In the last few years, female sexual empowerment has been on the rise amongst young women. Shining a spotlight on a socially taboo subject that a majority of the nation’s population relates to serves the purpose of teaching women about their bodies and to not be afraid of getting in tune with them. It allows women, who lack resources or reliable personnel to whom they can talk and seek advice, to find support and empowerment from other women across the nation. Pittsburgh’s own Alison Falk, 26, is leading the way to breaking the silence on sexuality in tech specifically, as well as showcasing other Pittsburgh women in the tech industry.
Self-identifying as a provocative tech thought leader, Alison is an application developer and cybersecurity engineering master’s candidate, and runs Women In Tech PGH, a platform showcasing other women in tech around the city. “I created this platform on the basis that women are so hesitant to brag about all the amazing things they’ve done without diluting themselves or giving away credit to others,” says Falk. “When research shows that women who brag about themselves are often overlooked for promotions, earn less money, and seen as more cold in comparison to men who will brag three times as much and be rewarded, this platform is, in some way, a form of activism.”
Her newest project, Sex Tech Space, is a monthly digital issue, which “aims to be an educational resource for technologists and engineers to learn more about the blossoming $30 billion dollar sex tech industry while normalizing the conversations typically regarded as taboo.” Falk notes that despite this area of tech is rapidly growing, it’s still not talked about on panels, at meet-ups, and conferences. “By creating Sex Tech Space, I want to develop that dialogue in order to establish a more diverse and progressive industry of STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) professionals.” She finds it important to provide resources and make accessible education about STEM to create relatable role models and teachers, since technology is the becoming the foundation of our every day lives. She comments:
For example, it would be silly to have someone develop an app for menstrual cycles if that person did not work alongside someone who does experience getting their period so that transparency and proper design is involved for the ideal user. Lack of exposure, access, role models, and the way in which children’s interests are groomed based on their assumed gender identity from the time they are born has deterred a diverse array of individuals from entering the field. STEM initiatives aim to change that.
Facing stigmas like people trying to force a falsified and idealistic version of what a “real” developer/programmer/engineer is supposed to be like, Alison pushes back to openly present herself as a sexually empowered woman in tech. “I receive countless messages in my inbox asking me 'Are you really a developer?' It’s frustrating because it reinforces the stereotype of a tech professional being some white dude in a hoodie, coding in a dark room with ten different computer monitors,” she explains. ”I don’t see any other person on social media presenting them self the way I do. It makes me realize I don’t want to simply speak about the narrative of gender gaps; I want to speak about orgasm gaps. Using technology as a common foundation can allow us to normalize this conversation and bring it to a close.”
However, the stigmas and opposition from those still uncomfortable with the topics haven’t stopped Alison from working hard to make a difference, and the support has been outpouring and rewarding. She has partnered with what she calls sex-positive companies like UnboundBabes and What’s In Your Box and says she will be collaborating with a few more in the future through Sex Tech Space. “I’m so excited for all the opportunities and value I can bring to the tech community through my initiatives. I feel energized by my passion every morning when I wake up,” she says.
Alison’s experience with discovering her sexuality hasn’t always been so progressive, though. Coming from a very religious background, she says she was taught to fear sexuality, and wore a promise ring to pledge away sex until marriage. Despite this, Alison is very proud of coming from a religious background and attributes religion and the church to teaching her a great sense of community and creating strong friendships. “I developed a deep relationship with an 80-year-old woman who became a great friend and mentor. She would tell me wild stories of her growing up and highlighted the importance of doing what makes you happy - even if society is telling you to do the opposite,” she recalls. She also notes the lesson of polarity and figuring out what she wanted out of life, saying, “Had I not experienced growing up in an environment where sex was a dirty subject, I may have never developed such a curiosity to explore more about it. I would not be where I am today.”
When I first found Alison’s personal Instagram, I was immediately enamored with the confidence and wisdom she exudes through her informative posts. I felt personally inspired and empowered, and learned that my body and sexuality is something to be normalized, proud of, and confident in. When asked what she wants to share with women, in and out of STEM, she responds with, “Don’t let anyone else define you or disrespect you for being comfortable with who you are as an individual. Don’t lower your standards just to gain approval from judgmental people. Make them meet you on your level.”
You can follow her personal Instagram @falkyou, Women In Tech PGH @womenintechpgh, and Sex Tech Space @sextechspace!
Photos by: Keaton Manning