In the Latinx community, sex and sex education can often be a controversial or taboo topic. In our familias, we don’t typically have open and honest conversations about sexual intimacy, pleasure, and sex education, making it difficult for us to navigate our sex lives as adults. Today, many Latina wellness experts, sexologists, and sexual wellness brands are looking to change that. Rebecca Alvarez Story is co-founder and CEO of Bloomi, a sexologist-led intimacy company that focuses on sexual wellness, pleasure, menstruation, sex education and more.
Being a “first-gen everything,” as she likes to call herself, this jefa didn’t have many conversations about sex and sex education with her parents but that didn’t stop her curiosity. Hoping to change the narratives and conversations about sex, sexual pleasure and intimate wellness, Alvarez Story studied sexology, women’s health, and business to help women become more empowered in their sex lives and informed about sexual wellness. Bloomi, which launched in 2018, offers products including body oils, CBD lubes, vibrators, and body and vulva care products and created the only industry standard to ensure toxic ingredients aren’t used in intimate products, according to their website. Last year, Alvarez Story made history as the first Latina founder to launch a sexual wellness brand at Target.
“I wanted it to be an intimacy resource destination for people and for products and content. When you have those things, I feel like not only do you make informed decisions, but you’re happier. Your quality of life is better; you’re more sexually confident; your mental health is better,” Alvarez Story tells HipLatina. “We are now just getting to the point where we’re talking about it and realizing that it’s about the conversations, but people have so many questions. Most adults didn’t get a lot of sex ed, and so we’re craving that information.”
A Latina Sexologist’s Story
Alvarez Story is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up in the Bay Area in California and as a first-generation Latina she developed a work ethic that has helped her throughout her career. But it was her Catholic family values that would end up being a crucial part of what set her on the professional path she’s on now. She recalls she was often curious about body topics and sex education, but she found that bringing these questions up to her family and other Latinxs in her community felt tense and awkward. When she went to an all-girls Catholic high school on a scholarship, she was disappointed to find that the school offered abstinence-only sex education.
“When you don’t get good or quality sex education, it’s actually very dangerous. Not getting good sex ed growing up or even as a young adult puts you in situations where you need to make decisions, but you’re not informed,” she says. “That could be something as simple as deciding that you want to take birth control versus a decision of like, ‘is this a healthy relationship?’”
When she later attended the University of California at Berkeley, she was shocked to find over 50 classes being offered about sex in a variety of different subjects including history, biology, and chemistry. Taking advantage of this opportunity, she decided to take a class about sex and the law, where she learned about monumental and foundational cases like Roe v. Wade and how sex has historically impacted our communities. Alvarez Story also took a class not part of the regular UC Berkeley curriculum called a decal (a student led class with a supervisor) about sex in the field; she describes how the class almost felt like a close girlfriend group, as they discussed sex topics like pleasure, orgasm, and more and even went on field trips of sorts to sex museums and sex clubs to learn more about the intricate and diverse world of sex.
“It was like everything you would think of that you’re curious about. For me, I felt like it was everything from the more conservative official world to the fun, playful, real stuff that we ask, want to know more about, or read about,” Alvarez Story recalls. “I just feel like that experience was very healing for me. It was very life changing for me, and so much so that I went on and was like, ‘how do I do this more or at an even higher level?’”
Feeling determined to use what she learned to help her own community, Alvarez Story majored in Women’s Health & Sexuality, a major she created and became the first to graduate from. She later attended grad school at San Francisco State University, where she took more in-depth classes about sex and got her masters degree in Sexuality Studies. Though being a Latina in the field of sexual wellness was unheard of at the time, she decided to go into sexology and focus on education work and product development. She felt it was important for her clients to have a destination for sexual health, products, and body care; when she couldn’t find any, she decided to create one herself, and in 2018, Bloomi was born.
Growing Bloomi: Setbacks and Milestones
One of Alvarez Story’s goals with Bloomi was to create high-quality, clean products and normalize conversations about sexual pleasure and wellness. Growing up using feminine sprays and washes on the market that her cousins told her about, she realized there weren’t a lot of clean or safe options for intimate body care and health. She wanted Bloomi to avoid making the same mistake, so she made it her mission to do her homework on formulas, materials, and ingredients, eventually creating an extensive banned list of chemicals and materials that are harmful to intimate skin and pH balance.
“Latina cis women and Black women have higher pHs in our vaginal microbiome, which means that we are more prone to infections. What happens is a lot of times in our communities, but we’ll get a yeast infection or we’ll get odor or something and we’ll mask it with more product, but really the products that are on the market are really crappy,” Alvarez Story explains. “It really like pushed me to create high-quality products so you don’t have to worry about that. You can just worry about the intimacy part and the exploring, and the way that we made the products was for all bodies, not just men and women.”
Though Bloomi’s mission and growth has been very intentional, Alvarez Story says being the CEO of a company is more challenging than it looks. Through her career, she learned that investing in the traditional sense is for the wealthy. As a first-generation Latina coming from an immigrant family, she didn’t have access to the same networks and capital resources that others had, making it harder for her to get the necessary funding to start her own business. Having once been a consultant for other startups, she would see teams meet with investors and come back with large amount of money, but her own attempts to get funding for Bloomi weren’t as successful.
“Being the CEO of this company, the reasons that people have chosen to not invest in us do not add up to me. I feel like we are killing it, and I think that we have top talent,” she says. “When I look at the reasons that people are saying no, to me it just really points to ‘I am a risky investment because I don’t look like you and because I’m in an industry that maybe makes you feel uncomfortable.’”
However, Alvarez Story has also been able to hit many important milestones both in terms of Bloomi and herself. She describes how launching her products at over a thousand Target stores has been extremely meaningful to her because of the team effort it took to get there. Feeling like she’s accomplished everything she wants with a team, it means a lot to her to have her brand recognized and her products sold at accessible price points.
“I often think about my grandma because she was very independent. She’s the one that came here with all of my tias and [my] mom, and her goal was to hopefully have one of us start a business and be happy doing it. She’s no longer living, but I think about her because it’s the immigration story that a lot of us think about,” she explains. “I wouldn’t be here without my team, but I really wouldn’t be here without my mom and my grandma.”
A Blooming Future
For Alvarez Story, family means a lot to her not just as a first-generation Latina but as a wife and mother as well. To change the patterns she learned in her family, she’s decided to be open and honest with her children about sex education, intimate health, and body care. Numerous articles from the New York Times have found that teaching children about their body and genitals can prevent abuse and help them create physical and bodily boundaries, but sitting your child down for an awkward, traditional sex talk can create feelings of anxiety. She believes that by teaching age-appropriate sex education to children as they grow up, they can grow to lead more confident and healthy lives as adults.
“In the Latino/Latiné culture we don’t talk about pleasure, right? There’s so many layers to it,” Alvarez Story explains, “but if you look at countries that teach age appropriate sex education or body education, even, to preschoolers, they have lower rates of unintended pregnancies, higher rates of sexual satisfaction, and higher rates of long term relationships being successful.”
For this reason, Alvarez Story always holds space for any body questions her children might have and encourages her husband and parents to do the same. In grad school, she learned to always meet people where they’re at, especially when it comes to children learning about sex and their own body. She advises parents to avoid feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed by their children’s questions about reproduction, genitals, and intimate health and realize that children’s curiosity is normal.
“Sometimes I’ve seen parents freak out that a 10-year-old is asking a question, and they assume it’s all of the sex questions in one, but it’s really not what they’re thinking,” she says. “Kids respect when you answer their questions, even if it makes you uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it has to make them uncomfortable.”
What In Store for the Future
Thanks to small yet consistent investments from her growing community and loved ones, Alvarez Story and Bloomi have been able to continue running. To date, she is one of the few Latinx founders who have been able to raise over $2 million for their business. In the upcoming year, Bloomi will be launching with several new retailers, releasing a myriad of new products, and launching a Wefunder campaign to open the growth of the company and allow people to invest in a sexual wellness company.
“I really believe Bloomi’s going to grow really big, but as Bloomi continues to grow, people in the community also get to be a part of that. That’s very rare, and I’m really proud of that.”