Revolutionising Intimate Wellness: The Journey to Safer and Smarter Sex Toys with Plsur

Welcome Heather Carre-Skinner to Female Health Founders, how did your journey with Plsur begin?

For over 15 years, I’ve been immersed in the realm of medical device compliance, where my focus lies in guaranteeing the safety of these devices and ensuring they adhere to all legal prerequisites before entering the market. This involves a meticulous examination of the product’s risk to both the patient and/or the device operator as part of the compliance process. Just over a year ago, I stumbled upon a safety standard, ISO 3533, dedicated to the secure design and manufacture of sex toys. Astonishingly, this safety standard is voluntary and not legally mandated.

Further investigation revealed that sex toys are categorised as novelty items, subject to only rudimentary regulations that lack oversight from any legal entity. This led me to a fundamental question, how can female orientated products intended for such intimate use lack a robust compliance framework?

A similar product with even the modest of clinical claim would be classed as a medical device and subject to strict regulation. Yet, because a sex toy has no intended claims there is little to no governance.

-Heather Carre-Skinner

My research also highlighted in huge deficiencies with regard to sex toys, including poor design, use of illegal materials and disregard of cybersecurity for connected toys. It was then that I committed myself to creating a better framework for the design, manufacture and use sex toys with female well-being as the focal point. This is when my company, Plsur (pronounced pleasure), was born.

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

What inspired you to start your business?

Given my extensive background in medical device design, manufacturing, and compliance, I found it a natural progression to apply my skills to a markedly different area: the improvement of sex toys.

Surprisingly, I have yet to encounter anyone spearheading significant advancements in the design and production of these products, which has motivated me to embark on this compelling adventure.

-Heather Carre-Skinner

I believe it’s important to highlight the individuals who have inspired me to venture into entrepreneurship in a predominantly male-dominated field. Foremost among them is the late Jacqueline Gold, whose transformative efforts revolutionised the accessibility and perception of sex toys through her stewardship of Ann Summers, elevating it into a multi-million pound household name. Other trail blazers I admire are Cindy Gallop, who founded “Make Love Not Porn”, which is a video platform that celebrates real-world sex. Also, Bryony Cole, who is the founder of SexTech School, where cohorts can learn from business leaders and experts to enable a successful launch into the sextech industry.

These remarkable women epitomise fearlessness in advocating for a female perspective within an industry often plagued by male dominance and misogyny.

-Heather Carre-Skinner

This has certainly served as a powerful catalyst for my decision to launch my own company, Plsur.

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Tell us more about your women’s health business?

Over the last year I have had conversations with women regarding sex toys, and most were quite frankly shocked to learn that sex toys are classed as novelty items with little in the way of safety assessment. As I researched this area, some facts about sex toys were rather startling. In 2019 a hospital study in Sweden showed that there were 85 patients admitted with a retained rectal object between 2009 and 2017, and these numbers are an under-representation of this issue (In J Colorectal Dis. 2019;34(1): 181-183).

Although, these sorts of statistics can lead to a stifled smirk, retention of objects in the rectum can lead to severe trauma and death, so it really isn’t funny.

-Heather Carre-Skinner

In addition, a study in America (Microplast nanoplast. 2023;3(1) 6) analysed four types of commercially available sex toys after the toys were subjected to standardised abrasion. The authors found high levels of micro and nanoplastics which have been linked to health conditions, and most worryingly levels of phthalates (an endocrine disruptor) exceeding hazard warnings. To date I have used my platform within the medical device space to raise awareness on this subject, by staring in podcasts as well as writing articles.

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

As a woman in business, what obstacles have you faced in establishing your company? And how have you overcome them?

Censorship by social media platforms has been the biggest hurdle by far. I published an article on LinkedIn in 2022 looking at ISO 3533 in detail. In this article I used stock images of vibrators and dildos, and within 24 hours it had been pulled for violating community standards. This was of course frustrating, but I simply replaced the images with suggestive vegetables and it still remains published. Of course I used this censorship to my advantage, to highlight the preposterous hurdles one has to overcome for tackling a safety issue around a potentially taboo subject.

How do you see the landscape of digital women’s health evolving to fill the gender health gap?

Women’s health encompasses a broad spectrum, ranging from medical devices and surgical interventions to overall wellness and sexual health. This diversity presents significant opportunities for the development of new products, expansion of user bases, and increased revenue, which can attract investment across various fund sizes into this sector. Nevertheless, as the collection of extensive data becomes more prevalent, it’s imperative to approach with caution to mitigate any biases inherent in women’s healthcare apps. We therefore must ensure, that apps are available to all socio-economic cohorts, not just the most affluent, in order for genuine driven female-led healthcare.

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Can you pinpoint a particular strategy that has been pivotal to the success of your holistic health business? How did you develop it? What impact has it had?

Transitioning into the sextech industry as a newcomer has been an intimidating journey. This has involved building a network from the ground up, and seeking support from fellow women in the field has been indispensable in navigating this complex space. Their willingness to offer guidance, make introductions, and share insights has been invaluable in helping me find my footing. Cold outreach to sex toy manufacturers has frequently resulted in dead ends, which can be discouraging. However, I remain optimistic that increasing dialogue and awareness around sex toy safety will eventually open doors and provide the opportunities I need to make meaningful progress in this industry, and Plsur a successful company.

Which key pieces of kit, technology or software could you not live without for your business?

I need both digital and paper means in my business. Of course there is the typical Microsoft suite that I use, but I also adore my annual planner from The Productivity Method which allows me to track my weekly, monthly and year end goals. When working co-creatively with clients, my go-to platform is Miro, which is essentially an interactive white-board which has never failed me yet.

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

What is your big vision for your women’s health business?

This is a good question, as my company is still quite a fluid business in terms of goals. Most importantly, I want Plsur to be the go-to resource for user and manufacturers for compliance related topics.

  • For users this would include what aspects to look out for when considering purchasing an adult pleasure product.
  • For manufacturers, a central resource to support a more compliant design and development pipeline.

I would love to see a regulated framework for design and manufacture of sex toys including oversight by regulatory authorities. However, I appreciate this would not be looked at favourably by some manufacturers which is why my company needs to work closely with all stakeholders. If I can’t change that, I have thought about bringing my own range of body-safe sex toys to the market, which could be a lot of fun!

Heather Carre-Skinner, plsur, sex toy, sex toys,
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Your pieces of advice for fellow female health founders?

  1. Be brave – nothing is gained from your comfort zone.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail – The path to your goal will be a mixture of steps up and down.
  3. Plus the best way to learn is to fail.
  4. Get a coach or mentor – Being a solo female founder can be lonely at times, so having someone in your corner offering sage counsel is indispensable.

How you can connect with Heather Carre-Skinner & Plsur