When Janice Lee quit her well-paying job in Human Resources (HR) after 14 years and began selling and marketing sex toys, she had a tough time explaining why to her family and friends.
“My parents often asked me, why you cannot be like your friends, you know, settle down in Singapore, get married, have kids and continue doing your HR job, rather than do something so different.”
And doing “something so different” not only entails diving headfirst into the world of sex toys, but also pushing the products at Watsons stores three days a week when she first started.
Describing the typical reaction of customers she would approach: “When they see that it is sex toys, then they become a bit more paiseh, then they start retreating. And eventually they say, ‘that’s very interesting, but no, thank you’.”
She noted that “in Singapore, the interesting thing is that we appear very modern and progressive, but we are very (up)tight.
“So anything related to this topic (about sex), they tend to shy away and not engage in it.”
Expectedly, the 41-year-old often gets questions about why she’s chosen this unusual path in life.
Janice pins it down to her open personality, where “what you see is what you get”, and her belief in doing work that’s aligned with her values. And that includes sexual wellness.
“If you think about it, sexual wellness is part of total wellbeing, just that we tend to see sex and relationships as separate.”
“I believe very much in being able to take care of myself, and that involves getting to know your body,” she says.
“How can you expect someone to give you pleasure when you don’t know how to do it yourself?”, sharing that she only discovered her own sexuality as a grown woman at the age of 34.
Losing her hair
But the abrupt about-turn in her life’s trajectory wouldn’t have occurred if not for the sudden onset of alopecia in 2013. Alopecia is an auto-immune condition which results in patchy hair loss.
Her hair was dropping at such an alarming rate that she had to shave it all off. The distress caused her to fall into “circumstantial depression”. That’s when she decided to take a six-month sabbatical from work to recuperate.
After escaping to the Americas, where she fell in love with Mexico and its people, Janice returned to Singapore, decompressed and rejuvenated.
By then, her hair had grown back and she resumed her HR work. But after a year, she was hit by yet another condition — endometriosis — which caused her to have “very bad menstrual cramps”.
She took it as a sign to take a longer break, and “that’s when I decided to quit my job”.
“I think it was my body trying to tell me that it was time for me to look into my own health, and my own emotional well-being, and not to focus too much on chasing the corporate lifestyle.”
With that, Janice took off and travelled across Europe and South America for about two years.
It was a chance meeting with the founder of Hong Kong-based sex toy company VeDO at a Christmas party in Singapore in 2017 that led her to explore marketing sex toys as a career.
After they both hit it off at the party, Janice half-joked about being open to being a part-time sales promoter for the brand at Watsons’ stores in Singapore. Sure enough, he called her back a few days later to take up her offer and she accepted.
She’s now moved on to become a business development consultant for the brand and is an ambassador for two other adult toy brands in Singapore, Womanizer and We-Vibe.
Looking back on her previous lifestyle, she says: “In my corporate days, when I was an HR professional, and I was in a management role as well, of course, the money was very good. But if you ask me, I don’t miss any of it. None of it.”
Janice finds new purpose in what she does now, and one of them is to reduce what’s called the “pleasure gap” between men and women, a bedroom situation where women are often expected to give while the men receive.
She explains: “I think it’s time that women especially get to discover their bodies, learn more about what gives them pleasure, what gives them an orgasm, and feel that it’s okay to do it. I want to reduce the impact of the shaming, because there’s a lot of shaming of women when it comes to sexuality and our bodies.”
“That’s why for me, representing and doing consulting for sex toy companies, or sexual wellness type of companies is something that is still very much aligned to my own core philosophy.”
She shares the story of how a 50-year-old domestic worker in Singapore had bought a toy from her once, only to have her husband ask her angrily, “don’t you love me anymore?”. He hid the toy from her and she never found it again.
“That incident is the most disturbing one I’ve ever encountered, but since then, I have heard of similar reactions from men, and it is going to be an uphill journey to change their mindset,” says Janice. She shares with couples that “sex toys are not the problem”, and “they can even be a solution to one of the problems, but it has to be openly discussed”.
At the end of the day, “it’s just a toy”, says Janice, “I wouldn’t say it makes or breaks a relationship”.
A super cool job
On regular days, the reactions she gets from people who know she sells sex toys for a living has been amusing, says Janice.
“A lot of people laugh when they find out that I sell sex toys. And some of them, especially women, think it’s a super cool job, particularly when they already use sex toys. Many a time, I become their new best friend,” she jokes.
However, among her own group of friends, she admits that it’s still “a very difficult subject to talk about”.
“They’re supportive of what I do, but when I want to give them samples or whatever, they will keep quiet,” she shares.
But Janice has found support in surprising corners, such as a 70-year-old taxi uncle who asked her what she did for a living.
She didn’t shy away from answering the question truthfully, but his response left a deep impact.
“He said ‘whatever you’re doing is great’, and it was something that really touched me because you would have expected somebody who’s a lot more mature to be more old-fashioned, but instead, he was super open and even encouraging. And that was something that stayed with me till today.”
And despite a huge falling out with her family at the start due to her career path, they’ve since turned a corner and are now fully behind her in what she does.
“Sometimes you don’t have to expect your loved ones to understand you. But if they can give you unconditional love and support, this is the best that anyone can reach for. So in my own life, I will say that I have an awesome family and an amazing community for me to do what I do. And it has really helped me.”