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Spy Makers is a conversation series where we sit down with inventors, designers and entrepreneurs to talk about their work. Here, SPY Senior E-Commerce Editor Taylor Galla sits down with Dr. Britney Blair, clinical psychologist, and chief science officer at Lover, a sex therapy app designed to help couples solve bedroom woes from the comfort of their home.
Problems in the bedroom can range widely, from physical malfunctions to emotional impediments that keep true intimacy out of reach. Sometimes these problems reveal themselves at the beginning of relationships, and other times drastic life changes or events bring them into existence and make it harder to bond with your partner in the ways you once did.
Seeing a therapist is always an option, but it can be an intimidating process, especially for young couples who haven’t been together very long. Luckily, there’s an app for sex therapy, just as there is for getting your groceries delivered, editing that photo of your cat or reading your new neighbor’s star chart. It’s called Lover, and it can deliver sex advice and coaching with the swiftness of Amazon and the backing of an FDA approval, all from your phone.
What Is Lover? The Sex Therapy App
Lover is a sex therapy app for couples that aims to help solve the most common problems in the bedroom without the need of a doctor, medication or expensive visits to a therapist’s office. Dr. Blair explained that she realized how common sexual problems were during graduate school. While there are effective solutions, a lack of access for many people who can’t afford — or don’t want — to see a sex therapist.
“In my very first year of graduate school at Stanford I went to a workshop on sexual health and I was astonished, like literally shocked to learn that one in two women and 38% of men have a sexual problem. And then I learned that there are really effective solutions to sexual problems,” Dr. Blair says.
“And so I had one of those lightbulb moments, like, ‘Whoa, this is going to be my life’s work.’ I was astonished that no one was talking about it given how important it is to our personal health but also our relationship health.”
Lover includes personalized programs for treating common hindrances to intimacy, with exercises written by doctors and easy, straightforward tasks you complete at your own pace. The app consists of three main service areas:
- Journeys: Journeys are designed to solve a certain sexual problem, from low libido to no orgasm. Each journey includes a variety of audio, video and behavioral and cognitive interventions based on the science of sex, and methods proven to work for the problem at hand
- Profiling Tool: Developed by Dr. Blair and her team, the profiling tool provides a unique sexual profile after a 32-question survey, and tells you what kind of lover you are
- Turn-Ons: You and your partner can swipe right or left on certain turn-ons to discover shared interests, similar to Tinder swiping
Dr. Blair explains that the app is designed to help you have the right conversations with yourself about sex and your sexuality, and empower you to find solutions through their resources.
“We start with the self: What is your relationship to sex within yourself?,” says Dr. Blair. “And then we gradually move into lifestyle factors and relationship factors, and it’s a combination of psycho-education, like a lot of people don’t understand sex and sexuality, combined with concrete recommendations that you can do today to improve your sex life.”
Lover has free and subscription-based offerings, with more information available for a small monthly fee.
Can Tech Really Improve Intimacy?
Technology has long been accuses of isolating us more than it unites us, but Dr. Blair says that Lover is designed to do what technology and smartphone apps are meant to do at large: meet an access need and fill the gaps where in-person access can’t.
“There are less than 1,000 board-certified sex therapists in the U.S., which is astonishing given that one in two women and one in three men have a problem,” she notes. With sex therapy inaccessible in some areas of the U.S., utilizing Lover may be the next best thing.
“Going to a sex therapist can be embarrassing. It’s also really expensive,” says Dr. Blair. “Rather than paying $250 to $300 an hour you’re paying much less for a subscription to Lover.”
She also clarifies that the goal of Lover is not to connect people but to help existing couples get closer and overcome hurdles to that closeness.
“A lot of people have difficulty talking to their partner about what they want in bed, or what’s working and not working. So [Lover] can be used as a tool, but the idea is for it to be used in privacy to help solve a sexual problem. It’s not designed as a couple’s tool, it’s a digital therapeutic, really,” says Dr. Blair.
Do You Need to Have a Problem to Use the Lover App?
Lover is designed to help people solve sexual problems, but you don’t need to be experiencing an issue to benefit from it. In addition to the Turn Ons feature, there’s also a “Just Curious” journey for couples looking to spice up things in the bedroom and try something new.
“Most of our sex education consisted of, ‘Here’s pregnancy risk and STD/STI risk,'” Dr. Blair says. “And medical schools offer four to 10 hours of sex education in medical school, and that sex education includes infertility, STIs and STDs and what goes wrong sexually.
“But no one’s talking about sexual pleasure or how to ensure libido and sexual connection throughout a long-term relationship. Which is a legit thing we should be talking about. What are things you can do to help if you have a bit of a lag or a rut that you’re in? What are some practical things you can do to get out of the rut? For anyone curious about sex or having a sexual problem, I think Lover can help.”
How Quickly Does the App Work?
As with most things relationship, it depends on the couple. The courses are designed for eight to 12 weeks but, Dr. Blair points out, it’s like anything else: How much effort are you putting into it? What is the complexity of the problem? Everybody wants an overnight solution, [but] it takes effort to listen to the exercises and engage in the interventions that are recommended. It requires folks to be engaged and solve the problem.” Dr. Blair notes that 87% of people reported significantly less distress within a couple of weeks of using the app, and their ED journey is more effective than Viagra.
Lover is the first sexual health app to get approval in the FDA’s Safer Technologies Program, and the hope is that the app becomes a resource for physicians to suggest to their patients.
“Most people on antidepressants or an SSRI experience sexual dysfunction and experience loss of libido. And same with oral contraceptives. So this is a major problem for people taking medications, or dealing with any kind of medical problem,” Dr. Blair says. “And so the hope would be that Lover would be a resource for physicians to give to their patients.”
The Experience of Using Lover
I’ve been using the Lover app with my partner, and I’ve been pleased with the results. Out of respect for my partner and our privacy, I will leave it at that. However, I did ask Dr. Blair what users can expect when using the app for the first time.
The content in each Journey varies depending on the problem at hand, but a lot of it is about communication with your partner and yourself.
“It’s also about exposure,” Dr. Blair says. “That’s a funny word to use in this context but it’s like practicing. If you’re a woman who wants to learn how to orgasm more consistently, part of it is definitely about communication with your partner about what you enjoy and how to provide the right stimulation, but a lot of it is also about exposure to different types of pleasure. So there are masturbation exercises and there are mindfulness exercises to help get you out of your head, which is not the sexiest of places.”
Dr. Blair also explains that the content is as much about what’s happening in the bedroom and in your body as it is in your head and with your emotions.
“Historically we’ve talked about psychology being in the mind and the body being something completely different. With sex, we know it’s at this intersection of the biological, the psychological and the social… There’s no separating these things, so we talk about all of it.”
Sex, Lover and the Loneliness Epidemic
As we emerge from the lockdown of 2020 and discover how we have changed emotionally and mentally from that period, our relationships have changed — both with partners and with our own sexuality.
“I think for the vast majority of people, having a healthy erotic connection with oneself and with the other is a really important part of how you move through the world,” says Dr. Blair. “And one of the things that happened with the pandemic is we were kind of locked inside and on top of each other — not in a sexy way — 24/7. For the erotic to thrive in a relationship or with oneself, you need distance, you need otherness, you need to be in the world, you need separateness from your partner, you need to be engaged in diverse activities.
“Everyone said, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a baby boom’ and the opposite happened actually: We saw lots of couples break up. Some of which needed to end and others I don’t think needed to end. I think, sadly, people ended things when they had a healthy foundation. They just needed time apart. Sex is not the end all be all, but I think of it like the oil that greases the gears, or the cement in the potholes. If that’s not going well, all the other crap that’s involved in a relationship, for all of us, is just harder.”