Disability and sex have long been considered mutually exclusive topics by the media and the general public. But one British entrepreneur is determined to change that and help people with mobility issues reclaim sexual pleasure.
Back in 2008, Adam Lewis worked in events management, but in his spare time he was pursuing a dream in a very different area. He wanted to create the perfect male sex toy, as he was shocked by lack of choice and low quality products in the existing market and annoyed that there seemed to be a stigma against men using sex toys at all.
Exploring the market online, he came across a research paper in a medical journal that grabbed his attention. The paper talked about a technology called ‘penile vibratory stimulation’ that could bring about ejaculation in men with spinal cord injury for IVF purposes – whether they had sensation below the waist or were capable of erection or not.
Lewis was so excited by his discovery he travelled to Denmark to visit the scientists who had developed the equipment, and gained their permission to use the patents in a new device aimed at the general market. While the medical equipment was huge and very expensive, Lewis wanted to make the technology available to everyone.
Five years of unexpectedly difficult development followed, but finally in late 2013 Lewis’s company Hot Octopuss launched PULSE, dubbed the world’s first ‘guybrator’. The start-up had a tiny marketing budgeting and the product sold mainly through word of mouth, but it sold out in its first six months, shifting over 10,000 units. In spring 2015 Hot Octopuss launched the second generation, PULSE II, which this time featured the option of an extra motor for a partner.
Moved to tears
“We knew that this toy would be particularly useful for people with mobility issues and erectile dysfunction,” says Lewis, “and when we developed it we made sure it was possible to use it hands free to add an extra dimension of usefulness for some of those people.
“After launch we had scores of people with disabilities and ED contact us and say that PULSE had enabled them to reclaim sexual pleasure, sometimes for the first time in years. We have been moved to tears by some of the testimonials.”
Lewis’s favourite testimonial came from a member of a disabled customer’s support team. She said:
My client has a very involved degenerative muscular disorder. He has also had several strokes and heart surgery. The only part of his body he can move independently is his head. He is able to breathe on his own, but has a tracheostomy tube, feeding tubes and catheters. I feel his ability to masturbate successfully is important to his dignity; one thing he can do that brings pleasure into his life and that he doesn’t require other people to do for him. A member of staff sets him up and then he is on his own. It is probably the most privacy he has in his day.
“When we started getting that kind of feedback we realised that the toy was even more useful than we had anticipated,” Lewis says, “and so when we developed PULSE II we made sure we took feedback from customers with disabilities as well as other users. It seems to me that the enjoyment of sexuality is a basic human right, regardless of level of disability, and we’re really glad PULSE has helped give some people back a sense of ownership or dignity in their sex lives.”
Alongside the launch of PULSE II, Lewis and his team decided they wanted to make a bolder statement about the company’s mission and values as well as highlight the product’s usefulness for those with disabilities and ED. The #SexNotStigma campaign followed.
“We think it’s time everyone joined the conversation about what works for them in the bedroom, not just those who are traditionally allowed to do this because they fit an ideal of what ‘sexy’ is,” says Lewis. “We’re talking about people with disabilities and ED, older people, gay and trans people, anyone with a sexuality or appearance that isn’t necessarily accepted by the mainstream. We love campaigns like Scope’s End The Awkward that are also pushing this idea.”
Next year Lewis aims to launch two new toys – a male toy at an entry level price point to put the product within more people’s reach, and one for women – as well as continuing with the #SexNotStigma campaign. He’s also hoping to get the toy approved by the NHS.
“We think it’s long past time that the stigma around male sex toys disappeared,” he adds. “It’s slowly starting to change thanks to toys like PULSE, some of the other new male toys out there, and the trend towards greater sex positivity in society in general. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
For more information about PULSE II and Hot Octopuss, visit www.hotoctopuss.com, follow @PleasurePulse on Twitter and like on Facebook. You can also use the hashtag #SexNotStigma to join the conversation.
Finally, keep an eye out for our competition launching this Thursday 27th August, giving away a PULSE II SOLO and a PULSE II DUO to two lucky DH readers!