Normalizing Sex and Sexuality with SEXPLETIVE Founder, Erica Van Kuppeveld (she/her)
What is it like to be a sexual health professional and founder of a pleasure product company? We sat down with Erica Van Kuppeveld and asked her everything from how she found her passion in sexual health to her vision for a more sex-positive world.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you decided to start SEXPLETIVE?
I had a sex-negative catholic school background growing up that was very shame-based and provided zero factual information on sexual health (I recently did a qualitative research study on the effects of abstinence-only sex-ed actually, and the results are really astounding and important!) So because of this background, when I was younger it was really hard to talk about sex and I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! Finally, in university I took a human sexuality course and absolutely loved how the prof talked so openly and comfortably about sex - it was such a refreshing and new perspective and I felt empowered after receiving honest, factual, non-biased information.
From there, I completed Graduate studies in sexual health and have worked/volunteered at any sexuality related business/non-profit that would have me! My partner and I moved to Amsterdam in 2019 to expand my experiential knowledge of sexuality through the lens of a very sex-positive city. I worked at one of Amsterdam’s oldest and most well-known sex shops (I wrote an article about all the crazy stories here). We had to come home to Canada because of the pandemic which was sad but ultimately motivated me to create SEXPLETIVE! I had been wanting to start my own sexuality business for a long time to create my own role and fill a gap in the industry in Edmonton.
Through SEXPLETIVE, I offer unique, factual, & non-judgemental articles about sex (including the couple linked above), locally hand-crafted, sustainable intimate products, and informative, tailored sex-education programming! It ties together all my areas of expertise & passion and I love working on every aspect of it, it has been a long time coming.
How did your background and experiences contribute to the products you create and sell today?
A good friend of mine lived in Berlin and told me about a friend of theirs who makes ceramic dildos, ever since then I have quite literally been obsessed with this concept and have spent years researching how to create them safely, how to design them for pleasure for all bodies, and have recently been honing my pottery skills while working with local ceramic artists.
Something about clay is so innately sensual and it is so amazing to build sexuality products with your own hands. Silicone is a great material for sex toys for a number of reasons, but it feels so manufactured, whereas ceramic feels so naturally sexy (sexuality is natural).
Additionally I am amazed by bees (who isn’t?) and the rich properties of beeswax made it a natural choice for me to create products with. SEXPLETIVE candles are a beeswax, organic coconut oil blend which makes them melt at a safe temperature for optional wax play but does not compromise the amazing properties of beeswax, such as air-purification. Did you know that all other types of wax pollute the air when we burn our candles?
I talk a lot about the importance of sex toy materials, and see this space as a gap in the sexuality industry that SEXPLETIVE is excitedly working to address.
I also wanted to create beautiful, decorative products that go against how we usually store sex toys in our homes. They are typically hidden away in drawers, symbolic of how our wider perceptions of sexuality are that of secrecy and shame. SEXPLETIVE products are multifunctional, adaptable, sustainable, and created with love.
We LOVE the anonymous question box on your website, it takes us back to our grade nine sex ed class. If you could wave a magic wand (haha) and make one sex education lesson mandatory for all youth starting tomorrow, what would it be?
Thank you!! The anonymous question box is such a tried and true sex ed technique because it allows people to ask whatever is on their mind and not feel ashamed. Most of the time, other people have the same questions, and honestly the old adage “there is no such thing as a stupid question” holds true!
There are so many things I wish were taught in sex ed, but I would really like to see normalization in general made a priority. Messaging that sexual feelings are normal, that your body changing is normal, that whatever your genitals look like is normal, that we are all sexual beings, etc., would be soooo beneficial! From a place of acceptance like that, I think so many fears, questions, and pre-existing issues around sexuality would be addressed because we would be raising a generation of confident people who aren’t ashamed to talk about sex.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone purchasing their first pleasure product?
Go to your local, feminist, sex-positive store (#SupportLocal lol) either online or in person when it is safe! I know it can feel easier to just place an anonymous order through amazon because there is still a stigma around sexual pleasure, but sexuality professionals will not judge you (they do this for a living!) and are more than happy to help you find a safe product that will suit your needs. The “how to choose” option you have at swoon is a great way to achieve this online in the days where it isn’t always safe to leave the house!
If it is your first product, pick something that can potentially have multiple purposes - like a vibrator with a few different speeds, or a dildo with a wide base so you can have options of how you’d like to use it and explore your sexual desires that much further!
Do you ever feel shame being so open talking about and educating people on sex and pleasure? If so, do you have any advice for readers to overcome this sense of shame in their everyday lives?
I don’t feel shame educating about sexuality now, because it is a perfectly normal and necessary topic to be talking about, but this took a long time for me to overcome because sex-negativity in our world is so pervasive! And while I am comfortable talking about sex, I try to remember that not everyone has the same background as me and feels varying levels of comfort. While people commonly think that an aspect of being sex-positive today is talking about sex loudly and proudly, doing so can alienate and harm people who have more complicated relationships with sex. So while I think normalizing sexuality is important, we have to fight this fight with consent and compassion in our conversations.
I don’t know if I necessarily have advice around this, because shame takes a long time to unlearn and can come from many sources, but I want people to know that their sexual desires, their bodies, their boundaries are all valid and normal. It can be hard to remember that when shame tends to be the louder voice, but it is true! Our sexuality is a natural part of being human and we all experience it in different ways. It can be even harder when our friends/family members aren’t open about sex, so in that case I would recommend seeking out communities or resources that speak openly about sexuality to help you get used to it as a normal topic of conversation! If any of your readers need resource suggestions, I would be happy to share.
And lastly, as a fellow Canadian sexual wellness company, we’d love to know - what do you hope for the future of the sexual wellness industry in our country?
I obviously want the world to be more open towards sexuality as I think that would solve many deep-rooted problems, however on this path to normalization, I don’t want sexuality to become even more commodified in the wellness industry than it already is. I think tying sexual pleasure and wellness to products works to gentrify and wash down the core goals of normalization and does so by packaging it up in “easy to swallow” marketing, which tends to look like white, cis, able-bodied women exploring their pleasure with pink, cute, expensive products and that leaves out so many communities who are all deserving of sexual pleasure and representation! I want people to know they can experience pleasure no matter what their body is like, and they don’t have to spend money on sex toys or participate in capitalist structures to experience their sexuality. Sexuality is innate and normal and I would simply like it to be widely viewed as such, but I think it will be a while. As it becomes more openly accepted, I just don’t want it to become marketed in a way that only serves privileged populations, like many wellness trends have become.