We don’t know about you, but a lot of what we learned as teenagers and young adults about sex was...not that accurate. Wrong, even. Sex ed curriculums in North America range from the fairly educational to the totally prudish, and lots of really important information—from what constitues consent to the right way to use a condom—gets lost in the mix. And even when our health teachers get it right, they often fail to address crucial mental and emotional aspects of sex and wellness.
Enter Mia Davis, founder of an awesome new platform, tabú. Aiming to empower young adults to take control of their bodies, health and relationships, tabú’s rallying cry is that there’s no such thing as TMI. From informational articles on tons of different subjects, an amazing zine, a chat feature where you can get your burning questions answered, to a service that helps connect you with high-quality mental healthcare in your area, tabú has got a lot of the bases covered. Their mental healthcare service takes gender, race, location, cost and your indivudual needs into account before matching you with a therapist, which is a lot more than a lot of clinics can say.
Read on for Mia’s thoughts on filling the gaps in sexual health education, pursuing pleasure, and making time for herself...
Hi Mia! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am the Founder and CEO of tabú, a digital health platform for all the things you’re too afraid to talk about. We provide the sex ed you never had and make "taboo" topics approachable. Prior to starting tabú, I was a UX Designer at Salesforce and studied Product Design at Stanford University.
Describe tabú in 5 words.
Approachable, inclusive, empowering, honest, educational.
tabú seems like it aims to fill the (sometimes enormous) gaps left by high school sex ed, but at the same time is relevant to grown adults. What demographic did you have in mind when you conceptualized the site?
Absolutely. All too often, sex education falls short on the actual education part—especially when it is abstinence-based. tabú was born out of my personal understanding of the negative consequences that result from inadequate, shame-based sex ed. Our target demographic was originally college-aged individuals, as I was only a year out of college when I embarked on this journey and first started thinking about what we wanted to build. College students are newly “independent” and living in an environment that can cater to some questionable decision-making.
We wanted to take a holistic approach to help young adults understand how to give and receive consent and navigate their experiences in a healthy way. We launched a college ambassador program that furthers this initiative and it is something I remain deeply passionate about. Our demographic has since evolved to reach both younger and older audiences. The more information we have, the better equipped we are to advocate for ourselves in sex, relationships (friendships included), and with our health care providers; that is relevant at any age. tabú aims to fill the gaps and empower the people who leverage our services to make informed decisions about their health on their own terms.
What's the number one thing you wish was taught in sex ed?
It’s hard to choose one because I feel like I didn’t really learn anything, other than that sex would hurt and STIs are ugly. At the most basic level, I wish sex ed taught that sex is intended to be pleasurable and not just a process to make babies. In the same vein, I think we also need to emphasize the importance of communication during sex because good (safe, fun, enjoyable) sex is all about good communication. Last one - I really wish we taught young adults how to identify the signs of emotionally abusive behavior and how to leave a toxic relationship. Relationship health, sexual health, and mental health are all extremely important and super intertwined.
Did you always think you would be the CEO of a sexual health company, or are you surprised with where you've ended up?
Ha! Not at all. My sophomore year of college I actually left a group project because we were researching the history of vibrators. That’s how uncomfortable I was with pretty much any sex-related topic. It took me a long time to connect the dots and realize how huge this problem is not only for me, but from a societal, educational, and public health standpoint as well. Restricting accurate information and open conversations about sex and sexual health is disempowering and ultimately dangerous. A lot of people are still really surprised by what I do because, in their eyes, it doesn’t match my personality. I don’t know what kind of personality people expect, and I’m sure its rooted in ridiculous stereotypes, but I’m excited about and grateful for the opportunity to reach audiences that are as conservative as I was and who are afraid to communicate honestly about sex.
What is the role of self-care in your life? Do you use it to control stress, or just to be present with yourself?
To be honest, I feel like a hypocrite when it comes to talking about self-care. Starting a business is a lot of work, and I have yet to find a balance that prioritizes my own mental health. I started tabú because of my experience with sexual trauma and a pelvic floor condition that made it all but impossible for me to have sex. Based on my upbringing and education, I felt ashamed about this, which made it really difficult to talk about or process. As eager as I am to work on tabú every single day, it can be challenging to confront the pain I experienced and am trying to prevent others from going through. That said, I have recently made an active effort to make more time for friends, exercise, and sleep. I also think it’s important not to beat yourself up when you can’t do it all.
There’s a lot of pressure, whether perceived, explicit, or internal, to be “successful” and have a fabulous life. I think we need to be more realistic with ourselves, and, especially as entrepreneurs, to share more of the low points so people feel less alone and know that it’s okay to not be perfect (literally no one is)! Regardless of your profession, there will be hard days and it’s okay to take a break, cry, listen to music, call a friend, watch a movie, take a bath, or whatever it is that makes you feel at ease. You matter so much!
Do you think sex (with yourself or others) can be a form of self care? Why?
Yes, definitely. I think we should allow ourselves to indulge in all the things that bring us pleasure, whether that’s sex, reality tv, or ice cream (hopefully, all three)! As long as you are not hurting or disrespecting anyone, why shouldn’t we have a little (or a lot) more pleasure in our lives? Sex can help you blow off steam, relieve stress, get in some exercise, and it also contributes to better sleep. Just thinking about it might have you contemplating why you’re still reading this article...
What is the best piece of feedback you ever received that made you want to keep pushing forward in a tricky industry?
It means the world to me whenever someone says they referred a friend or family member to tabú because that means they found us valuable enough to tell someone else! That’s huge. Part of our mission is to de-stigmatize the conversation about sex (and mental health), so if someone is willing to, shall we say, talk tabú, I know we’re doing something right and I’m motivated to keep pushing forward. The need is huge and there are endless opportunities to innovate in this space and change people’s lives and our culture for the better. It’s challenging, of course, but that’s what makes the work so rewarding.
Thank you so much, Mia! 😊