#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA
Close

This Company Is Empowering Women One Vibrator And Menstrual Cup At A Time

Culture

What if you grew up in a house where sex was dirty and a society where women's reproductive rights weren't even second-class citizens? Do you think you might grow up to sell sex toys and use those sales to help women whose needs and rights were in peril? Well, if you're Sheila Oh you would. Oh is one of two founders of Knotty Vibes, an online store that sells vibrators and has been known to give away menstrual cups. Knotty Vibes cares about taking care of women sexually, reproductively, and all the rest.


Her upbringing certainly didn't point to this future for Oh who grew up in both Nigeria and Ohio, if you can imagine. As a young woman, she attended Wake Forest University where she majored in business.

Oh says people called her a “peculiar" kid. “I was mainly quiet and introverted unless I felt someone was being bullied, oppressed, or disrespected. I have a five-girl squad, which includes co-founder [of Knotty Vibes] Courtney Davis, my childhood friend and college roommate, who I love and lean on for support."

“I've always been considered a rebel," Oh says. “Growing up in a space where women are expected to be quiet, docile, and subservient. Never to be heard only seen. I always felt there was something wrong with having my voice belittled in comparison to boys or men."

When she was a kid, Oh wanted to be a farmer so she could “feed the poor and hungry children." Then, because she learned that food doesn't cure illness, she wanted to be a doctor. “Through my journey of self-discovery, I have always wanted to help others as I recognized that I was fortunate to have had an education, shelter, and sustenance for most of my life."

Oh began her career by interning for a nonprofit for children with special needs. Following that, she moved through the corporate world as a business analyst. “However, I felt I wasn't following my passion for helping others in that capacity. So I'm back to doing what I love; giving back and helping others.

“Women's sexuality and sexual freedom have always been important and essential in the fight for women's equality," Oh says. “Not only are women men paid less but we also have fewer orgasms than men do. Studies have shown that 91 percent of men vs 64 percent of women orgasm through intercourse. Masturbation, which we consider to be a crucial part of sexual freedom, helps close this gap."

And, Oh adds, men are praised while women are bashed and called disrespectful names when it comes to having multiple sexual partners. This social disparity is both sexist and inhibitive to women's full sexual expression. “While we at Knotty Vibes advocate for safe sex, we also advocate for women to have full reins of their body."

Oh and her co-founder Courtney have always been advocates for sexual freedom and bridging the orgasm gap between men and women. They were both raised in very strict homes where sex was a taboo topic. After Oh suffered a missed miscarriage in 2017, she had a $25,000.00 dilation and curettage, which was covered by her comprehensive insurance. After sharing her loss with other women, she found that she was indeed privileged to have the healthcare access. We live in one of the greatest nations in the world, yet our healthcare system is failing us, Oh explains. “The cost of reproductive healthcare is astronomical if you cannot afford comprehensive insurance coverage.“

Many women rely on non-profit organizations such as planned parenthood to obtain sexual and reproductive health procedures, says Oh. “Given that such organizations are being defunded, we decided to combine our advocacy for sexual freedom with fundraising for access to women's reproductive health by selling the best yet affordable sex toys." And, she adds, “To be inclusive of women of all socioeconomic backgrounds in our mission, we also offer free sex toys and free menstrual cups .

The very first purchase made at Knotty vibes was by a former coworker, Oh says, someone with whom she shared business ideas. “She bought her first vibrator in my store because she wanted to 'plant a seed of faith.' She then shared my business with her friend who was hosting a small bridal shower. I was so overjoyed when I woke up to two orders from them. I later got an email from Pledging that I had donated $50.00 - from just those vibrators – to twelve organizations.

  1. Equality Now
  2. Global Fund for Women
  3. Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network Inc
  4. League of Women Voters Education Fund
  5. MS Foundation For Women
  6. Partners In Health
  7. Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  8. Robert R. Frank Student-Run Free Clinic
  9. Sexual Health Innovations
  10. Women Helping Women
  11. Women of Power Empowering Women
  12. WomenOne

I was excited that others believed in women's access to healthcare and that I could be a channel for all to support women's reproductive rights."

Photo Courtesy of Knotty Vibes

When Oh was growing up, she had thirteen cousins who she fondly calls “amazing." As she got older, she discovered that five of the thirteen were not blood-related. “My grandmother had adopted them from various orphanages and raised them as part of our family. In doing so, she taught me to be selfless and to care for those who couldn't. With my innate desire to speak up for the oppressed and the selflessness instilled in me by my grandmother, I am inspired to help other women via Knotty Vibes."

Being a woman has presented issues for Oh and her co-founder. But that hasn't stopped either one of them in any way. It's only served to move them forward. In the past, Oh says, she has seen her opinions and insights dismissed because she is a woman. “This could be done in micro-aggressive ways such as talking over me. I have learned to be more assertive and speak up even if I am classified as 'bossy' by men. I know at the end of the day, I stood up for myself and other women."

As a Black woman, Oh says, she has experienced additional difficulties, including raising capital to start her business. “However, that has made Courtney, my co-founder, and myself resourceful and fiscally responsible. For example, I learned to budget our capital properly throughout the year and cut out any unnecessary purchases. We also use a lean model with our business to ensure that most of the revenue goes donations and not the cost of running the business."

The good news is there to finally be a move toward recognizing the many, many contributions that Black women have been making to society since the beginning. Oh says she believes this is because we are in an era where “social media allows us to see the contributions of Black women (and men). There is a growing appreciation overall for celebrating Blackness and Black achievements. I think social media has allowed more dialogues regarding race, which has prompted awareness of issues that Black people face. This is a step in the right direction. However, we as a nation, have a long way to go."

In terms of doing good by serving and supporting others, Oh says this is absolutely how she imagined her future. But she says, “In terms of being interviewed for a magazine, the introverted seven-year-old Sheila could never imagine that."

Oh says she hopes that one-day “conversations regarding our sexuality and reproductive health will be normalized and celebrated to allow for women to not only fully express their sexuality, attain sexual fulfillment but to also seek reproductive health advice as needed." She also holds out hope that in the future women's reproductive rights and healthcare will become a priority in every aspect. “Personally, I hope that Courtney and I will continue to grow our volunteerism, advocacy, business, and outreach efforts to benefit more women."

As for what advice she would you give to other women – and especially women of color - in terms of turning their dreams into their realities, she has three recommendations.

  • Don't second-guess yourself and your passions. The moment you do that, your dream stays an unattainable dream.
  • Be sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you. They will fuel your drive and eventually help you to get back on track.
  • Obstacles on the journey can be stepping stones to greater things if you stay optimistic.

What matters most to Oh is empowering women, and she has found a myriad of ways to do just that. “I understand that not every woman is very bold about her sexuality or sexual freedoms," says Oh. “But we can all agree that reproductive health is important to all women. As such, a Knotty Vibes provides free menstrual cups in our store! We are here for all women in different stages of their sexual journey."

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5 Min Read
Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.