On 7 October 2021, two artists and former cancer patients, Brian Lobel and Joon-Lynn Goh, launched the UK’s first sex shop designed for people who have cancer. How different is it from your regular sex shop and what does it have to offer?
Set up by the two friends, Sex with Cancer has been created with a community of patients, nurses, psychosexual therapists, pleasure activists and sex toy specialists. “Whether you are living with or beyond cancer, a partner, a potential lover or a medical professional—we provide practical solutions, peer-led resources, and creative ways of re/discovering our bodies and relationships,” reads the store’s website.
“Cancer, and the treatments for cancer, often have serious effects on a person’s sex life in direct and indirect ways,” the organisation further explains, noting that surgeries can result in the removal of body parts or scarring, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy have a range of side-effects, from exhaustion and weight fluctuation to erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and heightened infection risks.
To help open up a dialogue surrounding the disconnect between patients and medical professionals when it comes to how cancer affects their intimate relationships, Sex with Cancer aims to “lubricate these difficult conversations by centring patients and their admirers, and drawing on sex-positive professional expertise. We believe information promotes confidence, and confidence is sexy!”
“When I got diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of 2018, I turned to my friend and ex-cancer patient, Brian [Lobel],” co-founder Goh told Dazed, discussing the origin of the sex shop. Lobel had already been working in cancer care and patient advocacy since 2003, after a diagnosis of testicular cancer when he was 20 years old.
“One day, Brian dropped a ‘what if’ idea that had a been brewing for a while—what if cancer patients set up their own sex shop? From that moment on, this question became a super appealing distraction that not only got me through a year of treatment, but has kept us talking and scheming for the last four years,” she continued.
The online shop is split into three main categories: ‘shop’, ‘learn’, and ‘ask’. Sex with Cancer’s shop offers sex toys that have been specifically selected to respond to the questions that customers and their loved ones have asked the organisation about living with and beyond cancer. Working in partnership with Sh! Womens Emporium, shop curator Toni has selected each product to provide buyers with the maximum versatility and pleasure possible.
Alongside its products, Sex with Cancer offers aids and practical advice as well as a space for newly commissioned artworks. ‘Why did no one think of this genius idea before?’ you might be wondering. This store is the first of its kind in the UK due to two major taboos that have yet to be tackled: sex and cancer. “I hope people come away with a sense of community, knowledge, and a greater confidence to reclaim their bodies and relationships on their own terms,” Goh concluded when speaking about her hopes for Sex with Cancer.
Over the past two years, a collective of Berlin queerdos have designed a new brand within the AMORELIE universe and created the first collection of sex toys specifically designed for queer couples: Constellations.
Product designer Jon Derman Harris and his team’s mission was to give same-sex couples the opportunity to enter previously unknown territories of simultaneous stimulation. Harris, a Stanford graduate, has been living in Berlin over the last three years and designing sex toys at Germany’s most lovable startup. Screen Shot met him at a riverside café on a sunny Berlin afternoon, with a box full of spacey sex toys and exclusive behind the scenes insights on building a revolutionary sex toy collection from start to finish.
After the launch of Constellations, I looked up for a second and realised how groundbreaking it is to have created a completely gender-neutral brand of sex toys. In the future, I hope that products like these continue to push the industry to be adamantly inclusive of people who identify as men, women, gender-queer, trans, gay, lesbian and whatever descriptors people want to rock. Everybody should be able to find their toy.
Most bodies can find a toy that will work for their body as an individual, and there is a myriad of toys out there for straight couples that can stimulate a penis and a vagina at the same time. However, there aren’t any toys that are explicitly for queer couples. We wanted to fill the gap this niche represented and to make it as inclusive as possible. We have made sure that each toy in the collection is described by the genitalia that it stimulates and not the gender the person has.
The creative process is a lot less linear than people think is, and we usually develop multiple ideas and different design streams at the same time. For this collection, marketing and communication were crucial from the onset and throughout. When you create something this new, you have to communicate it properly and put in the necessary energy to tell the story. For example, we have included little how-to illustrations of gender-neutral astronauts getting down and ‘astronaughty’ for each and every toy.
The blessing and curse of working in the sex tech industry is that I get constant feedback from everyone. It is a great party trick but also makes it hard for me to know when to take which feedback seriously. You can come up with a concept and show it to someone, and she says “I love it, but it is too big,” and then show it to someone else and they’ll say “I love it, but it is too small.”
Because sex and pleasure are so subjective, this feedback spiral can endlessly go on. I have to take a step back and focus on the problem that each particular product is actually trying to solve and decide how to adapt it to make the biggest impact. I’d rather make one person really happy with a 10/10 experience, rather than sort-of please many people and for each of them to have a mediocre 5/10 experience.
That greatly depends on what we’re making. If it is an improvement on an existing toy, like the douche, for example, I can make the changes quickly, iterate and be pretty secure about giving the final go-ahead. With something new, like Pavo, the toy for two vaginas, we’ll do around 50 prototypes and samples until we have enough confidence to make that decision.
Sometimes you’re out of time, you have a business deadline and know it is as good as it can be with the time and resources. However, the perfectionist in me does sometimes grind things to a halt because making a necessary change is essential for the product and the team.
Hire more women. Period. Thank God there are women making important design decisions around me, I am but just a piece of the entire product development process.
Definitely more of our own branded toys. As we look forward, I think more radical products are necessary to really push the conversation in this space. We are in a unique position to bring all different types of sex to the mainstream and break taboos. For me personally, I want to create more funky stuff and enter new territories. I hope these products do well, and hopefully next time I do something a little risky I can do it with way more confidence.