After hair loss condition, S'pore HR manager finds new passion as adult toy consultant

The Covid-19 period saw an increase in sales too.

Fasiha Nazren | October 17, 2020, 11:39 PM

Janice Lee doesn't look her age at all — in a good way.

At 41, she rocks a blond hairdo, teal mascara, and an intricately designed eyeliner that I could only dream to pull off.

Photo by Zenn Tan.

Since 2017, Lee has been a business consultant for adult toy brand VeDO.

However, she was quick to tell us that she hasn't always been in this line.

In fact, for almost 14 years, she was doing corporate human resources.

That is, until life threw a curveball at her.

Diagnosed with alopecia

In 2013, Lee was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

She attributed stress from work and her personal life as one of the triggers to her condition.

As she was losing too much hair, she decided to take complete control of her condition by shaving her entire head and going on a six-month sabbatical to take a breather and explore North America.

Lee taking complete control of her alopecia. Photo courtesy of Janice Lee.

After learning various ways to de-stress and finding new ways to live life, her hair naturally grew back on its own.

"When I went away, my hair grew back because my body was imbalanced before that," she said.

Lee promptly returned to her human resources job in Singapore after her sabbatical, but decided to leave her job for good a year later.

Wanted to find love

In August 2015, she took an entire year to travel to several different countries including Mexico, the U.S. and Romania.

"When I left, I was thinking of finding love on the other side of the world. I was 36 and still very much single so I decided why not? I found a couple of people interesting, but I didn't really find love.

But I also realised that you've got to love yourself first before anything else. If you don't give yourself enough love and you don't accept yourself fully, you cannot expect to give love or expect somebody else to love you back."

Photo by Zenn Tan.

She eventually returned to Singapore in Dec. 2017 and met a Hong Kong-based friend who told her that he was going to sell sex toys at Watsons.

She replied: "That's amazing, you're doing good for the procreation efforts of the nation!"

And then she jokingly offered to help him if he required any assistance in Singapore.

But what she said out of jest turned out to be something that would ultimately change her course of life.

Three days later, this friend eventually offered her a part-time job to promote the sex toys at Watsons, which she gamely accepted.

Selling sex toys at Watsons

Throughout the Christmas season in 2017, she manned the booth for VeDO at several Watsons outlets around town.

As expected, she described a lot of the people that she met while trying to promote the toys as "paiseh" (Hokkien for embarrassed).

"I was trying to tell people that we've got a new range of products and whenever people are curious enough to come forward and saw that it was sex toys, they will always give a shy smile. and be very paiseh about it. As I tell them more about the toys, they would say 'Oh, it's very interesting...' but they would slowly walk away."

Despite promoting something that one wouldn't expect to find at a pharmacy at that time, Lee found that her experience at Watsons, while short, was mostly wholesome.

Photo courtesy of Janice Lee.

She excitedly recalled how friendly and curious the other promoters at Watsons were.

"The ladies from the other brands were super friendly! They would ask me what the toys do and how it works. They were also very shy and we would joke about it."

On her off days, Lee told us that some of the promoters offered to promote the products to tourists, whom they thought would be more interested than locals.

And it seems like they're not wrong.

Some things never change

According to Lee, who has had conversations with Singaporeans from all generations and walks of life, some things remain the same.

While some may consider Singapore to be a progressive country, the topic of sex is still taboo in a lot of local communities.

"Somehow, it has never changed. It's something that parents shy away from. In (most) schools, sex education is limited to the biology or the prevention of it... No emotional, no mental.

How would you expect sex toys to be accepted when we don't normalise conversations around sex and sexuality?"

Rising up the ranks

But that doesn't mean that all Singaporeans shy away from sex toys completely.

Proving herself to be a worthy salesperson, Lee managed to make several successful sales pitches, including one to a 50-year-old woman who was married with adult children.

Laughing as she reminisced that moment, she said: "This customer said 'Since you say until so good, let me try.'"

Eventually, the friend she met at a Christmas party became her first client.

He offered her a consulting role where her services include business development and helping brands establish themselves in mainstream channels to normalise sex toys.

Now, she is also a brand ambassador for other toy brands including Womanizer and We-Vibe.

Took time to convince family

While her experience so far has been pleasant, it took a while for Lee's family to support her career of choice, especially since she comes from what she describes as a "very traditional Asian society".

Initially, her family weren't supportive of her new career, and thought that she would eventually return to a corporate job after coming back from her year-long sabbatical.

Eventually, they realised that to her, it was more than a job. It is also about advocating the messaging that comes with the job.

"I really believe in the messaging that came with it. You've got to know your own body and that sex toys are just tools to take care of yourself first and knowing what gives you pleasure. It is more a matter of self-care and self-love and to tell everyone that sexual wellness is a part of total well-being."

Now, her family has come to be very supportive of her work.

In fact, her younger brother would lend a helping hand at events and other logistical needs.

Stigma surrounding sex toys

But that's not the only challenge she has to face in her line of work.

As a consultant, she gets to meet many people from clinical professionals to people who are more liberal in terms of their sexuality.

Some people perceive her to be "very forward" just because she works in the sex toy industry and therefore have approached her to ask some interesting questions.

Once, she was asked by an aspiring film director if she would be interested to do an "artistic film" which had some elements of nudity.

Ever so calm-headed, she simply wished him well and replied: "I think it's great that you're doing this but it's not part of my sexual wellness advocacy."

The stigma associated with sex toys may also be one of the reasons why locals shy away from such products.

Some would think sex toy owners are sex addicts or perverted.

However, you'd be surprised to know that a lot of people who buy sex toys can just be the average Joes and Janes you see on the streets.

"I can tell you that most of the people who buy sex toys, they remain anonymous. It can be professionals, it can be uncles or aunties. It's just that they are afraid to let people know that they're trying out something that is perceived as perverted."

Emergence of skin hunger

The Covid-19 pandemic was another challenge she had to go through.

Lee was one of the Singaporeans who was chosen to share her experience for "Dear Covid-19", a memory project powered by the National Youth Council (NYC) in partnership with DSTNCT to shed light on everyday life in these unprecedented times.

The project aims to bring stories of youth resilience and optimism to a wider audience and inspire others to be the change in the new normal.

Through "Dear Covid-19", Lee shared the struggles she faced during the pandemic, including not being able to meet her family due to the circuit breaker and being apart from her boyfriend who is based in Bangkok.

She also noted that due to the quarantines, there has been an emergence of something called "skin hunger", a psychological condition caused by the lack of physical contact.

Skin hunger can cause negative effects on one's health, including increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

Increased sales during Covid-19

Funnily enough, though, the Covid-19 pandemic also helped to shine a light on sex toys and the topic of sexual wellness.

When most of the world went into quarantine from April 2020, sex toy retailers around the world including the U.S. and New Zealand saw a boom in sales.

Closer to home, sex toys were among the most searched items in Malaysia during the movement control order.

And this trend seems to be consistent in Singapore as well.

According to Lee, VeDO saw about a 20 per cent increase in sales and the other retailers have seen a spike in business as well.

Overall, Lee thinks that 2020 has been a good year to start one's journey of sex education and awareness.

Finding opportunities during a pandemic

With more people staying at home, she also took advantage of the accelerating interest in sex toys to hold one-on-one and group sexual wellness workshops via Zoom.

While she stressed that she's no expert in the field, she shares her experience as a consultant as well as the experiences of people she has worked with previously.

"Half of them (on Zoom) are faceless and that's fine. It's more about creating a safe space for people to ask questions about sex toys. Just as long as they're there to listen, I'm happy knowing that they managed to step out of their comfort zone."

In a personal sharing she had with us, Lee took out a small box filled with brightly-coloured sex toys that she uses for demonstration purposes.

Photo by Zenn Tan.

While it seemed intimidating at first, we learned about the various use and types of sex toys and found out that some were also created with long-distance couples in mind.

She also explained how the toys stimulate the different parts of the body and emphasised that these toys were made using clinical-grade silicon, which made it safe to use.

Someone's got to do it

If you're wondering if she's in the business to make lots of money, she said that the money isn't "that great".

Even though she admits that Singapore is a "tough market" to penetrate in her industry, she still finds a lot of fulfilment in her job and has never regretted leaving her corporate job for this.

As she realises that a lot of people, especially women, find it difficult to talk about sexual wellness, she's content to know that she could be there to help to answer their queries.

"They feel a bit relieved that they could ask someone. Ask whatever questions you want, no judgement, because there are no stupid questions."

Ultimately, she reminds herself of something a Grab driver in his 70s told her: "Someone's got to do it."

Recalling the time she told the Grab driver what she does for a living, she shared:

"He told me: 'Whatever you're doing, it's not easy. But someone's got to do it. I think you are being very brave, so you should continue doing it."

Watch Bryan "Mothership's Intern" Cambo gets some hands-on learning with these sexual wellness tools.

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Top image by Zenn Tan.