Sex therapy app Lover joins FDA SteP program, raises $2M in bridge round

Lover, a digital therapeutic aimed at sexual health, has raised $2 million and been accepted into the Food and Drug Administration’s Safer Technologies Program (SteP). The company claims to be the first of its kind to reach the designation. 

SteP is a voluntary program that is meant to fast-track certain medical devices’ development for ultimate authorization. The FDA defines them as “reasonably expected to significantly improve the safety of currently available treatments.” 

The startup’s new $2 million came from a bridge funding round led by investors including Lerer Hippeau, Manta Ray, Global Founders Capital and FJ Labs. The latest capital brings Lover’s total raised to date to $7 million. The company’s main proceeds will go toward scaling marketing, its technology and its business development team. 

The company’s app relies on a personalized and evidence-based care model developed by Lover co-founder, chief science officer and licensed sex therapist Britney Blair, Psy.D. Blair was inspired to build the platform because of how many people are affected by sexual dysfunction and how few certified sex therapists there are, she told Fierce Healthcare. 

“People are starting to have the conversation more about sexual health,” Blair said. “I’m not sure why it’s been such a taboo topic for so long.”

According to Blair, most people with sexual dysfunction can be helped by a highly effective, lower-tier intervention like a digital therapeutic such as Lover. Beyond that, a smaller fraction of people may need to be escalated to telemedicine or in-person treatment. But building out a step care model is the only realistic way to scale help, Blair said.

“There’s way too much demand for what you can serve,” echoed co-founder and CEO Jas Bagniewski. Telehealth is not only more scalable but less taboo and cheaper than traditional sex therapy, he said. 

More than 85% of Lover users report a 50% or greater reduction in stress about their condition within two weeks of using the app, the company says. Lover’s app, currently available on iOS, offers an artificial-intelligence-driven questionnaire to build a user’s profile, a Tinder-like feature where two users can match on preferences and several specialized courses with prerecorded content targeted at various conditions. (In 2020, Tinder’s founder invested in Lover.) Some features require a subscription.

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Apart from Blair, there are six licensed sex therapists at Lover. The group also works together at Blair’s private practice in California. “It’s a sex therapist in your pocket,” Blair said, stressing that the app was built in a way meant to most closely resemble how patients would be treated by a licensed therapist. 

As part of its next phase, Lover plans to run a series of clinical trials sometime in the coming year, Bagniewski said. The company hopes to partner with payers, but Bagniewski expects provider relationships to be easier to establish more quickly. Lover is prepared to move up its trials if prospective partners would find it more appealing, he said.

The company says there are many emerging players in the sex therapy and wellness markets, but each is focused on something different. 

“We took a slightly different approach,” Bagniewski said. “We saw it more like therapy really—you’re there for an outcome."