A ‘SexTech Revolution’ Could Smash the Internet of Men

Andrea Barrica, who launched one of the industry’s most popular sextech startups, wants to usher in a revolution to upend the oppressive mores of Silicon Valley

Photo courtesy of Andrea Barrica

AAndrea Barrica never expected to have a career in sextech — or even a career in tech, period. She grew up in a strict Filipino Catholic household, where sex was only discussed as something harmful. And her vision of the future was limited to a safe and predictable future: marriage, kids, and a career as a linguist.

But when she was 20 years old, a friend invited her to join their accounting software startup, inDinero, and suddenly, Barrica’s life was on a completely different path. After building inDinero into a thriving company, she pivoted to venture capital, taking on a position as a venture partner at 500 Startups. As a founder and a funder, Barrica developed a deep understanding of Silicon Valley’s inner workings, getting a behind the scenes look at its successes and failures.

Yet even as Barrica was achieving so much in her professional life, she felt stalled personally — particularly when it came to sex. Her Catholic upbringing taught her to see sex as dangerous and disgusting, something that could only bring her shame and pain, not pleasure and joy. Searching the internet for answers about sex mostly resulted in misinformation and limited depictions of sexuality that mostly made her feel worse.

Barrica persevered, and eventually community resources — like the feminist sex-toy stores and sex-positive events that are all over San Francisco — helped her unlearn her shame, accept herself as a queer person, and find a path to a fulfilling, pleasurable sex life. And with her own sexual awakening, she found herself inspired to help other people get access to the healing, sex-positive resources that had helped her so much.

That desire led Barrica to create O.School, a video streaming platform dedicated to providing access to pleasure-focused, trauma-aware sex education. O.School partners with a team of “pleasure professionals” — including gynecologists, dating coaches, sex educators, and therapists — to create educational videos on a range of sex-related topics; making it easy for anyone, anywhere, to access the kind of positive, supportive messaging about sex that Barrica longed for when she was growing up.

But O.School’s success isn’t just about its message or its vision. Because of her background in venture capital, Barrica was able to access almost a million dollars in funding for the project, an incredibly rare achievement in a world where many of the people holding the purse strings — including banks and other providers of small business loans, as well as angel investors and venture capitalists — are still deeply uncomfortable with sex. Determined not to pull the ladder up behind her, Barrica has written a new book — Sextech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness — that she hopes will offer guidance, advice, and an essential education for sex-focused tech entrepreneurs looking to follow in her footsteps.

We sat down to chat about what everyone gets wrong about the collection of pleasure, reproductive health, wellness companies commonly referred to as “sextech,” why those entrepreneurs are poised to challenge our ideas about what the internet looks like, and what our online lives might have looked like if they’d been designed, not by white men from Stanford, but by queer women of color like Barrica herself.

OneZero: Tell me about your background and what brought you to sextech.

Andrea Barrica: I grew up in a house where it just wasn’t okay to talk about sex at all. It wasn’t about giving me a healthy outlook on sexuality, it was about making you really afraid and really ashamed. And it succeeded. I pretty much was cut off from my sexuality. One of the effects of that was that I became extremely focused on work and education. The repression is probably what led me to start [inDinero] when I was 20. If I had a healthier relationship to my sexuality, I probably would have had a lot more fun and been a lot more in control of my own life. Instead, I married young. I did the things you were supposed to do.

My career in tech was a total accident. When I started building accounting software, I thought it was going to be temporary. That career ended up leading me to venture capital. And around the time that I was joining the venture capital world, I was starting to break through in terms of my sexuality. I came out of the closet during this time. I started to really explore.

What drove me to O.School was that I really needed it in my life.

Sexual repression got me into tech. I came super late in life to sex education. Sexual and body autonomy and my personal power as a sexual person — all of that came really late, after I already started multiple tech careers. The internet should have solved this problem. But my Google searches early on weren’t bringing me the thing that helps the healing process. They were mostly bringing things that added to my pain and confusion.

What do you think is the most misunderstood part of sextech?

That it’s about sex. People think that sexual wellness is more about sex, but it’s actually more about wellness.

When I entered the space, I knew there was a ton of community work being done, I knew that there were in-person experiences and I knew that there were tons of organizations doing [sex education] on a grassroots, nonprofit level. But when I looked at it from the tech and VC lens, I was like, holy crap, there’s nothing here. And it didn’t make any sense to me.

Most of the internet is dominated by white men, while sextech is dominated by marginalized people. Your book presents the diversity within sextech as an opportunity to remake the internet. How do you envision that happening?

If you think of the people who symbolize tech, it’s these white, cis male founders who have a certain ethos. And that ethos is cultural. People develop technology, people tell machines what to do. I’ve been in tech now a decade. And in that 10 years I have watched companies build, brands come and go, platforms come and go. One thing that I clearly see is that there’s a cultural divide. A lot of people with a lot of power get to design what the future will look like. And there are not enough stakeholders in that mix. Young cis white dudes out of Stanford were the ones given onus to really design the future for the rest of us.

When people criticize tech companies, they bring up a lot of like, “Are we building for a future of humans or are we going for a future of robots?” Do we value the body? Do we value wellness? Do we value human, in person connection?

At O.School, we have a totally different idea of what the future could look like. We care about people who are alive today, not just this bleak future of humans — this future where we’re on Mars and we’re brains in jars. We’re trying to create a completely different road to the future. And, we think, a different outcome.

One reason why marginalized people are able to find space in sextech is because sex is so stigmatized. But as sextech proves itself to be profitable, won’t the very people who built it be pushed out in favor of the same people who’ve had power all along the way? We’re seeing this as marijuana gets legalized: You have John Boehner entering the marijuana industry rather than the people who have gone to jail.

One of the things that I tell people as I’m raising money is that I feel a moral imperative to not let Amazon win this.

Survival is one of the things that I consider activism in this space. I don’t have a lot of confidence that, you know, we can fund [sextech and wellness] from a government level or we can fund this from a like nonprofit level. To reach the billions of people we need to reach as fast as possible? I could not come up with a better model outside of venture capital.

One of the reasons why I continue to build towards the largest possible vision that O.School can be is because I don’t want a larger player with more capital behind them to do it without the same lived experiences. I have raised money as a queer woman of color, and for a lot of my career. And it’s hard to even fathom how many odds are against you. But the alternative is scarier to me: We let cis white dudes own everything all the time. That’s horrible.

That’s why I wrote the book with the details of how the VC world works. When I go to women of color events I find that this is a mystical world to them. Demystifying that is what’s going to prevent what you’re talking about from happening.

What would be different if instead of the internet built by white men from Stanford, we had an internet built by the leaders of sextech?

When you understand the core tenets of sexual wellness, you understand that you get to be in control of your body, you get to be in control of your own life. That’s really what sexual wellness teaches people. It’s power and economy and agency. I think that if we had the leaders of sextech building the internet, we would have seen that in business model creation. You would have seen those values and the ethos reflected in how organizationally we design companies and how we need to create organizations that provide a ton of value to everybody in society and create an exciting bottom line.

The way the internet was built was without a lot of mindfulness. It wasn’t mindfully created. And sexual wellness teaches people to be in their bodies and to pay attention. We would have seen a tech industry where people were paying attention to what would actually happen to the billions of people their platform would affect.

OneZero columnist, Peabody-nominated producer, and the author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — And the Truths They Reveal. http://luxalptraum.com

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