The founder of Della HQ shares how the sexual wellness scene has evolved in Singapore, her favourite femtech brands, and more. Interview by SAMANTHA FRANCIS
From getting her ads banned on social media to starting her own sexual wellness company, Karen Heng’s journey to Della HQ hasn’t been an easy road. We chat with the gutsy entrepreneur to understand how and why femtech matters in a world where female pleasure still isn’t openly discussed.
What’s in a day’s work for you?
While I’m based in Dubai, much of my content is about Singapore and Asia, so I spend a couple of hours a day on Zoom connecting with different people in that part of the world. I have a new puppy and the day starts pretty early. After a morning walk, I get to answering emails. Most of my day is centred around creating content and reading up on femtech news in Asia. I create my own content, from writing and designing to producing and editing a YouTube and Spotify podcast, so I’m always looking for interesting statistics, research, and stories on the topic.
What’s the most fulfilling part about your job and what’s the most challenging?
Connecting with many other incredible women all doing incredible things in femtech and sexual wellness. Or when a stranger connects with me to tell me that The Della HQ is doing incredible work and I know I have positively impacted someone. The most challenging part is leveraging on social media the way any modern-day business is run to promote and advertise my content and business. Even though there is so much bare skin on social media, when you try to promote anything that has the word “sex”, even if it is about health and wellness, you hit a wall.
What led you to start The Della HQ?
I started The Della HQ initially as a way to drive traffic to a brand that I had created which was related to sexual wellness. I didn’t know that it was impossible to advertise your sexual wellness business/product on Facebook and Instagram—the ads get banned because they are deemed to be sexual content. After I started to speak with other female founders of sexual wellness brands and companies, I realised that there was a need to reshape the information around sexual wellness and pleasure, especially in Asia. I am now committed to growing The Della HQ as the sexual wellness and femtech hub in Asia, supporting agents of change with education and financing.
How do you think sexual wellness has evolved and changed in Singapore over the past decade or so?
I definitely see a lot more conversation around it now and it’s become increasingly accepted as an integral part of mental wellness. I don’t know if a decade ago there was even such a thing; the term “femtech” was coined only in 2016 by Ida Tin, the founder of Clue (that started out as a period tracking app). I think Singapore follows global trends pretty closely; it went from yoga to meditation to mindfulness to mental wellness and now there is a spotlight on sexual wellness in the West and this will also shine on local grounds. While sexual wellness blew up in 2020, online stores like Maison Mika and The Hedonist Store, festivals like SPARK, and sexologists like Dr. Martha Lee have shown that conversations around sexual wellness existed before last year. I think it’s just now that we are seeing the public being more vocal and curious about it, which is the way it should be!
What’s one thing you wished more people knew about sexual wellness?
That we should view it as an integral part of wellness. Sexual wellness is not separate from mental wellness—a lot of being sexually satisfied happens in the brain. Sexual wellness is not reduced to an orgasm.
What are some sexual wellness brands we should know about in Singapore and beyond?
There are so many incredible brands and here are some of my favourites. SHE is a soon-to-launch absorbent period underwear and cup brand from Singapore; Good Vibes is a homegrown sex toy brand; ZaZaZu is Singapore’s only woman-exclusive experience club; and Ferne Health is an at-home sexual health screening and consultation service. Beyond our shores, there’s Enya, an organic cotton period pad brand from Malaysia; Cups of Joie, a menstrual cup brand from Thailand, as well as Cocmau, a menstrual cup brand from Vietnam.
How can we help to lessen the stigma surrounding talk on sexual pleasure and wellness?
We can only lessen the stigma around something if we see and hear it in mainstream media. There are more and more sexual wellness advocacy and sex-positive social media accounts, and I think that really helps because that’s where people are spending much of their time online. Talking about sexual pleasure normally as well helps lessen the stigma—Erin Chen has a really good TedX talk on this. An obvious way would be having sexual education focus on acknowledging sexual pleasure and desire, as well as how to healthily manage that. To teach consent and boundaries, the human anatomy, sexual health, and sexual wellness in relation to mental wellness. But this would involve shifting policies, perhaps making new ones. So for now, social media accounts and educative websites such as Allbodies (based in the U.S.) are great resources.
What do you hope to see in the future of Singapore’s sexual wellness scene?
More funding and support for the sexual wellness scene, more conversations, and more sexual wellness products in pharmacies, along with inclusivity and representation for all sexual orientations. I think it’s important that the sad stories see the light of day, such as PCOS, endometriosis, miscarriages, infertility, vaginismus, so as to get rid of the shame and stigma attached to sexual wellness.