great. But again, I love entrepreneurship. I love risk-taking, but the time for sexual wellness is really here.
The future generations–we talk about this a lot in the book–Millennials are twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ. One-third of Gen Z people know someone who uses gender non-conforming pronouns like they-them. The world is really changing. Unmarried women outnumbered married women for the first time in US history in 2009, which means people are waiting longer until marriage. The ways that people connect through dating apps have changed the way people connect. There are so many amazing areas for innovation here.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah totally. I’m enjoying this conversation too. This is threading back to something that you just said about how we only talk about the darker topics about sex, especially in the media. There is so much hope in what you are talking about. It makes me feel really good about where we’re at and where we’re headed in the future in terms of sexuality and body autonomy.
Andrea Barrica: Absolutely, and we will not move past the #MeToo movement. I am so glad that it happened because really it is bringing to light something that should have been brought to light so long ago. There are so many people who have been hurt and we need to support people who have experienced sexual trauma. And also, there is no future past this where we do not also talk about pleasure and the positive aspects of sexuality from early ages.
You cannot have one without the other, and it is so exciting for me to build a future with more sexual respect and more sexual wellness. Because at the end of the day the people to blame for what is happening are the institutions that refuse to educate our generations about sex.
Starting the Conversation
Nikki Van Noy: You’re right. I mean for as long as sex remains a taboo topic that just really opens up the door for abuse because it is too hard to talk about when you are a survivor of sexual abuse in that case. So, if we can start this conversation that begins to shift everything.
Andrea Barrica: Everyone needs it too. At O.School we have always helped people of all genders, of all ages. There are so many stereotypes about who needs sex ed, and we already went over how everyone needs it throughout their whole life. Everyone is struggling with something. I find there are a lot of people who are struggling and not telling their doctors, not telling people. The more that we can bring it to light–that’s really where technology and The Sextech Revolution comes in.
Now we have so many more ways of reaching people about these topics in a way that can feel private and safer and I am really excited about that.
Nikki Van Noy: So, you have a couple of really stunning statistics in your book, which are first of all the sexual wellness tech revolution is recession-proof. Also, it is going to be worth an estimated $122 billion in a little more than five years. You are in such a great position as someone who has a background in both investing and entrepreneurship and obviously living in this space of sex tech. So, what do you have to say to people who may be interested in starting a business or investing in this field?
Andrea Barrica: It is funny that there are so many clichés about tech. It is shocking to me how few people have this on their radar. In talking to me, I have to have to explain to people that sexual wellness is a massive market because every human, aside from the people who are conceived through procedures like In vitro fertilization, of course, every human being exists because two people had intercourse. I think that people are not seeing that this is just the beginning.
After you help people with basic education and getting over sexual dysfunctional problems, the expiration and the vibrance of someone’s sexual wellness life is huge and has huge potential and should be invested in. To all the entrepreneurs who are definitely excited about the space, I invite all of them to join now because the world is changing.
I don’t think that we would have seen 50 Shades of Grey 10 years ago. We wouldn’t see the kinds of programming on Netflix and HBO–you’ve got Euphoria, you’ve got Sex Education. You have now these cultural drivers, and I see only indications that this is going to be a massive sector for innovation, a massive sector of growth.
For a lot of women especially, we’re still fighting reproductive health battles–there are still people fighting for basic stuff and I think it is hard for people to see that once the world changes and reproductive life is respected, this could be massively more reasons for people to serve other needs than just helping people preserve their basic access to health care.
I think that is actually one of the things that I think is an advantage of this space is that there is still a lot of fear around it. I see it as an opportunity to help people in something that we know is really important to them, but that a lot of brands, a lot of organizations aren’t brave enough or aren’t prepared or aren’t designed to go after it. That for me just spells out a massive opportunity.
Nikki Van Noy: Since you’re sort of an insider in this way, do you think that Silicon Valley is open to this at this point?
Andrea Barrica: In a lot of ways there are still a lot of hush-hush attitudes about it. Frankly, from a purely financial aspect, it is going to take some time because venture capital is based really on the idea of finding an untapped opportunity and creating dominant business models in the space. A lot of early-stage opportunities are evaluated by what else is happening in the market and what type of companies have been successful.
Sexual wellness as a sector doesn’t really exist right now if you really look at it. It exists, but it is quite small. It is quite fragmented. There aren’t any huge brands. The last company that I think has a large mainstream brand that went public was Playboy in the early 1970s.
Nikki Van Noy: Wow.
Andrea Barrica: This is how I have raised money, just by asking investors, “What has happened since Playboy?” What happened was no one can answer me, and no one can answer what the future of this sector is without pointing to all of the ways that foreign companies are not allowed in certain spaces. I always have to say, “No, no, no what sexual wellness is, is not that you know? It doesn’t have to be that.”
I am really excited about the future. I hope that there are more innovators who join us who are in it building because again, the number of problems to be solved, the number of opportunities to take advantage of are huge, and I do see that the venture community is slowly but surely starting to pay attention. Definitely it is still a huge challenge to get funding in the space.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. What a fascinating interview. Is there anything else you want to add that we haven’t gotten to yet?
Andrea Barrica: This book is my offering to people wanting to get into the space either as an investor or entrepreneur. I hope that people will also take this opportunity to think about their own sexual wellness. I am really certain that one of the ways to create a better world is to eliminate sexual shame and to empower people all over society to respect sexual wellness and to talk about it because I think everyone stands to benefit from a world with more sexual respect.
Nikki Van Noy: Amazing. You are doing such good work. It is fascinating to hear about.
Andrea Barrica: Thank you so much for having me, Nikki.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah so listeners, you can pick up Sextech Revolution, Andrea’s new book, The Future of Sexual Wellness. Anywhere else that listeners can find you?
Andrea Barrica: I am @andreabarrica on Instagram and you can find O.School @odotschool on Instagram as well. And of course, come visit us online at O.School.