Tag: Rethinking

Caroline Spiegel Is Rethinking Porn for the Next Generation

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Women have been struggling with how to have it all since, well, ever. For Caroline Spiegel, the answer may lay in the bedroom. Her view on it: We can’t fully show up for ourselves or others until we’re really, truly “served in the most intimate parts of our lives.”

It’s a mission that drives Spiegel, the founder and CEO of sexual wellness app Quinn. Built for women by women, Quinn is designed to provide an alternative to conventional visual pornography. 

In 2019, Spiegel was recovering from anorexia and one of the side effects she experienced was a lack of libido. Unable to orgasm, she turned to porn in hopes of getting back into her groove but became frustrated with the content available on major sites like Pornhub and YouPorn. Not seeing her arousal reflected in the content was, simply put, not sexy. 

“We can say that it’s an act and fantasy and play, but it’s actually contributing to a very large industry,” Spiegel says. “That is the sort of studio porn model that historically has really exploited women.”

She eventually found an audio erotica Internet community and fell in love with the medium. Captivated, she dropped out of her computer systems program at Stanford and moved to New York to start Quinn. By removing the often-degrading visual elements of porn, audio erotica allows listeners to focus solely on the fantasy at play. There’s nothing quite so thrilling as hearing someone focus all of their energy on you, whether you’re in the mood for some gentle aftercare or something rougher. Spiegel describes the experience as “closer to Headspace” than to Pornhub. 

For $4.99 a month, the app offers subscribers a library of various erotic audios uploaded by creators called “voices.” Content categories include gentle and rough, dominant and submissive, friends to lovers, and even historical for those looking to get their Bridgerton fix. Male and female voices are included in the library with MLM and WLW audios offered as well. 

“I can really get lost in these worlds,” Spiegel says. “Whether I’m in an audio about the Victorian era, or a fight with your ex-boyfriend that turns steamy…whatever it is, it really can transport you.”

For Spiegel, gender equality goes beyond equal pay and fights in the courtroom—it extends to the bedroom as well, and providing an imaginative ethical porn platform ultimately services women. “Zooming out, the public sector can only go so far,” Spiegel says. “At a certain point, it’s up to the private sector to be like, ‘Okay, what are the products and services women need to be more fulfilled, happier, and just served as customers in our society.”

For Glamour‘s Doing the Work series, Caroline Spiegel shares her experience navigating the porn industry as a female CEO, plus the advice and routines that help her along the way.

Do you have a morning routine?

Caroline Spiegel: I walk to a grocery store near me, and I sometimes bring my dog on the walk. I get two cold brews. One is for around 11 a.m., and the first one is for the morning time. I take a shower and whenever I take a shower, I listen to a podcast. My favorites right now are Pivot and Acquired. I have no routine other than those three things.

So beyond the two cold brews, are you a breakfast person?

I’ll get a breakfast burrito at Erewhon, or they have this really good almond butter smoothie. I can’t say I’m a huge breakfast person, but when I am hungry, I’ll do one of those.

What was your first childhood dream job?

Oh, I know this one! Olympic swimmer.

Did you swim?

I did—well, kind of. I just remember I loved swimming. I was obsessed with it. I thought Michael Phelps was the coolest person ever.

And what was your first actual job?

I worked in a robotics lab at USC, actually. It was called the human-robot Interaction Lab. I was an intern, and I was an assistant to researchers.

How do you typically deal with any rejection or setbacks?

I take a moment and ask, “What can I learn from this?” Are there any productive insights we can glean from this situation and why I was rejected? I pick those up and take them with me. The rest of it, I just throw away. It’s not of service anymore to sit and mope on or ruminate on why they didn’t like me, or why wasn’t a fit. If there are any concrete lessons I can take, then I’ll put those in my little metaphorical backpack and keep on trucking.

What is the best piece of career advice that you’ve personally received?

I think it was from my mom. It was something about how bees go to honey. That was the general premise of the advice, but it was basically: Be someone that people enjoy working with. Don’t be a dick. Just be kind to others—even and especially if you really don’t like them.

The porn industry is a very male-dominated one. What is your experience navigating it as a female CEO?

Whether it’s with an investor or just anyone I’m talking to about Quinn, a lot of their views have already been shaped by consuming Pornhub-type content once, twice, three, four times a week since they were 14. It puts me at a disadvantage going into that conversation, especially because I don’t even know: How does this person feel about porn? What kind of shame do they have? Do they have no shame? Are they interested in this? For some people, it can be a sensitive topic.

What is your biggest at-work challenge?

Something I’m working on is prioritization. Even if I think to myself in the morning, “What’s the one thing I need to get done today?” versus the nice-to-have. It’s kind of the name of the game because you could do really great work on something, but then it’s just not particularly impactful and not high-priority.

Explain a moment where you realized, “I might actually be successful.”

I’ll go on Twitter and search “the Quinn app.” Not people who have tagged us, but people who are talking about it. When we first started Quinn, all of them would be technical issues or, “This is such a stupid app, it’s broken and it’s not working.” Probably a year ago is when I saw, “Oh my gosh, every woman needs Quinn” or “Download Quinn.” I just felt so relieved and happy that it was working. That was a big moment.

After a long productive day, what is your favorite treat for yourself?

I love the Real Housewives. Every city, especially Atlanta and Beverly Hills. So I would say just really sinking my teeth into, you know, a reunion episode. Anything with a lot of drama.

What is your go-to thank you gift?

I have to say flowers. Particularly, tulips.

If you weren’t currently CEO of Quinn, what career do you think you would be in?

I think I would probably be working at a startup or in the tech space. I worked at this company called Protocol Labs in college, which was a company that was trying to decentralize the internet, sort of like Pied Piper in Silicon Valley, and I really love that. So I feel like I would be doing something in that vein.

Originally Appeared on Glamour


Rethinking Sex: Author Christine Emba on the limits of consent

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Why are so many young Americans so unhappy with their sex lives?

That’s the question that looms over a fascinating new book by Washington Post columnist Christine Emba called Rethinking Sex: A Provocation. A provocation indeed: In the book, Emba digs into why young people are, in her words, “engaging in sexual encounters they don’t really want for reasons they don’t fully agree with.”

She argues that the sexual revolution, or the sex positivity movement, has turned sex into a hollow — and occasionally degrading — transaction. And the price of sexual liberation has been a wide-open dating culture that, ironically enough, has replaced old taboos with new ones and made a lot of us, especially women, miserable.

There are parts of Emba’s argument I agree with and parts of it I don’t, so I reached out to her for a recent episode of Vox Conversations. We discuss how her Catholic faith informs her views on sex, why she thinks consent isn’t enough, and what kind of sexual culture she wants to see in the world.

Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so listen and follow Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sean Illing

Who or what are you hoping to provoke with this book?

Christine Emba

The book’s a push to reconsider some of our notions about sex and sexuality, and what they mean in our lives, especially post-sexual revolution and during the third-wave feminist movements. So it’s a provocation to rethink how we talk about consent, and the role that we’ve asked consent to play as an arbiter of whether sex is good or not. It’s also about rethinking the way that we talk about gender and the concepts of freedom, privacy, and equality, and what those are supposed to look like.

I hope that it’s a provocation to conversation and not just to anger. But I do think that asking to take a second and harder look at the moral valence of sex, the ethical questions involved in sex, whether certain desires are healthy for us to indulge or not, does tend to provoke purveyors of what I call in the book “uncritical sex positivity,” which is the idea that sex is great, that all sex is good —

Sean Illing

What’s wrong with that view?

Christine Emba

Well, there are a few different angles that I get into in the book. The first is this idea that consent can serve a legitimating function for sex. That once you have two consenting adults, two adults who have agreed to do something, then there’s nothing to criticize. There’s nothing to interrogate. I think that consent is a great legal baseline — it’s absolutely necessary. It’s the floor that we have to have below all of our sexual encounters, so that they aren’t actively illegal or actively assaulting someone else.

But we want so much more from sex than simply not being illegal. We want to ask questions about what we owe to each other, about the responsibilities that we have to each other, about whether sex is not just legal but actually good morally and ethically. And so saying, “Anything past consent, we don’t talk about it,” leaves out all of these really important questions, even about whether the consent was fairly gotten, whether we’re actually helping our partner, whether what we’re doing is even good for us.

Sean Illing

When I hear that, I think it means that you think consent isn’t adequate, because we don’t actually know what’s good for us, that we’re confused about our wants and our needs. And therefore, because of that confusion, we consent to things that are bad for us. Is that a misreading of your beliefs?

Christine Emba

I think that’s really true. I think it’s very easy to consent to things that are not going to be helpful to us in the long run, or that won’t get us closer to the sex lives we want, or even the general human flourishing that we deeply want.

On the flip side, I also think that consent can be used as kind of a fig leaf for selfishness in many cases. And we see this in some of the messier #MeToo cases, right? Where someone like Louis C.K., for example, his defense after masturbating in front of his coworkers and leaving them, in some cases, traumatized is, “I asked first and they consented, so it was fine.”

Or I’m reading about the Evan Rachel Wood and Marilyn Manson case right now and she talks about how she was abused by Marilyn Manson, how he enacted all these horrible behaviors on her that she didn’t really want, but she was enthralled to him, and this happened. And his defense is something like, “Well, this was a consensual, intimate relationship. So why are you bothering me about this?”

Consent doesn’t make that okay, and I think it provides a lot of cover for people who would abuse it by getting consent ostensibly for activities they shouldn’t be doing.

Sean Illing

I don’t know much about those cases, but there are people in the book you interview who, for various reasons, aren’t satisfied with consensual encounters, and I suppose I wonder who you think is to blame for that? If we consciously consent to something as an adult and we end up not liking the outcome, isn’t that just what happens in a free society where people are making free choices and therefore mistakes?

Christine Emba

No, I get that. The next thing is to just say, “Okay, we aren’t necessarily sure what we should do or we make bad choices, and that’s free will. That is what being a human being in a free society is.” And one pushback I’ve gotten to this critique of consent is, “Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to make it illegal to have bad sex? Or bring down the law on anybody who has sex with somebody and it’s not good?” No, I don’t want that.

When I’m criticizing consent, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have it or that there should be consent police making sure that every encounter is ideal. But I also think that we can have better norms and a higher standard for what we look for in sex and what we expect of each other, post-consent, to bring us closer toward having more good interactions as opposed to more bad or mediocre ones.

Sean Illing

What kind of standard?

Christine Emba

A higher standard I propose in the book is this idea of willing the good of the other, which basically means caring about the other person’s experience, about the other person, as much as you would care about yourself in any sexual encounter. And ideally trying to figure out what the good would look for them and for you together, and aiming your encounters toward that. And recognizing that if you aren’t able to figure that out, then maybe you might not want to have sex with this person in the moment.

Again, this is not a legal criterion. This doesn’t prevent people from having bad sex. If you’re not doing this, the hand of the law is not going to prevent you from having sex. But even just trying to hold ourselves to a higher standard, just thinking through these questions before we do it, means we’re more likely to end up in a better place than we would if we just said, “Well, as long as we’ve agreed to whatever, it’s fine.”

Sean Illing

History matters a ton here, as you know. In the book, you argue or at least imply that our sexual culture was better in the past when it wasn’t so liberatory. But that situation and the taboos that shaped it were hard on people — like gay Americans, to take one example — who didn’t conform to our conventional mores about sex, and I’m not sure how that fits into your story or how you weigh those benefits against the costs.

Christine Emba

I think that’s a really important critique and it’s one that I try to think through in the book, although there are always areas in which I could have been more explicit about that. You’re right that we’ve made so much progress in the sexual revolution. I think that’s great, especially for the groups you mentioned, especially for women, for queer people, who saw their desires and their personhood validated, who were finally, or were at least meant to be, treated as equal actors in society.

Although I critique consent, the fact that we were able to get to a place where we can acknowledge that it’s important and that we have to have it is good. That was a leap forward that took years, decades really, and that’s incredible. That said, we can appreciate how far we’ve come while also suggesting and realizing that there is still a ways to go. We can still appreciate that some areas haven’t seen so much change and also that new problems have arisen, even out of the midst of new kinds of liberation.

We don’t want to go backward here — I certainly don’t. This is ultimately about moving forward to a place where we have even higher standards of care that serve all of us.

Sean Illing

Do you feel like your views on sex are necessarily anchored to your religious perspective?

Christine Emba

Interesting question. The answer is yes. I converted to Catholicism my senior year of college. And I found that the Catholic Church had a much stronger philosophical and theological backdrop and a grounding in a tradition of thinking practically and spiritually about sex. And not just questions of sex itself, but all kinds of questions around sex and how it relates to the Christian faith.

But I didn’t write this book necessarily for Catholic readers or for my priest to read. I was writing this book in response to the many people I talked to — both religious and nonreligious — who felt that they were existing in a culture of sexual malaise, and weren’t sure what to do about it. And they were trying to figure out how to address some of these questions and come up with a better sexual ethic.

I was looking for an ethic that would make sense to someone who was not religious, who was not me, that would be useful broadly. And so I spent a lot of time actually just asking people what they thought a good sexual culture would look like. What did they want out of a sexual encounter that was different from the sexual encounters that they seemed to keep having?

And so many people said they were looking for “empathy” or “care.” There’s one interview that’s very memorable in the book, and it’s a woman who is extremely nonreligious and she basically says to her partner, “Can we not love each other for a single day?” That is what she wanted an ethic to look like. And I think that is something that’s shared by people, both religious and nonreligious.

To hear the rest of the conversation, click here, and be sure to subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.