As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Gina Gutierrez. She is the co-founder and CEO of Dipsea, the first audio platform for sexual wellbeing.Prior to starting Dipsea, Gina bridged business and design as a brand & design strategist.
She directed the approach of two agile teams of graphic designers and interior architects in the creation of meaningful brand experiences at Rapt Studio (clients included Google and DoorDash). Before that, she led the development of positioning and brand strategy for early-stage startups and established brands alike at Character SF (clients included Facebook, Reebok, ThirdLove, and Momofuku). She graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in psychology.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
My previous professional experiences don’t point towards me building an audio platform for sexual wellness, or creating original erotic audio content. But my co-founder and I are millennial women, and we were frustrated by the dearth of erotic content that was feminist, elevated, and designed for our preferences. We had the insight that audio could be the perfect medium to explore because it’s so intimate, immersive and imaginative. The more we talked and the more we read, the clearer it became that we could really be onto something. I left my job as a brand strategist to start Dipsea, and have applied a design-thinking, user-first approach to everything we do, from our content strategy to our app design.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
My co-founder and I started Dipsea a year ago. Now we’re venture-backed, a team of nine, have an app for short, sexy audio stories in the market, and a growing base of amazing listeners.
So many women we’ve talked to have told us that they feel ashamed or confused about how hard it can be for them to access their sexual feelings. By sparking imagination and creating safe, sexy context, we offer an accessible new way for women to tap into their sexuality.
Getting “turned on” is more than a means to pleasure or orgasm. It’s a way to feel more alive, unlock confidence, reconnect with your body, and cultivate wellbeing. Nurturing your sexuality is a tool in your wellbeing toolkit, just like exercise and meditation. We make that an easier practice for women, which has important implications not only for self-love but also for couples when they’re intimate.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
I’ve always been really hard on myself, which manifested itself as a critical, impatient, unforgiving internal monologue. The relentless cultural narrative around self-improvement made me feel doubly bad: not only was I treating myself in a way I knew was bad for me, but I was also failing to do anything about it!
Enter meditation. I’m still not a daily meditator. But I found that even meditating occasionally, learning to acknowledge a pesky thought as it entered my brain and then letting it move on, re-wired something pretty profoundly in my brain. It was a magical moment when I realized this also applied to self-criticism, which instead of having to fix, I simply had to listen for. “There it is again, the voice telling you that you should have done XYZ better. That’s not a kind thing to say to yourself. You wouldn’t say that to a friend you love. Just let it pass.” That voice is still there, it’s still a part of me, but instead of fighting it, I can now give it much less space.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I think this problem predates social media and is related to the fact that we live in a culture fueled by competition, performance, and comparison. But I think that in the age of social media, people often develop a public presence separate from their real-life, true self. It’s a training ground for dissociation: people start to feel like strangers in their own mirror reflections and in their own real, messy, flesh-and-blood bodies in intimate moments. They feel less rewarded by authentic admiration and appreciation than by a few hundred likes. It tarnishes reality and our own differences and imperfections that are in fact very beautiful.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
Loving yourself is important because the way you treat yourself relates to the way you treat others. And when you put good energy out into the world, you get good energy back. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But I think the command “Love yourself!” can feel really intimidating. And to that I say, don’t worry! You can always work up to it. You can project that you love your body exactly the way it is, not give voice and space to your insecurities, and start to teach yourself through your lived experience and people’s reactions to you your new truth of self-love. I think it can be an enormous relief to understand that “faking it until you make it’ Is a real thing, a brave thing — a step in the process.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Deep inside, I believe all of us fear one of two truths (and maybe, sometimes even both at the same time): that we are not enough, or that we are too much. Essentially, we are difficult and unacceptable. So when we find someone that loves us, even if clumsily, even if not in the ways we want and need to be loved, or worse, even if they aren’t kind to us, we believe we must cling to them. They are our only hope.
My advice? Start listening to your gut. It might manifest as only a dull murmur. It might be a rumbling in your belly when something feels not right. It might be shouting at you to run but you keep forcefully shutting it out. Listen to it. And go when it tells you to go. You are your only hope! And you owe it to yourself to listen to yourself.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I once read a journal entry I’d made exactly a year prior. It described frustrations I was feeling that very day, and I was so shocked that I was re-living the same problem a whole year later that I was motivated to finally make a change.
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
– I think “loving yourself” and “learning to be alone” are proxies for each other. If you can learn to listen to and make peace with your own inner monologue, you’ve started to make peace with yourself, to love yourself, and to be more comfortable (without an external someone needing to tell you that you’re worthy or lovable). So yes, it’s incredibly important. But I think you can still learn to be alone even inside of a great partnership, and surrounded by friends and your community. It doesn’t require isolating yourself in order to learn the lesson.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Similarly to #5, loving yourself is important because the way you treat yourself relates to the way you treat others. And when you put good energy out into the world, you get good energy back.
If you feel sick of yourself, you’ll be impatient and short with people. If you feel shame about your choices, you’ll be overly critical with people (either because they’ve made those same choices, or because they’ve made the opposite ones!). Self-compassion means finding the emotional capacity and energy to find the best in others.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
– Individual — See a therapist, if possible!
– Individual — Find resources you connect with to make you feel less alone in your struggles: whether podcasts, or blogs, or communities.
– Individual — Find role models that represent you or your ideals and either observe/learn from them or if they’re in your life, enlist them as mentors
– Society — Normalize, and provide easier access to, mental health resources and therapy.
– Society — Improve K-12 education: Self-reflection, personal growth, and emotional intelligence should be taught, encouraged, and rewarded in schools Our education system is failing students in so many ways: testing as the only measure of success; the lack of sex education (let alone inclusive sex education, or making the connection between sexuality and positivity/pleasure); the poor opportunities for bright kids who don’t shine academically but could contribute meaningfully and derive real self worth from more applied tracks
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1. Apply meditation learnings to self-criticism. Acknowledge a thought that enters your mind, let an internal criticism enter your mind, recognize it, acknowledge it
2. Create a practice of self-touch and self-admiration. This need not be sexual. But take time in your day to massage or touch your own skin, to look in the mirror in a non-critical way, to give gratitude to your body.
3. Nurture and tap into your sexuality as a tool for greater wellbeing. Explore your own desires, make time to connect with yourself or with your partner, and remember that sexuality doesn’t necessarily have to mean sex or achieving orgasm.
4. Talk more kindly about yourself. The words you choose matter. When someone gives you a compliment, practice not denying it. Instead of saying “Oh that’s not true!” or “Oh, please!” try, “That’s so generous of you to say” or “Thank you, it’s something I’ve been working on.”
5. Screw the “should’s”. Just because it’s Valentine’s, doesn’t mean you should spend money on a fancy dinner. Just because it’s your anniversary, doesn’t mean you should want to have sex. Just because it’s Friday, doesn’t mean you should go out. Listen for what you really want.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
– Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” — You will find something to connect to, deeply and resonantly, in this book. I almost guarantee it. And yet refreshingly, it doesn’t feel at all like “self-help”.
– Dr. Emily Nagoski’s “Come As You Are” — A revelatory resource for women who believe they are low libido or that something is wrong with their experience of sexuality.
– Dr. Esther Perel’s “Where Should We Begin?” Podcast — A real view into real relationships that has the amazing effect of making you feel less alone in what you’ve gone or are going through.
– Cheryl Strayed’s and Steve Almond’s “Dear Sugars” Podcast — Touching, relatable, tough love mixed with deep empathy. I’ve gone on hours-long walks listening to back to back episodes, tears running down my cheeks.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
– This question is hard for me, because “greatest good” is relative and a lot of different “good” is desperately needed right now. To ground it in my own personal experience and strengths, I’d want to start a love a stranger movement — matching everyone with one other person with a totally different life and set of experiences, and offering a framework for exploration and friendship. I think small lessons in empathy can have outsize influence on how a person continues to lead their life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
– “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” — Cheryl Strayed
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
– I stayed in a relationship for years because the story seemed right, and the idea of us matched the idea I’d always had for my future. Even though the truth was, day-to-day, I knew in my gut we weren’t right for each other. Ideas don’t make for happy lives, they actually can imprison us. It’s worth considering what in your life you’re doing because you want to vs. what you’re doing because you feel you should.