Inside the Rise of Black-Owned Sex Brands
The interplay of race and sexuality is so tangled, so loaded, that there are seemingly endless books on the topic. Their subjects range from the caged and gawked-at Hottentot Venus in 1800s Paris to pop culture's uncomfortable and continuing fascination with Black penises. But often lost in the discussion is something simple yet essential enough that we can easily forget about it in all the bodily heat: money.
Black people, in particular, have long been the objects of sexual othering—sexualized, desexualized and everything in between. But Black folks (shocking!) have sex just like the rest of us. And that means they need and want sex education, possibly a toy or several, and assistance from lubricant to condoms. Yet for so long these products have been dominated by a white-centric viewpoint in corporate management and marketing.
The new wave of Black-owned sex brands
That's changing, if incrementally, with a rising wave of Black-owned sexual health and wellness brands that aim to represent their community while providing everyone, regardless of race, with more satisfying, safer sex. They may be targeted at a broad consumer base, but they're deeply significant to the Black entrepreneurs who have stepped into a crowded market that they think should reflect them.
"At the end of the day, it's all economics," said Jason K. Panda, founder of the Atlanta-based B Condoms, America's only Black-owned condom brand. "None of the money had been coming back into the community. So I look at how many nonprofits we're now able to support through free condom distribution or being able to support initiatives. None of this was ever happening."
That effort includes collaboration with medical facilities such as Planned Parenthood and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where B Condoms is the runaway leader. (Panda said B is the third-largest supplier of free condoms in the U.S. behind LifeStyles and One.)
Perhaps surprisingly, Panda was a lawyer in his previous career. He handled patent law for pharmaceutical companies and observed how HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies occur among the Black community at a disproportionately high rate. The revelation led him to start his company in 2011, while he was still living in New York and considered a "crazy guy" for his pitch. "It was like David versus Goliath," he said.
Now B Condoms, with its sleekly styled logo, is carried in Walmart. The business has boomed with the introduction of targeted social media and the increasing mainstream recognition of Black causes in recent years. "I've been able to build a nice powerhouse," he said.
The B customer is currently "overwhelmingly Black." The brand promotes its roots, but Panda insists it's universal in nature. He chose the name B because "you can be whatever you want to be. Be yourself, just be healthy."
'When I looked at vaginas, I didn't see myself'
Jaycee Chester is in tune with the mission of helping other Black people have more positive experiences in the bedroom. The owner of Overkink, an e-commerce site that sells sex toys from different brands, she thinks Black people are more likely to listen to another Black person when it comes to exploring and learning about their sexuality. (She's not alone. Black-run shopping sites like Enby and Kinky Choices have gotten in on the action.)
"Growing up, when I looked at vaginas [in the media], I didn't see myself," said Chester, who previously worked on the tech side of the sex industry and built her business in 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She wants to make sure her customers "are not just picking up anything," she said, so she sources from U.S. warehouses she trusts.
Still, while "voices are no longer hidden" in the Instagram age, she's aware of the limits of Black visibility at the upper levels of her industry. "I can't lie," she said. "You can name us."
For his part, Panda is happy for him and B Condoms to be seen and bought. He hopes little progress can cascade into growing economic opportunities in the Black community. He's less interested in reclaiming any single image of Black sexual identity than something more elemental: "Showing that it exists, and showing the nuance of it," he said. "It's always been there." And he's ready to sell it.