Laila Pilgren, CEO & Founder Sex Academy
Laila Pilgren is a woman on a mission. As founder of an academy dedicated to educating people about sex, Laila gives us a fascinating peek into the work of a pioneer and an industry that needs more recognition.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Back in 2012, I realised a sex academy didn't exist yet, so I decided to open one.
It was only eight years later that I decided to take a master's in sexology. Taking this course helps me avoid having to correct people who believed that I was a sexologist. Don't tell anybody, but I still consider myself a businesswoman. I'm also a riding instructor, a real estate agent, a project manager specialised in palaeontology, and I speak five languages, oh, and I'm a mum.
What kind of work does your role involve?
How many email accounts do you manage?! I am too embarrassed to admit the number of email accounts I open every day. The thing is, I have several brands, and I try to keep them separated, which can be hard work.
In the end, it's all about sex-ed, but painting it with different colours. I can use red for Sex Academy, but "La Otra Educación" (the other education) needs to be green because it's for schools and children. Every day is spent busily managing my team of 25 sexologists (yes, they are real sexologists, and most of them are also psychologists). I also spend a lot of time making connections with other companies in the industry, organising congresses, and making my ideas real.
In my head, I have the feeling I'm building puzzles.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I'm in the sex education industry, and my team helps people achieve a healthier sex life, whether through courses, workshops, or therapy. There is still so much to do in this field, but helping just the few people we can reach makes me very happy every day.
Sexuality has traditionally been used as a form of repression against women and other "minorities". Pleasure has not been on the discussion table until recently; sex was considered simply a method of control used for procreation. The little we are taught in school, if anything at all, focuses on unwanted pregnancies and scary diseases.
In other countries, women have their clitoris removed or are married as children. Even in our western society, there are still women who believe they should not bathe when they have their period or are dirty and smell terrible (thanks to certain tv commercials). We are even categorised as lunatics due to so-called PMS, but then again, nobody tells you about menopause because who wants to know about women not being fertile anymore.
So yes, all this, plus tantra, BDSM (not the dreadful Fifty shades of Grey), plus up to 40 courses in sexuality, make me love my job. The phrase of a client, "finally I found you", makes me smile because I know exactly what they mean. I offer them a safe place where they can talk without fear of being judged.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I wasn't really given advice during my younger years. Coming from a Danish family, we tend to keep a low profile; you want to be discreet and not brag about anything. I guess we did enough of that during our Viking era!
However, one day, I met Daniel Epstein (on the Forbes 'Impact 30' list), and he told me I was a superwoman. I didn't quite understand why, so I just thanked him. But my simple advice for anyone would be to do everything the best you can and try to improve and keep learning. It's also important to make constant self-evaluations. Can I make today better than yesterday?
What's the best way to support aspiring leaders in your field?
Every year, for the last decade, I have taken in interns from various fields. From sexologists to moviemakers to photographers. Especially in Spain, it seems very hard for young people to find a company where they can put their abilities to practice. Many of those apprentices have stayed with the Sex Academy after their training period, and I am so grateful they chose my company.
I ask every person who approaches me what it is they love to do. Not what they have written in their CV, not what they think will earn them a good living, but what they like to spend their time on. Sometimes it's writing, and sometimes it's being in front of the camera, sometimes behind. It could be translating or wanting of starting a podcast. Once they dare to tell me what they like, that immediately becomes part of their job. I am very proud to know that everybody in my team is happy with their job. Isn't that amazing?
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
We have a few sources that will keep us updated but, unfortunately, there is very little research in our industry, and what exists is mainly regarding sex toys.
The other great driver in our industry is porn. So there we are, between toys and porn, trying to make a space for education. I am connected to a few people going for PhDs in Sexology and reading news on LinkedIn, but it's a very small world.
Once a year, I organise a big event called EroStreet Festival. It's a 2-day festival where people from the industry come together, and we do networking both mornings. We offer workshops and round discussion tables, which makes us share what we have worked on during the previous year. It is also open to the general public, which gives us a feel of what people are interested in.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
Everybody wants to know about sex, but nobody wants to admit it. The challenges I face on an everyday basis involve:
Not being able to open a bank account
Not being able to pay for advertising on social media platforms
Having to explain that we don't have sex with customers.
Yeah, one could choose to laugh about it, but some days it gets tiring.
Some of my brands are filled with euphemisms to make it easier to get to people. So we call it "Wanted Edu" instead of Sex Ed, and "La Otra Educación" = The other education, and hope that the right people will guess the rest.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
READ! OMG, that would buy me time to get through all the amazing books that are waiting on my nightstand. I'm a sucker for knowledge and spreading it.
I would also open a million more Sex Academies worldwide and help spread the information regarding sexual health. I can't believe knowledge is kept from people. It hurts my soul to imagine that there are girls who still think they are dying when their first period arrives because nobody has talked them through the change process that their bodies will go through.
Women who are having sex to calm their partners and avoid fights, because it's easier than explaining that you don't feel like it or haven't even discovered how they like it. Or those in their 40s or 50s and say, "I'm not sure whether I have had an orgasm". Woman, you haven't. If you are uncertain, you probably haven't had one.
So, yes, give me that $10 million lottery ticket, dear God, and I will try to make this world a moanful one!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I watch Sex Education on Netflix and am still waiting for next season at the moment. Also, if my horse is up to it, we go out for a ride in the mountains. I'm also a beach volley addict. So any outside activity makes me relax. My friends want to talk about their sex life with me, and I get it; there aren't so many chances to openly talk about their intimacy without being judged.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I wished there was a competent sex-ed policy for schools, and I don't mean a 2-hour talk to a 14-year-old. That's a drop of water in the desert. Imagine kids, and I mean small children, being taught from the beginning what the parts of their body are called, and not just your nose and elbow, but your penis and vulva.
Children who were 100% clear about what consent means; who would understand the changes in their bodies as they happened. Adults that could express their feelings and desires, being responsible for themselves and knowing that human interactions are more complex than a Whatsapp message. Basically, I would love my company not to exist.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Curious Fox podcast and Esther Perel, and obviously the Sex Academy's podcast!
How should people connect with you?
You can find all my projects on my website http://www.lailapilgren.com/
and from there, you can choose where to go :-).
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