You’ve probably never heard of Mathew Gerson. He calls himself a ‘Social Entrepreneur,’ which may be a mistake because, often, in the minds of a jaded public, the notion of the entrepreneur in society tends to be loaded with clichéd assumptions about snake oil salesmen, ruthless monopolistic business practices and a relentless Pacman-type greed to make the big buck at the expense of the public good. Gerson may be a capitalist, but although he’s reluctant to discuss such subjects as altruism, he’s one who strongly believes in giving back a portion of what he takes out.
Having studied to be a Buddhist monk and received an education at the Naropa Institute, Gerson didn’t get serious about business until his late 20s when he formed the Sir Richard’s Condom Company. You may not know the brand, per sé, but they’re the ones available in multitudinous color schemes from the cashier’s desk at your local Whole Foods. What you may not know is that for every condom sold at a retail price, another condom is shipped to Haiti for free use as a part of a humanist response to the poverty and HIV/AIDS problems the country suffers from. With a new product on the market, Foria, a cannabis-based lube, Gerson wants to assist a world of women as what he calls a ‘Wellness Director.’
We had the great pleasure of speaking to Mathew recently, about sex, business and philosophy…
Q – You know, I like sex, but I don’t really think about it very much. As a teenager, it’s all I thought of, but until I was getting ready to meet you, my grey matter was otherwise encumbered. I hadn’t realized just how Victorian things got under George Bush, Jr.—good ol’ Dubya—and I’ve been kind of shocked to read about the reduction in funding for education and information about sex in general under both the Reagan and Dubya administrations. Actually, it wasn’t till last year, now that my youngest son is of a, umm, shagging age, that I noticed all the condoms are locked away at my local pharmacy.
A – Ha! Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never gotten an answer from Walgreen’s to say why they lock them up. I think they’d probably say to avoid theft, but it’s not an expensive item. Maybe $12 to $15 at most. It brings up a really important question: If you, as a business, are respectful of your customers, why would you do that to the product? Putting it out of reach. On the other hand, George Bush, Sr. was nicknamed ‘Rubbers.’ He was actually very fond of accessing the leverage the access the U.S. has into global markets and worked to push condoms and contraceptives as a means of halting unwanted pregnancies, STDs and HIV/AIDS. Tragically, his son is the one who cut funding and access worldwide.
Are we headed backwards?
I’m certainly not an academic in these realms but an argument can be made for both. There’s also been some progression in human sexuality, including open discussion about sex and sexual situations. Older people still tend to see an openness about sex as a means of destabilizing the world while it’s younger people who are open to discussing sex and sexual identity just as much as they’re also open to discussing shame and hatred and bigotry.
I’m not sure I agree. My youngest and his friends—when I’m being nosy—seem to be talking around sex, not necessarily about it!
Kids now have more access to more general imagery of the body—their own, others—it’s never happened before. I mean, that level of intimacy… The jury is still out. It’s a big social experiment. The question of what happens when you have unfettered access. In my day you’d sneak away with a magazine. That’s certainly not a case if you’ve grown up post-Internet.
Could we talk about you as a ‘social entrepreneur’? The stereotype of American enterprise says Harvard, Wharton or Kellogg business schools are where it’s at, but you didn’t take that route as a young man.
I went to the Naropa Institute for two years and that was certainly an influential place in terms of my worldview and engaging with the public. I decided if I was going to keep a business afloat, it should have some impact socially… But it’s about other factors, too. My dad was a pediatric oncologist, which very much influenced my views on mortality and life. I never had the academic discipline it takes to have a medical career, so I ended up studying to become a Buddhist monk, but that didn’t happen, either, and I ended up starting a condom company instead.
And as compared to Walgreen’s locked cabinet, your product is right there at the Whole Foods cashier’s desk.
From a traditional branding and marketing perspective, you’re trying to connect to an urban teen demographic. The audience in a certain country, you know. How do you connect to them in a certain way that they’re more likely to use the product?
Could we talk about the oil? How do you get your ideas?
I usually get them while walking and spacing out. That’s where the impetus lies.
You were thinking of the female orgasm while walking?
It all came out of my work with Sir Richard’s. The discussions and articles and consulting we did as regards peoples’ passion as it relates to human sexuality, the overall wellness of the individual, the couple, the household the family to the culture… We’re a society where sexual products are presented for men and around sexual dysfunction for men. There’s been a traditional bias toward men. There are 26 different drugs to cure male sexual dysfunction and none for women. There’s even an organization called eventhescore that’s trying to address this issue and is trying to publicly address the FDA (The Federal Drug Authority) on the subject…
Anyway, all of this was floating around in my brain and I live in California where cannabis has been legal for a long time and it’s acceptable to use it for a number of ailments. Cannabis has been also used for millennia for freely realizing women’s access to pleasure. It’s a magnificent plant and we keep learning more every day about the way it can enhance pleasure… A Lot of people have been using it for years to enhance their pleasure. That information was already there, so we applied more modern distillation and extraction techniques and innovated on how to use its chemicals.
And the coconut oil as a lubricant idea?
With the distilled cannabis oil, after trying other alternatives also, it was decided that coconut oil made the best lubricant. There was also the knowledge that midwives had been using such a compound for millennia, where it is applied directly to the vagina and absorbs pleasurably into the body. At this point we made up some batches and presented them to friends and family and listened to their feedback. Now we hope to be able to present the product in its spray form in certain states where there’s been cannabis law reform. And in those states we’re hearing from OBY/GYNs and sometimes patients, independently, they’re hearing the good news and communicating with us.
Along those same lines, one of my wife’s best friends is a gynecologist and I asked her about this and she would not touch it… She certainly didn’t want to get quoted. And she’s a user.
She’s a user/smoker of marijuana, but she didn’t want to touch the subject.
That’s fascinating. There’s a risk there. The AMA depending on what state they’re in. That’s pretty standard… It’s a nationally regulated narcotic and has been since 1937. You know, it’s tragic. I’m actually happy that there are committees and research groups who are very serious about this product and want to see strict, even-handed safety rules applied.
It’s $88 for the spray, right?
Yes. $88 with enough for 30 applications. That’s about average considering the alternatives. The price is high partly because of our limited ability to present it to a larger audience. As state laws change so will our circumstances.
Here’s to changed circumstances! You might also like to know that a new 10ml bottle has been added to the Foria range. Bottles are usually 30ml, so this new size is doubtless intended to get you going, which is probably why they called it ‘the Starter’. Breathe in…