How to Navigate Workplace Boundaries at a Sex Toy Company

Illustration by Emma Olswing

by Rachel Malkin

At Dame Products, we talk about sex all day long. Our daily conversations center around the intricacies of pleasurable sex and how we can help people have more of it. At the average workplace, it’d probably not be okay to talk with your boss about a sex position you tried this weekend or when you got your first vibrator, but here it is welcomed banter in the Conference Womb before or during a meeting. (Yes, our conference room is called the Conference Womb. We have to stay on brand. Okay?) 

Of course, this doesn’t mean all bets are off when it comes to sexual behavior, but it does beg the question: What counts as NSFW when your work pertains to sex, masturbation, genitalia, and orgasms? How do sexual harassment policies work? How do you make sure boundaries exist at a company pushing boundaries in the sex tech industry? 

Dame employees may share more about sex than the average officemates, but we are not required to. If someone wants to offer a sexual preference or practice or opinion, it’s welcomed! If not, that’s okay, too. No one is being forced to share or try anything they don’t want to. Just like any office space, we are aware of everyone’s body language, tone of voice, and what they say (or don’t say) about their comfort levels. Often it is someone’s lack of involvement or contribution that speaks volumes. It’s important to pay attention to those moments to gauge what your colleagues are comfortable with.

All that said, this is a company where people need to feel safe and comfortable—perhaps even more so because we sell sex-related products. We think it’s totally possible to prevent harassment without ignoring the reality—and the beauty—of sex. When sexuality is at the center of your daily grind, it is important to be extra mindful of and communicative about people’s comfort levels. We do our best to recognize that everyone’s level of comfort varies and that the lines of what’s acceptable to discuss have the potential to get blurrier than other workplaces. 

This is a company where people need to feel safe and comfortable—perhaps even more so because we sell sex-related products.

A great example of this is the way our engineering team tests out new prototypes of Dame products. For these tests, they often need humans. (Yes, this is an incredible perk of this workplace.) But one important rule we have is that the engineers can only announce their participation needs openly, and we can volunteer as tribute if we choose. They cannot specifically request one employee, or approach any employees who aren’t interested.

So what about physical touch? Dame is a startup that cultivates a warm, casual environment, so we probably welcome touch more than most typical corporate environments. It isn’t unusual to witness a hand on the shoulder or a hug from a coworker when you’ve done something extraordinary. (Our CEO, Alex, sometimes plays it super-safe and gives air hugs!)

But again, we must be hyper-aware of boundaries: People’s preferences for physical touch vary greatly, and just because you work in a more touch-friendly work environment doesn’t mean you automatically consent to it. Asking helps. Communicating your needs and preferences when it comes to physical contact in the workplace can be just as vital as it is in the bedroom. And as with any workplace, sexual touch in the office is inappropriate, and unwanted touch—sexual or otherwise—is absolutely not tolerated. In fact, sexual harassment training is required for every employee.

Let’s be honest: Sometimes things get momentarily weird. In that case, it’s important to stop, call it out, and defuse immediately. For instance, Alex once sent a link on Slack, encouraging us to attend a release party for a magazine we respect. But then she quickly realized that the party started at 10 p.m. on a weekday...and it was “clothing-optional.” After she noticed that, she made it crystal-clear to us: We were definitely not expected to attend a sex party! We all laughed, but the moment underscored a serious point: If you feel uncomfortable doing anything, you do not have to do it. 

No matter where you’re employed, from a buttoned-up corporate office to the set of a pornographic film, you are there to work. Sexual harassment can exist anywhere: Overstepping someone’s boundaries in a small or a big way can happen in a restaurant, a law firm, or a sex toy company. While the boundaries may vary, the common denominator is a basic respect for other human beings.

Rachel Malkin is Executive Assistant to the CEO of Dame Products, a freelance makeup artist, and a yoga teacher.