It takes a confident woman to discuss the ins and outs of sex publicly, but a trailblazer to launch a podcast exploring how sex and technology are intertwining, and what that means for the future of humanity.
Australian #LeadingLady Bryony Cole is both. Her New York-based show ‘Future of Sex’ has pricked up ears thanks to her willingness to delve under the sheets, ask uncomfortable questions about taboo topics, and debate the pros and cons of the evolving sextech industry.
“I’ve always been a bit left of centre, and ready to go to places that are uncomfortable,” she says. “I was never a conventional child! So I think, someone has to do it!”
A podcast company originally picked up her show for distribution, but it unexpectedly shut down – just after Bryony had left the security of a full time job. However, for a person who had reported from the ski fields of Falls Creek for Channel 9, had introduced social media to the Victorian Department of Justice, and followed her passion for enterprise technology to the bright lights of New York, this proved only a minor setback.
“I’m really grateful for that moment, because it made me assess, am I serious about this, or is it just a fun hobby?”
What makes Bryony a #LeadingLady? She’s forging her own unique path down the road of sex and tech, isn’t afraid to talk about taboo topics including disturbing aspects of new technology and amongst other women entrepreneurs, is championing the way females discuss sexuality.
You moved to the US to work for Yammer, which was then bought by Microsoft. What did you learn inside one of the world’s biggest tech companies?
It was so interesting for me to see how humans and technology play together, and that technology can be such a huge part of our identity. My colleagues at Yammer taught me how to ask questions about technology and its impact, and I really felt we had a hand in defining it. That made me feel bold, and like I have a part to play in exploring the future of human experience.
How has living and working in New York changed you?
I had to get over our ‘tall poppy syndrome’. When I came to New York I was so shocked that every man and their dog had their own project, and 10 different side hustles, and no one was shy to tell you about it.
I’ve been more courageous with my work, approaching taboo topics like sex because of the lack of judgement here. It’s this sense of possibility and shameless expression which draws so many people here. NYC encourages you to be yourself to the fullest and to be bold.
Tell me about moving from secure jobs to the world of sextech and podcasting?
After a year at Microsoft I left for Fuze (another enterprise tech company) and I was working on customer insights. When Fuze let go of about 70 people, I thought ‘where is this going for me?’
I went to Costa Rica and Guatemala and did a big ‘spirit journey’ into the jungle. But that ended abruptly after I got dengue fever and ended up in a hospital in Antigua. That made me quickly realise, I wanted to be in New York, and to focus my career on new technology.
I started consulting and designed a ‘think tank’ with Absolut Labs, looking at the future of nightlife. I interviewed people across the U.S. who were creating new entertainment experiences. I found out that a lot of people don’t want to go to nightclubs anymore and want to stay home – but still crave intimacy.
It sounds like we’re getting closer to sextech!
Yes! The question the industry was asking was, ‘how do I make it (intimacy) convenient?’ I was quite disturbed by some of the technology that was being developed with virtual reality (VR). One technologist wanted to simulate being in a hot tub with three supermodels, another one cannibalism. These are people that are on the frontiers of technology and pushing the limits.
But you saw more positive alternatives?
I felt like ‘something’s here, I have to ask more questions’. I did other projects, but that experience led to the ‘Future of Sex’ podcast.
Are you connecting with other great females in the sextech space?
There’s a community in New York called Women of Sex Tech. We have a meetup group run by the founder of Unbound Polly Rodriguez and the founder of House of Prime, Lidia Bonilla.
So many women entrepreneurs are solving problems specifically for women. Ida Tin, founder of period-tracking app Clue is an inspiration. There’s serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal from Tushy, Icon and Thinx, who introduced period-proof underwear. And Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, the matriarch of the sextech conversation. All of these women are unapologetic about what they’re doing and supportive of one another.
Do you feel like you’re pioneering a discussion that needs to be had?
From the responses, it feels that way. I received an email that says ‘my wife and I have never been able to talk about sex, and we listened to your podcast and now we can have a conversation’. I’m thankful I’ve stumbled upon what I think I was meant to do all along.
You’re taking the subject matter really seriously with extra education (a Master’s Degree in Science In Medicine, Sexual Health, from the University of Sydney).
I want to learn all the different areas of sexuality and where sex and tech intersect, so that I can bring together a holistic view. The sextech industry is being valued at $20 billion in 2020, but we need to understand where that potential is and what skills you need to be part of it.
What sort of potential is there for entrepreneurs in this space?
There are so many fascinating ways to apply technology to the realm of sexuality. We need to think beyond the parameters of porn, as I think sextech has wider opportunities. How can we develop sextech to change health, education, pleasure, communication, psychology and relationships?
If you look at VR, it can be an empathy tool. What would happen if you put this headset on, and you became another gender? How would this experience be enlightening as a transgendered person?
In the U.S. there has been some experimentation with programs for sex education for college-age women around HIV prevention. With a VR headset, you can simulate going into a nightclub and can practice saying ‘no’ to a guy, and identifying ‘at risk’ behaviour.
There are entrepreneurs looking into women’s pleasure and how technology can enhance intimacy. For example, erotic literature on your iPad, that can connect to a vibrator.
Beyond the podcast, how do you see your role evolving?
I see myself becoming more involved in examining education. Education is where we’ll be able to change the conversation and social ideas about sexuality and how core it’s to our identity.
For now, my role is about getting the conversation to other platforms. Funnily enough, Australia is more ready to have this conversation than I thought!
Get in touch with Bryony on LinkedIn here.
Check out the Future of Sex podcasts here.
For more #LeadingLadies interviews, check them all out here.
Photography by Kelsey Cherry.