Personal health issues sparked Rodriguez's passion for sexual equality—and now she's using it to change the world in a pretty climactic way.

polly rodriguez unbound founder
Credit: Of Mercer

If you feel like sexual wellness is having a major renaissance, you're not wrong. One of the women you can credit for that it Polly Rodriguez, CEO and cofounder of Unbound, a sexual wellness company that makes everything from chic sex toy jewelry to silicone sex toys and CBD lube. (See: 3 Vibrators from Women-Owned Brands You Should Buy) Read the story behind Unbound, and get ready to ~feel some things~ about your sexual rights.

What Sparked Her New Pursuit:

“At 21, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I went through menopause because of the radiation treatment—with no warning from my doctors. I was googling to find information on what was happening to me, and I couldn’t find a place with information and products, like lubricants for vaginal dryness. I knew there was a real need for this, so I set out to create it myself.

Finding out at a young age that I wouldn’t be able to have biological kids was a curse and a blessing in that it gave me permission to pursue a different narrative. Women can lead and create their own sense of purpose in so many different ways.” (Related: LOLA Launches a Sexual Wellness Kit to Answer All Your Questions About Sex)

On Being Vigilant:

“It took three and a half years of working nights and weekends with two part-time jobs to get Unbound to where it is now. When we tried to open a bank account, secure funding, and advertise online, we were rejected because our product is considered morally offensive. It’s hard not to think that’s sexist. Viagra is seen as a health product with a medical need—lubricants and vibrators are too! Women deserve their own brands that are run by women. I want to close the gap between how we think of female and male sexuality.” (Related: The Nutrients That Can Improve Women's Sexual Health)

Why It's Worth It to Get Political:

"We did one campaign called 'vibes for congress.' Becoming political is a risk; we knew there would be people that didn’t agree. For the campaign, people could 'buy' vibrators to be sent to a congressional member with an educational pamphlet with information like, 'Every $1 invested in helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies saves $7.09 in Medicaid expenditures.'

We thought a couple hundred people would participate and that we’d get negative press. And we did get negative press... But 2,000 people participated and we were able to donate over $12,000 to Planned Parenthood! This validated our belief that lots of people feel marginalized as they watch the country attack reproductive health. That’s when we knew we struck a chord. Women weren’t afraid to speak out anymore."

When She Realized Her Impact:

“I’m a firm believer in getting on the phone with the people who are using our products. In the beginning, when I would confide in them that I didn’t know if I could keep the company going, they’d get really upset and tweet to promote us. One day a college student emailed to tell me that my products helped her reclaim her sexuality after she’d been assaulted. I keep a printout of that next to my desk.

One thing that surprised me is how many moms reach out about buying products for their daughters. It’s such a huge cultural shift. So many of us grew up with this narrative of, 'Don’t get pregnant, don’t get an STD'—a defensive approach to sexuality. But this next generation of women is championing pleasure for their daughters rather than shaming them. I think that’s pretty cool.” (Related: Wellness Trends to Look Forward to In 2019)

Want more incredible motivation and insight from inspiring women? Join us this fall for our debut SHAPE Women Run the World Summit in New York City. Be sure to browse the e-curriculum here, too, to score all kinds of skills.

Shape Magazine, September 2019