The founder of sexual wellness website Becuming, Caroline Moreau-Hammond, is serious about building engagement around sexual exploration, rather than just selling toys. Here, Moreau-Hammond discusses encouraging consumers to try new things, selling products through tailored subscriptions and engaging content, the impact of lack of regulation in the industry, and her plans for growth. Inside Retail: Why do you think the world needs another sex toy website like yours right now? Caroline Moreau-Ham
au-Hammond: First, we are aiming to improve the ethical standing of the sex toy industry. Second, finding the right sex toy can be challenging due to an oversaturation of products in the market. Becuming combats both of these issues by assessing products according to strict criteria, by stocking a comprehensive, yet curated list of toys, and by using good design to make finding the right product easy. These two focus points make us unique within the sex toy retail space. IR: Tell me about the story behind Becuming and what inspired you to launch the business. CMH: I began my journey into the sex toy industry by researching the landscape I was slowly entering. Sex is a topic I’ve always found fascinating; it’s a universal human experience that’s shrouded in so much secrecy and taboo. For me, good sex isn’t about being told what to do, it is about exploring relational boundaries in a vulnerable way. Sexual preferences are deeply personal, they’re hard to define, as they are always evolving, and applying specific ideas or knowledge articulated by another person didn’t feel like the right approach. Instead, I thought to prioritise exploration by encouraging people to try new things, which in my experience inspires self-worth and sexual fulfilment. As I engaged in further research, I learned how innovation and progress was largely defined by the development of products. To me, this emphasis on the ‘what’ – on objects that created orgasms – contradicted the developing conversation around sex in Western society, where more and more people emphasised how we connect with one another and how this needs to change. So I decided to create a value-driven business that encouraged people to try new things and explore their boundaries, which led to the creation of a webstore of curated products, and a podcast that explores sexual practices, ideas, and experiences. IR: Becuming is clearly not just about selling toys. How would you describe what you offer customers and the thought that goes into it? CMH: Our core business model is selling sex toys, but from the outset, my focus has always been on designing a service that encourages people to explore their sexuality. I wanted Becuming to feel more substantial than just another e-commerce platform. I don’t want to just flog product to people, I want to give them a genuinely meaningful experience. Becuming offers a space to be curious about and explore all aspects of sex. As part of this, content has become a natural focus for us. Through The Sex Journal on our website and our podcast, The Philosophy of Sex, we engage in the ever-evolving conversation around sex. We interview people who explore the erotic and commission stories of sexual experiences. Sometimes we help our community unpack their questions and curiosities, or review a product that has piqued our interest. Basically, if something arouses our attention we want to talk about it, which we hope supports a more open, respectful, and communicative relationship with sex in our society – rather than the shame and taboo we have become accustomed to. The subjects and structure of our content are connected to our belief that there is no right or wrong way to discuss and enjoy sex. By offering a range of perspectives, rather than a particular authorial voice, we hope to inspire our readers and listeners to be curious about new ideas or experiences, to understand the possible blocks or anxieties within their own sexuality, or simply to feel more pleasure. With that said, we acknowledge that some people may need a bit more guidance than others, so we have created a range of sex guides, in collaboration with sexologist Kass Mourikis. We take a unique stance compared with the rest of our industry, and that’s something I’m very proud of. Everything about the business is deeply intentional. Across all aspects, everyone who has worked with Becuming possesses real care for the project, and I see this as vital to our success. IR: How do you choose which products you offer? CMH: Unfortunately, this is an industry where problematic practices are often hidden behind sophisticated branding, so we wade through the marketing jargon of toe-tingling, pleasure-inducing, wellness-focused companies to curate a range of products that customers can trust. We ensure this by following strict requirements: All products are made with non-toxic materials – no sil-a-gel, jellies or phthalatesProducts are clearly labelled if produced with porous materials that pose a risk of infection (such as rubber, TPE, TPR, Elastomer, TPR-silicone and SEBS)All silicone products use at least food-grade silicone, and are tested at both the silicone factory and on arrival at the manufacturerGlass products are stress tested and annealedLubricants contain no glycerin, propylene glycol, nonoxynol 9, chlorhexidine gluconate, petroleum oils, polyquaternium-15, benzocaine, sugars, sugar alcohols, or ureas Product ingredients or components are not tested on animalsA product’s defect rate must be 12 per cent or lessAll products made for genital use have an ISO certification for quality controlProducts use little to zero plastic in packaging and shipping materials, with the aim to be plastic-free by 2025Factories have social insurance for all workers and have been audited for working conditionsProducts have a minimum 1-year warranty. This framework ensures we are working with ethical companies that are open about their practices, which extends to their corporate structure and ownership. Our focus on accountability also extends to our own behaviour, which is defined by clear commitments: We vet all products through our brand criteria, ensuring everything we sell is of a high quality, meaning it is body-safe, and produced with respect for both the company employees and the environmentWe do not inflate our prices by seling above the recommended retail priceWe minimise our carbon footprint by consolidating stock when shipping internationally, using recycled or recyclable materials when packaging orders, and by offering recycling for used sex toys (even if they’re not purchased through our platform)If a customer is unhappy with a product, we’ll send them a new one at no cost. IR: Tell me about Box Club and what it involves. CMH: The Box Club is a three-month subscription. The customer selects two bundles of product, they’re delivered their first bundle, then the second arrives 13 weeks later. The customer can choose from six different categories of bundles: Date, for cultivating intimate moments; Duo, for partnered sex; Squirt, for learning to squirt; Kink, for exploring impact, restraint, and deprivation; Vibe, for exploring vulva pleasure; and Ass, for butt play. The bundles are discounted, so you’re saving, on average, 15 per cent when you subscribe. Customers also receive a bottle of welcome wine, access to all of Becuming’s digital sex guides and some fun Becuming merch, featuring our signature illustrations. When customers subscribe, we ask them for feedback, so we’re able to get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. This is really about encouraging people to try new things and step outside their comfort zone. IR: Sustainability and ethical manufacturing are two focuses for your business due to the lack of regulatory standards within the sex toy industry. I was not aware of these issues – can you please elaborate on them? CMH: Where to begin? In Australia, there is no legislation that regulates what types of sex products can be sold, nor what types of claims can be made about them. In our modern world, it’s very easy to quickly acquire all kinds of cheaply made products and sell them with extremely inflated margins. The sex industry is no stranger to this. However, such high margins are possible only through extremely low-cost production, which comes with a range of practices that are bad for the planet and the people who produce the products. I know of countless examples of unsubstantiated claims and outright dishonesty on packaging about where a product comes from and how it is made. In Australia, there is no specific law prohibiting companies from selling sex products made from potentially dangerous materials, nor from selling sex toys made by companies that have little to no regard for their workers or the environment. In honesty, I’m not sure ‘ethical manufacturing’ is possible, but there are things sex toy brands and manufacturers can do to reduce their harm. IR: There’s clearly a big evolution happening in the sex toy industry, particularly with the rise of female-led businesses. What is your take on that and what do you think is driving that shift? CMH: Yes, there has been an increase in female-founded companies, like Becuming, in this space. There are some amazing female founders doing incredible things, and I’ve made some amazing friendships through working in the industry. That said, the shift is not as significant as it seems. It’s important to distinguish between sex businesses that are female-led versus those that are female-founded. While many larger sex toy companies in Australia appear to be founded by women, men own the majority of sex brands. Some have women in leadership roles or female celebrities who endorse their products but, in reality, female ownership is rare. Being a female-facing company has cache at the moment, particularly in the sex space. Women between 18 and 35 are the major target market for this industry, so appearing to be female-founded has obvious advantages. While there is nothing inherently wrong with male ownership, if supporting truly female-owned businesses is a priority for someone, I’d caution them not to take what companies say about their ownership at face value. This is why I stock only brands that are transparent about their genuine ownership and the position of women within their company. I own 100 per cent of Becuming. I have self-funded the entire project and made significant sacrifices to build something I believe in. This is the same for brands like Rosewell and Figr, which are also female-founded and self-funded. I would be remiss not to mention that the majority of brands that receive significant funding in this space are male-owned. Unfortunately, it’s an industry where female-founded companies still have to work harder to gain traction and financial support. My hope is that by starting a frank conversation about transparency of ownership, we’ll see an increase in funding, not only for female-owned companies, but also for companies owned by people with more diverse identities. IR: You began hosting your podcast The Philosophy of Sex before launching Becuming. What are some of the most interesting insights you have gathered since hosting the podcast that have then informed how you run your business? CMH: The idea for the podcast was birthed at the same time as the idea for Becuming, so the ethos behind both is the same, and I see them as two parts of a larger whole. Through many of the conversations I’ve had, I’ve learned a lot about the industry and how it operates. Having the podcast has been key to how I developed the criteria we judge products against. It also means I have a pool of extremely knowledgeable people I can draw on when I have a specific question about part of the industry. Creating the podcast, I’m constantly reminded of how different sex is for everyone, but also that there are wider themes that make it a collective experience. Understanding this, and learning how to harness it into a brand, has been a challenge and a joy. The podcast has been a fantastic road into Becuming for many of our customers. It has helped us establish a high degree of trust with our customers. IR: The illustrations on your website are pretty funny, so clearly you see the humour in sex. Do you think this is something that gets lost in the adult toy industry? CMH: I think it’s an aspect of sex that we forget to embrace more generally. Sex involves strange sounds, fluids, and body parts. Often it’s messy, carnal, visceral, and gross. Sometimes it’s awkward. But I think that’s part of its beauty. Unfortunately, I do think this is lost in the sex toy industry, which has become quite sterile and detached from the reality of what it’s like to actually have sex. With the advent of ‘wellness culture’, you could mistake sex for being something like a skincare routine. Sex doesn’t have to be self-care, but it can be. I wanted Becuming to be a brand that celebrated sex for what it is and allowed people to layer their own interpretation of sex over top of it. For me, a sense of humour and comfort with messiness are key to great sex and intimacy. IR: What are your plans for Becuming this year and what is your vision for the business? CMH: To grow. Gaining traction in any online space isn’t easy, so the focus for the remainder of 2022 is to keep building awareness of the brand and what we offer. For The Philosophy of Sex, planning for our first live podcast event is under way, so stay tuned. Eventually, I want Becuming to be seen as a legitimate competitor for the larger retailers in Australia, but I understand that getting there is a long-term game. I’d love to branch out into physical retail. I’m also investigating B2B opportunities within the sector, which we’ll be announcing more on in early 2023. There are so many opportunities in this sector, so for me, it’s about homing in on the areas where Becuming, and my own skill-set, can add the most value.