International Women's Day

Q&A with three empowering women for International Women’s Day.

Today is International Women’s Day and the theme this year is hashtag ChooseToChallenge. We are celebrating today by choosing to discuss women's achievements and the challenges that come with this.

Sarah Welsh - Co-founder of HANX

What prompted you to create HANX?

It all started on a trip down the condom aisle… My Co-Founder (and childhood friend!) Farah and I were over the stereotypical branding, mystery ingredients and my experiences as a gynaecology doctor proved that there was a real need for something different: gentle, considered sexual wellness essentials that were kind to your body and the planet.

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced with HANX?

Initially, it took some convincing to potential investors that there was a real need for an alternative in the wellness space - the purpose of HANX is to challenge the status quo around sex, the associated stigmas, empower people to make informed decisions for their sex lives and in particular, elevate the experience of buying and using condoms (and other sexual and intimate wellness products). Shaking up a traditionally male-focused industry seemed pretty daunting but we knew we just had to go for it!

What has the fear of failure stopped you from doing?

Good question… When we initially started out, I’d have said give me a clinic and I’d happily talk all day about sexual health, vaginas, STIs - you name it - but talking money and projections wasn’t a space I wasn’t comfortable in. Farah’s background as an investment banker meant that it came naturally to her, whereas I really had to work on confidence when pitching. I knew HANX, our products and our mission inside out but it took some time for me to hone my pitching skills and feel like I could really nail it. Fast forward to stepping on stage to pitch at Stylist X Diet Coke Creator’s Collective in front of hundreds of people: we scooped £20,000 funding, a bevvy of business mentors and for me personally, a much-needed dose of unshakeable self-belief.

 What advice would you give your younger self?

You’ve got this. All the hard work will pay off and one day you’ll walk into your local Sainsbury’s and spot the result of many, many long nights staring right back at you from the shelves and that feeling will be indescribable.

Rima Hawkins - Psychosexual & Relationship/Couples Psychotherapist

What made you want to become a Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist?

I worked in the late nineties with HIV/AIDS. Before I worked in a sexual health clinic I had limited knowledge and believed what little the magazines said. The programme It's a Sin pretty much sums up the emotional upheaval, discriminations and stigmas associated with sexual health. I came from India, which has a different sexual culture. My own lived experience and working in sexual health got me curious about psychosexual issues. Sometimes sex and relationship can get separated in therapy and this is because therapists themselves have are challenged by it unless they have explored the subject themselves. I enjoyed discovering gender, sexuality and relationship variety. I also went on my own journey of discovery. I was already a trained counsellor and decided to further my training to help patients and clients with sexual health and intimate relationships.

Whats the biggest challenge you've met in your career?

My biggest challenge in my career, as a British Asian therapist, has been to compete with my white counter colleagues to show I am as good enough as them. Therapy is europecentric and is not concerned about the intersectionality of culture and diversity. As a therapist I am trained to be in a certain way with clients but this does not fit all my clients of colour or gender. There is training for individual client work or couples. I see polyamoury/polycules and working these groups are different. I work ethically but nothing prepared me to work with these differences. As I work with the diversity I challenge and sit with my own prejudices and dilemmas and how best to work with difference.

What has the fear of failure stopped you from doing?

As a therapist I am always self reflecting and working on myself. If there is anything I don't feel confident about I try and learn and learning by choice has never been so much fun! I also know my own limitations, I accept that and draw a line and boundary around it. I know someone else who does it better can be helpful to clients. Fear of failure comes from deep shame of the consequences attached to failing. I addressed my limitations and acceptance, which helped me to address the failure issue. Coming from a minority background, many a times I have not put myself forward for something but more so thinking 'I am not good enough' (worthiness) than fear of failure.

What advice would you give to your younger self when it comes to relationships?

I wish I knew what I know now when I was young. I would tell myself to learn, be curious, ask, learn and take risks (within reason). In India, where I was born and brought up intimate relationships before marriage is not a thing! I would although advice myself to break all rules and be myself and express my identity. Challenge stigmas and myths and say things others find difficult to say. Funny enough, my children do exactly this!

Alma Ramírez Acosta - Co-founder Vibio

What inspired you to create Vibio?

My cofounder Patricia and I have been best friends since we were kids. We've always been the sex curious types within our group of friends, exploring as much as we could and being open about it. Embracing our sexuality and making it a core part of life meant that we were constantly focusing on being in touch with our bodies, our minds and our emotions; but we also realised that many people around us struggled to let go of the stigma around sex and that prevented them from developing a healthy relation towards pleasure. We started vibio to encourage everyone to tune in with their bodies and learn about what works for them, through modern products and content that would normalise sex.   

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced starting Vibio?

Working in the sextech industry means that you're facing challenges every single day for every aspect of your business - it's hard to pick one over the other. Marketing is limited by the restrictions of advertising in social media platforms and email marketing tools. Setting up payment solutions and banking operations is a struggle too, since we're classified as vice. And even though we are part of an extremely profitable market valued at $30bn and growing 30% YOY, we still struggle to raise investment due to the stigma associated with our sector. 

What problem are you trying to solve with Vibio?

Rewiring the traditional perception of sex being dirty and shameful. Our mission is to help people understand and connect the relationship between sex and wellbeing by giving them the tools to enjoy their sex lives better and guide them through their discovery journey. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be accepting of the challenges that life will bring you and navigate them with a positive mindset. There are plenty of things that are out of our control and there's no point in dwelling about why we're faced with certain obstacles. Every experience and every person we meet is an opportunity to learn, so make the most of it.