Andrea Barrica was 20 years old when she started her first company, InDinero, with her freshman year roommate, Jessica Mah. It’s an accounting software company, though Barrica says she was never interested in accounting, business, finance or technology.
After three and a half years, she left the company because it wasn’t her dream. She became a venture partner in residence at a venture capital fund, 500 Startups, investing in other women around the world. And it was around that time, she says, that she started to grow into her own.
The now-27-year-old queer woman of immigrant Filipino parents grew up in a strict Catholic home, where she was taught to practice abstinence. It wasn’t until years down the line that she started exploring her sexuality but came to a standstill because the tools and resources available to her were heteronormative or simply inadequate.
“I grew up in northern California, which is arguably a progressive area, but I went to Catholic school, so I didn’t receive any sex ed,” she says. “If I didn’t receive it, I can only imagine what it was like for people elsewhere... And then there are people who don’t know anything about their bodies.”
As for Barrica, she started going off to sex-positive workshops run by Good Vibrations, and it “healed” her.
“The funny thing about all of this is that I had already started companies, but I wasn’t in touch with my sexuality at all,” she says. “It was late in my life, but I couldn’t find anything online. There was Cosmo and Planned Parenthood and Pornhub — I felt like those were my options… I had been building technologies companies and investing in technology companies and, yet, the internet had not solved this problem.”
Last year, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She raised $800,000 and garnered the interest of investors like Found Fund, X Factor Ventures and The House Fund, and she founded O.school, an 18-years-and-older digital sexual education platform that officially launched this November. She describes it as that middle ground between Planned Parenthood and online porn — neither too medical nor too gratification-focused.
In short: O.school is a virtual safe space to talk about sex and pleasure through empathy-guided learning and moderated chats with more than 65 “pleasure professionals” — half of whom are people of color and 70 percent of whom are queer. Through daily live streams on everything from masturbation to kink, BDSM, achieving orgasm and moving forward with an STI diagnosis, participants can talk candidly about sex and pleasure, unlearn shame, heal from trauma and learn how to set boundaries and pursue their curiosities.
“We’re an 18-and-up platform, but it’s not because we don’t want to teach kids; it’s because we really think there’s a massive problem with adults who are walking around without a basic education on pleasure and sex and how to be a great human in this world,” Barrica says. “And then there are a few shames. There’s religious shame, slut shame, body shame and there’s also this ‘adult shame’ like, I was supposed to know what this was — a shame of not knowing.”
She says that critics have challenged her on teaching adults rather than children, but all the shame she received was from her parents because they didn’t get the education they needed.
“In this age of the internet, 11-year-olds are watching hardcore pornography — that’s just because of phones. So I’m really proud and excited about the content that we’re bringing to the world. Nothing we do has porn or nudity, not because we don’t like porn or nudity — we love porn and nudity — however, they’re poor education vehicles. Part of what we’re trying to do is just focus on creating something so there’s another choice. Because right now the choices are silence, misinformation or porn.”
She felt like even when she got a science-based sex ed, she was only shown photographs of diseases or videos of live births via a fear-based strategy.
“Even if it’s science-based, even if it’s improving… in general, it can still be twisted with social stigmas we have around sex,” she says.
In order to ensure that O.school remains a safe, stigma-free space for viewers and pleasure professionals alike, the moderators are trained on recognizing trolls who violate O.school’s community guidelines and muting them.
“We’re thinking about the community a lot so we have fulltime moderators that we’ve hired and trained,” Barrica explains, noting that as the technology continues to develop, it should help them keep the community in check even more.
Of course, that’s just one challenge. Building and marketing O.school has been no easy business feat. Because the team were concerned about getting approved for an app due to the sexual nature of their company, for example, they didn’t spend the time building one. Rather, they poured their energy and resources into building their own streaming technology so viewers wouldn’t have to download an app.
“That was hard,” Barrica says. “But we’re focusing on one thing at a time and pulling through.”
Likewise, social media platforms prohibit the dissemination of sexual content, so getting the word out may also pose challenges. That said, Barrica adds that viewers from around the globe have already been regularly signing into every live stream.
“There are challenges we’ve had to overcome and there will be more in our future, but I’m excited that now there’s this space where, if you go every night, there’s a live stream.”
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.