Health 02 January 2019
Vicki Cowart, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Angela Wells, Founder & CEO of Vibrant sat down with SWAAY to talk sex, pleasure, and how this partnership will help millions. “Sex isn't very pleasurable if women don't have access to affordable birth control," Wells begins. “Vibrant offers a new way to support the organization while also supporting one's own pleasure and sexual empowerment." Wells is right! Without birth control and reproductive services, many women are left worrying about risks like unintended pregnancies.
Angela Wells photographed with a customer. Photo Courtesy of Ella Hansen.
For those who don't know, Planned Parenthood, is a nonprofit organization that has always been known for providing reproductive health services and sexual education. This organization is continuously researching and educating to emphasize the necessity of topics like proper health and reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is one of many health centers serving around 100,000 women, men and teens yearly within their region - Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. For a majority of patients in that area, this is their only access to affordable resources and health care. Vibrant, a sex toy e-tailer was created by and for the Planned Parenthood organization to raise funds.
WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION COME FROM TO SELL SEX TOYS?
“It was a bold idea," Wells momentarily laughs. “We saw a need inside the industry [because] not a lot of consumers in the U.S. [know] that the sex toy industry is not regulated, meaning manufacturers can make products with materials that are really dangerous and toxic for our bodies." Wells explains that the toys that aren't regulated may contain materials that are banned from everyday items like water bottles and kids toys. It can inevitably disrupt hormones, bring on infections, irritations and can sometimes even cause cancer. “We really felt that Planned Parenthood was a place for us to share our voice and our shared values," she goes on.
Vibrant not only sells inclusive sex toys, but also books, condoms, lubes and other necessities when it comes to having a healthy, safe sex life. Both women shared their positive views on sex, sexual health and providing care and information to their patients. From the start, Wells and Cowart emphasize this partnership felt right. “Sexual health is so important to every person that's walking on this planet," Wells comments. “It's a way for us to continue [creating] a healthy society with this direct correlation to Planned Parenthood."
THE PROBLEM - HEALTH CARE COVERAGE
“Having a company and partner like Vibrant is critical to our future," Cowart exclaims. “We believe that all of us in the health and wellness space can spread the word that pleasure is a fundamental component to healthy sexuality." With this partnership, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Vibrant are aiming to make birth control accessible and make sex for women safe, pleasurable and enjoyable. Any contributions will bring in support, resources and money, which enable Planned Parenthood to extend what they're doing and provide more resources for the people they serve. “There are so many impediments put in front of women who are trying to access the full range of reproductive health care," Cowart shares. “Having a partner like Vibrant is extending our mission."
“A really significant portion of our work is covered by private donations and that's why Vibrant is very important," Cowart shares.
Just last month, the midterm elections concluded that the most important issue for voters was healthcare. The very next day, President Trump's administration took direct aim at birth control and abortion. The new regulations would allow any employer or university to refuse coverage of birth control. It also affects abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “We saw the voters, particularly Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada stand up and really talk, really say to elected officials that reproductive health is important and rights is important," Cowart expresses. “Even in the moment of celebrating changes in this election, we are still faced with an administration that doesn't want women to have full access to birth control and the full speed of reproductive health care like abortion."
Both Cowart and Wells bring on a serious tone to the conversation. Cowart, in particular, shares her concerns in relation to Planned Parenthood. “[This is] negatively impacting our patients; fifty-five million women have access to free birth control either through their primary insurance or through Medicaid." Not only will women lose their ability to have coverage of these necessities, but also more women will be in need of help. Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement reported by CNN that this ruling “could leave millions of women without access to birth control and reverse some of the important health progress made under the Affordable Care Act in recent years." Since then, citizens across the country are uniting to fight against these new regulations.
THE IMPACT OF VIBRANT & PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
Both organizations hope to normalize the conversation of sex, sexuality and sexual health. “Women are truly able to take care of themselves, be healthy, have a healthy sexual relationship," Cowart says. Vibrant's website in particular removes shame and stigma and promotes inclusivity. “We don't say toys for men [or] toys for women," she beings. “We say 'for me', 'for us', 'for the mind' because toys are not gendered.
“They're designed to stimulate different parts of the body. It's up to the consumer to determine what gender they might identify with, even if they don't identify with a gender at all. It creates that warm and welcoming environment that people receive inside of a Planned Parenthood health center and online as well.
In 2018, 30% of revenue for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains comes from private donations that vary from individuals, corporations to foundations. In the Rocky Mountain region, the facilities do not receive public funding from states. “A really significant portion of our work is covered by private donations and that's why Vibrant is very important," Cowart shares.
“Sex isn't very pleasurable if women don't have access to affordable birth control," Wells begins. “Vibrant offers a new way to support the organization while also supporting one's own pleasure and sexual empowerment."
WHERE CAN YOU PURCHASE THESE SEX TOYS AND LEARN MORE?
Buying a sex toy is one of many ways to help fund the Rocky Mountain region. Those living in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming can find printed materials about Vibrant in most health centers. “We also do a lot of events, [like] pop up shops, in the western part of the U.S." Wells tells us. “We answer questions and let people see some of the products up close and personal." If you are looking to buy a sex toy in support of Planned Parenthood free from stigma and judgment, or simply browse through the many blogs, guides and FAQs, visit their website. This amazing, sex positive company can also be found on Instagram.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.