In the world of nonprofit, the never-ending voyage of seeking and acquiring funding can often feel like an endless, uphill battle that is as infuriating as it is futile. Banging their heads against the wall to generate new and innovative ideas to bring in the dough, some have found a way of doing it right—like the partnership between Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) and Vibrant.
Vibrant, an online sex toy store, is more than just your typical one-stop-shop for all things naughty and nice. Conceived in 2014, the company was specifically designed to develop a new revenue stream to much-needed areas of PPRM, offering philanthropists an opportunity to feel good in more ways than one.
Many backers of the Planned Parenthood mission would much rather see their donations go directly toward helping people in the community through education services or low-cost health care. This is why Vibrant’s business model is genius. Money is brought in through Vibrant’s sales channel directly into covering necessary expenses that donors don’t particularly want to see their money going to, but that are still a very necessary part of day-to-day operations. The donations cover things like plumbing repairs, air conditioners for the clinics, and new carpet for the waiting rooms.
“In a way, we created a sexy company in order to fund the not-so-sexy stuff,” Angela Wells, founder and CEO, said.
Wells comes from the family of Planned Parenthood, having worked within the clinics for the better part of 15 years. With a good perspective of internal operations and a sightline into the behind-the-scenes, she could easily calculate gaps and knew there had to be a creative way of bringing in additional funding to the organization, all while remaining aligned with PPRM’s mission of sex and body education.
“Planned Parenthood does a really good job of educating people about how their bodies work,” Wells said. “Harm reduction, how to keep themselves safe… but then the mission sort of stops. That’s where Vibrant picks up, talking about sexuality from a pleasure lens.”
Wells believes that education and support empowers all people to be the most sexual beings they can be, and Vibrant is an avenue of getting them there.
“There’s a hunger within our society; every time we encounter folks in a face-to-face setting, people want to talk about sex,” she said. “We sell items that help people have that full empowerment, where they feel that they have that full ownership of their own orgasm.”
A core value of the brand is ensuring that they are inclusive, as they extend that empowerment to a diverse range of people seeking orgasm.
“Not seeing it through an, ‘I am a perfectly-abled heterosexual’ lens is really critical to us,” Wells said. “We want to reach out to those folks who might feel marginalized, and that might mean people who are differently abled. Also, I feel like we need to make sure that we create a safe space for our friends in the trans community or folks that identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming.
They steer away from gender-specific brands and messaging as well. Tabs on the website are labeled “For me,” “For us,” and “For the vibe.” As a company, they see it as their responsibility to continue to strive towards inclusion and remain open to feedback from community partners, supporters, and clients. They were branded an LGBTQ ally company by Queer Asterisk, a team of queer and trans therapists who provide services to the LGBTQ communities.
As a PPRM company, it is clear that Vibrant is adamant about being a wealth of knowledge to the community. With many Planned Parenthood educators on staff, they exhibit an inherent instinct of how to talk to people in a non-judgmental way about sex and their bodies. Additionally, the website provides comprehensive information and specs on all the body-safe toys and products they sell, as they take accuracy and safety seriously. They recognize the unfortunate lack of consumer knowledge of the dangers associated with purchasing toys made out of poor-quality materials.
“It’s not sexy when you’re talking about sex toys to then say bacteria, infection, potential cancer-causing product, but it’s a necessary part of the conversation,” said Gina Cannon, who works closely with Vibrant. “It makes complete sense with Vibrant being inspired and backed by Planned Parenthood; of course we’re going to take that into account.”
In the vein of communication and community outreach, PPRM and Vibrant collaborate on projects consistently, the latest being a drag bingo event at The Drop inside the Denver PPRM location at 14th and Emerson. Offering their services and support to the queer community as a whole is of the utmost importance. At the 2018 Denver PrideFest, 10 percent of sales were donated to Queer Asterisk, and they regularly provide donations in the form of product for fundraising events to local organizations in alignment with the Vibrant mission.
Wells explained that it’s really about getting involved in the community through education and humanizing the conversation about sex that breaks down barriers and stigmas attached to the experience of shopping for toys. They seek to ensure that that their presence fosters a space which allows each person to feel comfortable in exploring their own wants and desires through whatever sexual journey they are on, and remove the pressures associated with sex and orgasm, not seeing the deed as either success or failure.
“When we think about orgasm, one thing that’s not really talked about too much is, many times we think of it as ‘I was either successful at it, or I failed,’” she said.
“That’s not healthy for everybody; it’s more of the journey in getting there. Sometimes you’re successful and have an orgasm, and that’s fantastic. Other times maybe it doesn’t happen, but really embracing all of the things that happened along the way is so much more of a healthy perspective.
“Me and my partner have an understanding, and so there’s no feelings of inadequacy if one of us doesn’t have an orgasm. For me, that’s incredibly empowering. To know that I can go pull a vibrator out of my closet and say, ‘I’d like to use this tonight because that’s what is going to feel good to me.’”
Ultimately, Wells hopes that, through Vibrant, conversations about sex can be all-encompassing, embracing both the education of safe sex, as well as sex-for-pleasure, for all.
“Normalizing pleasure for everyone is this big vision that I have for our world. I have a vision of young people feeling comfortable in their own skin and being the people that they want to be,” Wells said. “When we think about sexuality, we also want to think about gender expression and identity and orientation, seeing all people and giving them the opportunity to be the most authentic person that they want to be.”