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SM 8 | Sexy Context

Can you imagine a world where sex is a core pillar of wellness, right alongside eating veggies and getting regular exercise?  As more and more people are starting to recognize the importance of sex and intimacy to our health and happiness, the sexual wellness space is fast gaining a foothold in the market and making its way into the cultural zeitgeist. One such app that is making waves right now is Coral. It helps to improve happiness, impact lives, and create a more intimately connected and fulfilled society by facilitating sexual education, acceptance, and connection. Joining David Jensen and Cecily Chambers on today’s podcast is Isharna Walsh, Coral’s CEO and Founder. Isharna explains that sexuality is an integral part of our happiness, health, and identity, and as such, we should invest in our sex lives. She talks about her inspiration to create Coral and the process of pitching the idea to investors, as well as the three key pillars of the product. Tune in to this episode and discover your desires, sexy context and what you can do to create that space.

Listen to the podcast here:

What Is Your Sexy Context? With Isharna Walsh

A More Intimately Connected And Fulfilled Society

Can you imagine a world where sex is a core pillar of wellness, right alongside eating veggies and getting regular exercise? This vision is what our guest Isharna Walsh is trying to bring to life. Isharna is the Founder of Coral, a sex-positive tech company with a mission to make all of us more fulfilled, connected and educated when it comes to intimacy with our partners and ourselves. Through Coral’s app, you can learn better sex through expert vetted, science-backed content, interactive quizzes, playful exercises and stories from the community.

One thing I love about Coral and Isharna’s vision is she has identified that wellness has become quite elitist because it often centers around expensive luxury treatments. She is focused on how to make wellness more accessible and appealing on a mass scale. In our conversation, Isharna speaks to how we can get into a spiritual place with our intimacy, and how we can set the scene for desire to occur. We also discuss why many of us in this COVID-19 world are experiencing skin hunger. Now on to our chat. We’ll start with why is better sex important?

The biggest thing is we have given a huge amount of shame and stigma in relation to sexuality by our culture. It is a foundational aspect of health and happiness. The way we feel in our sexuality, in our relationship to sexuality, impacts our confidence and sense of self. It impacts our intimate relationships. Because of that, it has flow on effects for the stability of your family unit and the longevity of your family relationship over time. By working on sexuality and intimacy, you can have not only significant positive impacts on yourself, but also on that major intimate relationship in your life, which has this dual self-reinforcing cumulative impact.

On the intimacy front, many times when we look at relationships, we will start with that love spark, that love interest, that immediate attraction, and we will get stuck in that part of the attraction. We’ll get stuck in the physical joy and attraction, and we don’t allow it to start to evolve. What I heard you describe is an evolution from that attraction into deep intimacy to help ground you and create a deeper bond. Can you talk a little bit more about that and where people get stuck?

SM 8 | Sexy ContextThere are probably maybe four layers to sex. There’s the physical, which is what most of us focus on. It’s functioning acts, orgasm-like behaviors, but then there’s this emotional layer. There’s an energetic layer. The way I help people conceptualize that is, for example, often great casual sex will have the physical and the energetic. It’s this generative and that raw like, “This feels so good.” You’re building off each other’s energy. That flow feels good and it’s connected. There’s the emotional, which is where that vulnerability and deep intimacy comes in. When you can explore those three aspects to sex, you can get into the spiritual place. That’s the deepest place that for me at least and from what I know, where deep and profound intimacy can take you.

Probably deep and profound healing in certain ways. I read that Millennials are having less sex than previous generations and after two years, 1 in 3 relationships are non-sexual, which means having sex less than once a month. Can you speak to that? Is that part of the reason why you started Coral?

My inspiration for Coral was 100% derived from a personal experience and journey that I went on. It was then speaking to people and hearing about their experiences and their struggles, and then digging into data like the one you referenced, and realizing this isn’t just my problem or my friend’s problem. This is a societal wide issue. That’s part of it. I had some hesitation or tension about the idea of creating a technology product to help something that is inherently about being present and physical.

That’s the issue. That’s what David and I were talking about. Why is this happening to Millennials? I was making the point that we’re distracted. We’re on our phones and our computer screens. We’re absorbing all this blue light and radiation and whatever else. We’re not being present with our partners. We’re placing way too much of importance on working ourselves to the bone and then numbing out by watching Netflix.

There was a decrease in partnered activity when TVs came into bedrooms. Now that’s ubiquitous. Everyone’s got a screen in their hand when they’re going to sleep. Instead of turning over and connecting with your partner, you’re doing your last round of notifications before putting that down and going right to sleep.

Your brain is active and you’re not relaxing. You’re not trying to get into a different mental state. It’s all the things that people like Arianna Huffington have been writing about in Thrive.

I have to say they are also key precursors to desire in longer-term relationships. The thing is we have this conception of desire as spontaneous. It’s this idea that I’m meant to look at you and be like, “Let’s go.” Whereas often particularly in long-term relationships, our experience of desire tends to be more responsive over time, which means that we need to create the context within which desire can grow. That might be taking a bath, consciously turning off our phones and relaxing. That maybe having a glass of wine, getting into a space where our bodies can allow desire to grow, and then creating sexual contexts, be it massage, lighting candles and putting something sexy on. It might be getting all the dishes done and letting your partner have an evening on the couch. All of these things that set the same for desire to occur are less likely to occur now because we are so connected and wound up all the time.

Specifically on the COVID front, can you talk a little bit about your work in Coral in helping folks navigate the cabin fever aspect of COVID. I was talking to a friend and he was saying, “I’m ready to strangle my partner. I adore him but I’m over it. He needs to go back to work. I need to go back to work. I need some space.”

It’s tough. We’ve found through our own data, and this is also being backed up by research from the Kinsey Institute about sexual behavior during COVID, that people are generally engaging in less sex, and that is having a negative impact on the quality of their relationship. We’ve also found that people perceive intimacy as more important during this time. They feel they want that connection even more, but they’re getting it less. That adds to the compounding tension. The difficulty is it does generally require some face time, relaxation, not having kids around, all of that to allow desire to grow. What we’re trying to do is help people learn what is your desire or your sexy context? What is the thing that you can do to create that space?

Sexuality is a foundational aspect of health and happiness. Click To Tweet

We’ve put a bunch of care packages out throughout our app, which have different types of content focused on helping people create that space. On the other side, there are all the people who can’t see each other. We put out guides. It’s got some great guides for virtual sex. We’ve got some dirty talk vocab definitions. There’s a lot in there for you two, but for those in relationships, it’s also a lot about taking the pressure off to sex. We have a bunch of content that’s around creating an intimate space. Something where you feel relaxed or you can receive some pleasurable touch or connection, but it’s not necessarily sexual. That often helps because it’s like, “There is no pressure here.”

I’ve also had conversations with friends that have said the lack of what we’ve been accustomed to at least in my lifetime of going and hugging friends, family and lovers when you first see them at a dinner or just hanging out, and that’s all been erased. The social distancing aspect has created this new barrier. We were talking about it in the context of her kids. Her kids are 3, 5 and 9. She’s worried that they’re getting the wrong message. She’s trying to reinforce that this is only temporary. We still need human to human contact. We need to touch each other. Humans need that.

There’s a term for it. I don’t know when it was coined, but it’s called skin hunger. It’s about our innate physiological need for touch. Our brains and bodies are designed to need physical touch and it releases all sorts of hormones in our body. I’m not going to get the name right. There are certain receptors that are activated when we touch other humans. Particularly for single people, there’s this skin hunger of needing and wanting to be touched. It’s a real issue. One of the ways you can mitigate it, particularly if you’re single, is through self-pleasure. You can touch yourself. It’s not quite the same but it still feels good and satisfies some of that need. We encourage self-pleasure for everyone, particularly for people who are single.

SM 8 | Sexy ContextI can’t imagine dating now like having to have sex in a mask.

Also, not having sex at all.

Dating would be hard.

I read an interesting Instagram post that you did that was about the process of pitching your ideas for Coral to mostly older male investors. Can you tell us a little bit about that process?

The first time I pitched it, I remember standing by my bathroom mirror and being like, “Am I actually about to go and do this?” I’m going to walk into a room and tell investors like, “I think the world needs better sex and I’m going to build a billion-dollar business around it.” Honestly, I found it interesting. I feel investors that I’ve spoken to tend to fall into three main camps. One is open-minded and sex-positive. They may have gone on their own journey in relation to sexuality and so they get it. They’re like, “This is an incredible business opportunity, as well as something that helps the world. It’s awesome.” There’s a second camp who may not be as sex-positive or may not have had that same journey, but they recognize the business opportunity and see it for that. There is definitely a camp that struggled. Every investor that chooses to take the meeting know what I’m there to pitch ahead of time. Most of the time they blush, but there are some who are more uncomfortable than others.

Do you probe that at all? I know these are business investment meetings, but is it the topic or does it feels like it’s too close to their personal insights that will be revealed?

It’s definitely both, but with the meetings that I felt have been the most challenging, it’s been the latter like when you start talking about desire discrepancy in a relationship or erectile dysfunction.

It makes a lot of middle-aged men nervous. I’m not one of them, but I know many of them. How do you combat that? How do you get them? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you have to go to those first two categories, but will they come around at all?

Not in my experience thus far. I can’t think of any meeting where I’ve felt that kind of energy and it ended up with a check. I don’t think so. This business isn’t for everyone, and the way I combat it is by being open and upfront. This is something that we all do and it’s a huge market. It’s a lot of suffering and this is a business that can change lives and make a lot of money. Here are all the reasons why. Some investors get it and some don’t. That’s just part of the process.

For our audience, can you talk more specifically or go down another level of detail? They’ve got links to your work and to your website and all of that, but can you talk a little bit about actual practices, techniques, and offerings that you have here during the show?

SM 8 | Sexy Context

Sexy Context: Our brains and bodies are designed to need physical touch.

The three key pillars of the product are learn, play and talk. That was driven from my own journey of feeling those were the most impactful things for me in my own development. We’ve since validated that with therapists and experts to make sure that we’re on the right path. Essentially, learn is all about giving you foundational knowledge and understanding of your own biology and psychology in relation to sex and intimacy. We talk about things like desire discrepancy. We talk about communication techniques. We talk about different self-pleasure techniques. We normalize your experience through research and data to show that most likely what you’re experiencing is relatively common. Here are evidence-based ways of potentially dealing with that. Learn is all about foundational knowledge and understanding. Play is the embodiment of those teachings.

We guide you through exercises to help you experience something differently. Our guided exercises range from meditation to help you connect to your pleasure, however that looks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual, to our guided sensate-focused exercise. That’s one that we use and it has been used successfully for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as an example. They can learn to connect to physical sensations in their body, which generally helps with erectile performance. We’ve got a mindfulness for desire course that was put together by one of our advisors, Dr. Lori Brotto, who’s done a lot of research around how mindfulness can be used as a tool to cultivate desire, particularly in women. We have a guided blow job. It’s something fun and new to try with a partner. You learn a few different techniques. They love it and it’s a nice thing to try on a date night. We run the gamut of both helping people try and deal with issues they’re facing, all the way through to providing support and inspiration for new things to try and do.

Can you talk a little bit about your inspirations and contrast that framing to historical work such as the Kinsey Institute or in the ‘70s, The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Gay Sex that were popular texts. My mother would kill me, but I’ll never forget going through her drawer and I don’t remember what I was looking for, but I saw this book and I brought it out like, “What is this, mommy?” She grabbed that out of my hand and said, “Stop going through my drawers. Why are you doing that?” She even had sent me looking for something for her. There has been a sexual awakening in the last 50 years and you have all of that legacy. Can you talk a little bit about how that has influenced and inspired you, and then the difference between your work through Coral?

I came to this as a consumer. I didn’t come to it from the perspective of an expert and an academic or professional in the space. My inspiration has been that work. It was reading those books and internalizing those teachings and recognizing how impactful that was for my life and my happiness. Also, recognizing that that was pretty inaccessible and took a lot of motivation. To read six books takes a lot of time. You’ve got to buy six books and you’ve got to figure out what they are. You have to take and pick and choose what you want to take from them. Similarly, I do tantric courses and all those intimacy courses. One tantra course is like $400.

SM 8 | Sexy ContextYou’ve got to go and sit in a strange apartment with a woman wearing a sari, with candles and rose petals and chanting chakras, which I love and I had great time. It’s not for everyone. It’s inaccessible and it’s expensive. What I set out to create and what we have created is essentially pulling from all of those resources, making it much more digestible, much more interactive multimedia, and the price point is much more accessible. That’s why it’s an evolution from the traditional format.

Something I resonated with when I was doing research about this was that you said that wellness is quite elitist, and that was something that you wanted to change. You wanted to make it accessible and attractive to the masses. I love that because I feel that hits on your structured mischief change-maker side of wanting to help everyone.

It’s a difficult balance to strike because particularly when you think about how do we drive the most impact and help the most, and make this as accessible as possible. We have to be conscious about our language choices, about our branding, about the way we speak to our users. When I think about the brand that we’ve built, it’s meant to feel slightly aspirational, but it’s definitely not elitist. We’re not trying to be too cool. We’re like your friend that’s a bit more knowledgeable than you.

It’s like your friend that’s 17 when you’re 15, and then she’s telling you how to do X, Y, Z.

We resonated with that early twenties demographic, which I found interesting because when I was building the brand, I was consciously thinking about the 26-plus audience. You’re in your first or second serious relationship. It’s probably been going long enough for things to be going not that great anymore because that happens to everyone. You have the maturity to do the work. We created that brand, it’s that exact dynamic for younger women, particularly of being like, “This is my more knowledgeable older friend who’s talking to me as a peer, but that I can learn from.”

Can you talk a little bit about how you’re using different tools, meaning AI, etc., in order to provide that knowledge and that insight? I’ll go one step further. First off, that brand position resonates with me personally, but in general, you’re a buddy, friend, mate or girlfriend who’s somebody you can go to and ask questions. That’s also from a pure experience perspective where most people have that trust relationship. You’re building a trusted relationship but at the same time, you have potentially a challenge to continue to help them. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re taking that on when you’ve crossed over into what I’ll call a therapist? Where you go from girlfriend or boyfriend advising a friend to, “There’s some serious stuff here that this person should be addressing.”

One clear example of that is trauma. If someone’s experienced significant trauma, they may be drawn to our products because it’s related to something they’ve experienced. For example, they might not have the financial access to proper therapy resources. Something like trauma is difficult. We’ve partnered with Dr. Holly Richmond, who is a somatic therapist who does a lot of work with trauma survivors. That’s an example of something where we realized we have to create more resources to support, but we’re not actually a trauma processing platform because firstly, we haven’t designed that. Secondly, that’s a difficult thing to do digitally.

You need to be holding space for someone physically to help them work through serious issues. With something like that, we have created content around it, but it’s all more designed to help people understand to validate their experience and provide them with concrete tools. We’ve got embodiment exercises and grounding exercises if they are triggered, and direct them to professional help where we feel we’ve hit those limits. Essentially, the way we’ve approached this, and this is across many different subjects, is we may help people realize that they need more extensive help. We’re clear that there’s a boundary there between what we can do and what they need to seek outside help for. It’s a fine line because we do want to take care of our users.

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I’m more curious, what are the techniques, tools or insights you as a team gathered where you go, “Mary is fine, but Jack needs some help. We need to let Jack know gently that he should probably seek some therapy?”

Our relationship to our sexuality impacts our confidence, our sense of self, and our intimate relationships. Click To Tweet

The main way we do that is through quizzes so they self-identify. For example, we have a quiz to help people understand the causes of their low desire. We ask like, “Are you feeling this? That could be cause to a desire. Have you experienced this? That could be a cause for it.” When someone self-identifies into one of those buckets, then it’s like, “This could be affecting you. We recommend you seek professional help.” We might direct them to all the content if they can’t get help or whatever.

Is there a community aspect or what is the community aspect? That’s the critical part.

One of the things I found the most impactful in my journey was that switch from sex being something that especially as women, we talk about it a little bit more openly and vulnerably generally than men do. We still don’t get into the details necessarily most of the time. When I switched from that general standard mode of being into being way more open and speaking to my friends about it, and coming out of a much more educated perspective. The relief that I would see on people’s faces of me opening the space for them to be able to express whatever it was that they were experiencing.

Creating a space where we speak more openly and vulnerably about our experiences is validating, normalizing and healing for a lot of people. Even to see someone else is going through something similar to you can be powerful. There’s also this voyeuristic element to it where you’re like, “That’s what someone else has going through? That’s interesting.” The community in Coral takes two forms. One is user-submitted stories. We source stories from our community about their experiences in relation to different subject matter that we cover. Those are audio stories that you can listen to or read. The second part of the community is essentially discussion forums. You can submit a question to Coral and one of our expert team will answer it. The community can also respond to that discussion.

Is this going to translate into physical in-person events post-COVID or parallel to COVID? Do you see this taking this platform into the physical space?

I have thought about that. We’re experimenting with live facilitated date nights. They’re virtual and we’re getting a good response to those. It’s cool to see.

SM 8 | Sexy ContextI was speaking to a friend about your app and we were joking about how it would be awesome to pair it with a dating app like, “You could only talk to me if you read this lesson.”

I was like we should do a partnership with a dating app where it’s like if you complete an X amount of certain content in Coral, you get a badge.

To be specific, we were talking about how in the app, it brings up this topic of when women and men have the different way that they come to orgasm. Men get to a certain level where it’s past that point they can orgasm and they’re not going to lose it, but women are more responsive and they can lose it. Maybe it was stressful work thing or whatever it is. We were laughing because I know in the app they say a tip for when a woman says that she’s about to orgasm or about to come, that you’re supposed to stay with exactly what you’re doing. Don’t go faster or slower or whatever it is. That was a common thing that I feel it would be good for a lot of men to hear. It’s like you have to read this before we can go on a date.

There are a lot of things that I wish I could insert into the brain of every heterosexual man. That is one of them. In relation to live events, part of what is valuable for the community in Coral is essentially that pseudonymity. It’s such a stigmatized subject, to have a space where you can express and share where you are essentially anonymous, that we’re protecting the bad actors so controlling the space is valuable.

Your comment there about inserting that into every heterosexual man’s brain did make me think, given the gender fluidity that we live in now, and especially for the Gen Z generation. Some of those that you were saying was appealing to your site. I was talking to a friend and he was saying that his niece who’s 22 is gender non-conforming. Everything is ‘they’ and those are their pronouns. How do you address that? How do you address the sexual fluidity especially for a younger generation that are looking for guidance?

This has been something we’ve talked about a lot. Everywhere in the app now, you won’t see gender and genitals equated. That’s something we’re conscious about. It’s something that I need to clean up in my language when I’m speaking publicly and things like that. It’s part of us, the old generation, to properly adjust it, but essentially we recognize that equating gender and genitals is dysphoric for some of our users. We’re conscious of that. We’re also very careful that we use the words for gender, man, and woman, in relation to cultural contexts as opposed to biological reality. When we’re referring to biology, we use female and male, the words for sex, and men and women in the context of culture and gender essentially.

What we were talking about, if we put people with penises everywhere that we might say man, it can become quite alienating from the perspective of the broader audience who might not be as familiar with these nuances. We’ve had to do some intense copy editing and thinking it through how we frame things to make sure that we are inclusive for all genders. We also have trans and genderqueer specific content in app. For example, we do share how transitioning can affect your experience of sexuality, different tips that you can use if you experienced gender dysphoria during sex, and things like that. We’re creating specific content for that audience as well.

SM 8 | Sexy Context

Sexy Context: The three key pillars of Coral are learn, play, and talk.

Can you elaborate a little bit more on some of those unique content within the context of a queer or trans person?

There’s also sexual orientation. In terms of non-heterosexual content, we have content-specific for pleasure in a homosexual context. What we don’t have a lot of content is where you’ve got a cisgender and a non-cisgender interaction. It gets complicated and there are a lot of permutations like that in the gender. In relation to our non-binary gender content and also trans content, we have essentially the start of some educational content around helping also cisgender people understand the different terminology and what it can mean. We then have content around how non-binary and genderqueer and trans identities can affect your experience of sexuality. It’s something that’s not often talked about, but going through a transition process, you shift your sexual orientation in the way your label might change from homosexual to heterosexual. That has a big impact on identity. A lot of trans people who transition may shift their sexual orientation and therefore the sex of people that they want to have a relationship with because that’s all tied together.

Both emotional intimacy and sexually, physically.

Do you think that people can change from responsive to spontaneous? If they’re transitioning gender, do you feel there could be a change with desire as well?

That’s another thing that we drill into a bit is the physical impacts of transitioning on sexuality. There’s hormonal, functional, self-perception and also integration. You’ve gone from being in a body that felt foreign to hopefully being in a body that feels less foreign. That can also have impacts on the way you experience desire and sexual activities. It’s quite nuanced. We worked with a trans therapist to help us create that content.

Wanting to maybe go back out a little bit to you, you talked a little bit about your personal journey and as Cec mentioned, our little tagline is rebels with a cause. You clearly are a rebel with a cause, which is impressive, but have you always been that way? You talked a little bit about what it was that drove you to this, but in general, what has been your passion that influenced you to do good in the world?

That’s a good question because I’m not sure. I have always been this way. I’ve known relatively at an early age that I definitely wanted to work on things that work for the world. Entrepreneurship wasn’t as obvious a path for me because I grew up in Canberra, Australia, which is the capital. It’s a government town and I’m half Sri Lankan. My mother’s expectations of me were be a lawyer or a doctor. I didn’t have a lot of examples of entrepreneurship at all or at least in the way that we think about tech entrepreneurs in particular, but it was also not a path that many of my peers were following. My parents were quite entrepreneurial in the sense that they would buy and renovate properties. They did that on the side of their actual paycheck jobs. I didn’t grow up with that influence, but it’s ingrained in my personality. I’m somewhat unemployable. I saw the potential for combining the profit motive and social impact early, and I’ve always wanted to do that.

As part of our research agenda because we’re working on a book related to this show called Structured Mischief Influence Impact in Doing Good in the World, we’re still working around with the subtitle. We have this one model or concept of what we’re calling a Minimum Viable Collective in order to do good. There are three persona types, a hacker, a hipster and a hustler. One that we want to ask you is, does that resonate based on your experience as an entrepreneur, as a woman building a business? Also, which one of those three are you? It’s a two-part question. Does it resonate? If so, which one are you?

If you think about it, there are entrepreneurs who are building successful businesses that make a lot of money and employ a lot of people, then there are these people who are trying to agitate the change through business and they’re quite different. When you apply that framework more to the latter, for sure, that makes total sense. I’m probably the hacker.

Why a hacker? Talk a little bit about hacking culture from your perspective. It doesn’t have to literally be hacking because we’re using the term hacking as breaking things, unlocking things. That could be computer code or barriers.

I think it’s that. I’ve always had this fascination with the invisible rules that govern our society that control our behavior and why, or having quite a critical thought about them. I’ve got a law degree. My favorite part of my law degree, and I wrote my thesis in constitutional law, was understanding how there is this system of rules that govern everything we do that we do not opt into. We are born into them and yet they have this control over us. Why is that? Where does that authority derive its legitimacy from? When I think about Coral, it’s an inherently political subject and I feel strongly about the politicization of what we’re doing. I don’t think emphasis on the political is how I affect the most change in what I’m doing. Essentially, what we’re doing is saying there are all of these preconceived notions about sexuality that we hold that we’re given that are incorrect and don’t serve us, so let’s change them. That’s why that first category resonates with me the most.

DJ and I were chatting and I was telling him something I love about Coral is debunking some of the sex-shaming that comes into play, and how growing up in a generation where Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton were our role model. I feel like we have been taught that the way that we should get attention is based off of our sexuality and being uber sexual and sexualized. When we do show initiative in our sexuality, sensuality and claim those things, we’re looked at as a ruined person. It’s a whole slut-shaming thing. In high school, you’re encouraged to certain things or certain boys or whatever. If you do that, then everyone’s like, “She’s a slut.”

It’s a dynamic that’s particularly prevalent in the US that I noticed. I’ve lived in Europe as well. My ex, we lived there for five years and he’s Danish. I lived in Italy. I’ve had exposure to sexuality in different cultural contexts. I feel that the whole dynamic of women being sexualized, but not allowed to be sexual is particularly prevalent in the US.

We need to create the context within which desire can grow. Click To Tweet

It’s our puritanical roots, I guess. It’s interesting because there’s also an aspect of that in gay culture. Obviously, it’s men on men sex, but men who talk openly about all of the sex they’re having start to get sex shamed, slut-shamed, “You’re a slut.” It’s like water that rolls off a duck’s back for men because on one level it’s also a little bit of a badge of honor like, “You’ve been able to have more sex than I.” In recent years, especially with gay marriage and gay couples that are having families, that there is creeping into the culture a bit of slut-shaming instead of looking at it as truly an exploration of intimacy.

In a way, it has to do with power because in the context of slut-shaming women, I feel like it goes back all the way to the times of the witches, where there were these burning of the witches because people were afraid of their sexual power or their power in general. I always relate it back to that. Anytime I see slut-shaming happening, it’s like burning the woman on the stakes.

That’s America’s puritanical roots.

SM 8 | Sexy ContextI also think that could relate to gay men as well because the greater culture wants to keep down other people that don’t conform to it. That’s something off the top of my head, but it could be related.

It’s also that power dynamic. If someone is desired, they inherently have power. That flows regardless of agenda and sexual orientation.

What have been some of the challenges or stigma that you’ve faced in starting Coral, promoting it on social media? I know there was maybe a thing about Facebook wasn’t allowing you to promote on it because it’s seen as a sex industry thing.

In terms of investments, there are investors who have vice clauses. For some of them, anything that touches sexuality is a vice so they won’t invest. I had to go through a significant review process with our bank to get a bank. This is despite no pornography, nothing explicit in our platform visually. It’s like we’ve created a product to make people feel better. On the advertising side, there’s a huge amount of censorship. You can’t talk about anything in relation to sex on social media. We still do advertise, but we’re lucky in that there’s not a blanket ban for us because we’re in this gray wellness category area. We do have this focus on wellness and health. We’re considered in that bucket as long as our ads are not in any way referring to sex. I do know that other companies in this space like vibrator companies or sex toy companies cannot advertise at all. It’s a blanket category ban. There are a lot of challenges in creating businesses in this category more broadly.

I’m curious on that front. Not that you would do it, but have you been approached by companies that sell sex toys and vibrators to buy ads on your space, your site?

I don’t think we’ll ever advertise in a programmatic way where we sell or use our data or demographics for advertising space. I can see a future where we introduce a commerce layer into our platform, but it will always be with the protection of our user’s data. Our user’s data will never leave our ecosystem.

This industry seems like it’s booming. I read that the sexual wellness category is predicted to be a $39 billion industry by 2024.

It’s an exciting time to be part of this industry because people are starting to recognize more and more the importance of sex and intimacy to our health and happiness. They’re looking for more forward-thinking brands that are respectful and knowledgeable, and speaking in a way that’s not crass, not sleazy and not clinical. There’s a huge amount of opportunity in this space.

As we get close to the end of the show, what advice would you give folks from a business perspective in launching a business and what you’ve gone through in launching a business? What are the best lessons learned that you would share?

It depends on where they are in the journey. If someone’s got a great idea and they’re scared about starting it, there’s self-preserving fear and self-limiting fear. Being able to differentiate between the two is important. Being able to sit with yourself and go, “I feel afraid about not being able to pay my rent because I don’t have that much in savings.” That’s a self-preserving fear. You should listen to that fear and take the action you need to get yourself into a better spot. Limiting fear is like, “I’m not good enough,” or “It’s going to fail,” or all of those things. That’s was one of the biggest unlocks for me in having the courage to take the leap. The other thing is I’m watching a couple of other friends go through this now.

SM 8 | Sexy Context

Sexy Context: Creating a space where we speak more openly and vulnerably about our experiences is so validating, normalizing, and healing for a lot of people.

They’re at the beginning of their journey. In the moment, things can feel quite slow, but you underestimate how much consistent effort accumulates over time. You might feel like, “This week, nothing happened. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make any progress.” When you look at back off to say three months of working at something, you will be astonished by how much progress you can make. Particularly at the start of adventure, that can be challenging for people. If someone’s further along in that journey and thinking potentially about raising funding or getting a loan and things like that, the biggest thing I found helpful is other entrepreneurs. Cultivate your go-to list of people that you can call for advice or introductions whether it be their Rolodex, their consultants or their experience is powerful.

To this point, if you could look back at your younger self and give her one piece of advice, what would that be? If you could also fast forward ten years from now to your future self and give your current self one piece of advice, what would that be?

For my younger self, I would probably tell her to chill out. My oldest self will probably tell my current self to chill out. That’s probably it. This is all a journey. In the moment, things feel everything’s so much, but it’s not. We’re all going to be okay.

I hear that a lot from entrepreneurs. It’s like, “Trust the timing of your own life and know that things are going to work out the way that they’re supposed to. Don’t stress about the details as much.”

I’m at an age now where I’m old enough to have a sense of nostalgia for my youth, for lack of a better term, but enough perspective to see the sweetness in things that have happened in my past, but also young enough to recognize how much more of that I have in my future. Hopefully, nothing goes astray. The sweetness of the current moment is what it’s all about. It’s hard when you’re responsible for ten people’s jobs, trying to make a change, do a lot at once and all of that.

Also, you’re in the middle of a pandemic.

I would love to know what my 45-year-old self would tell me now. I’ll let you guys know.

I don’t know if you’re into yoga, but I did this one yoga nidra where it was talking to yourself as a child. Also, seeing yourself as an older person talking to yourself currently. I know this is dark, but seeing that moment when you pass away, how you would want to feel about your life and the perspective that you would have. It was helpful to me.

Thank you. This has been fantastic. We look forward to spending more time with your website and hearing about the case examples and having you back on sometime in the future to track your progress.

I’d love that. Thank you. It’s been such a pleasure meeting you both.

It’s been great. Thank you.

Take care.

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About Isharna Walsh

SM 8 | Sexy ContextIsharna is the founder and CEO of Coral (, a sexual wellness app that offers evidence-based guides to better sex for all humans. Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Australia, Isharna has always had a fascination with the invisible rules that govern cultures and societies. A personal experience led her to leave a coveted role at a VC investment firm to create something to help people in a fundamentally new way. Sex is one of the core pillars of our mental and physical well-being and yet it’s too often left shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. Isharna founded Coral to give people easy and affordable access to sexual wellness. 
Isharna is the founder and CEO of Coral, a sexual wellness app that offers evidence-based guides to better sex for all humans. Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Australia, Isharna has always had a fascination with the invisible rules that govern cultures and societies. A personal experience led her to leave a coveted role at a VC investment firm to create something to help people in a fundamentally new way. Sex is one of the core pillars of our mental and physical well-being and yet it’s too often left shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. Isharna founded Coral to give people easy and affordable access to sexual wellness.