From The Straits Times    |

They are all in their 20s, but the founders of Hela, a growing sex-positive community on social media, are redefining the narrative around sexual wellness. Co-founded by Shermaine Sng, 25, Zhang Jia En, 26, and Angel Tan, 23, Hela was started in 2021 with the aim to foster meaningful conversations, break barriers, and build a supportive community. Their platform, utilising social media such as Instagram, Tiktok and Twitch, challenges societal norms by symbolising the normalisation of sex through content creation on social media as well as meet-ups.

How did the idea for Hela come about?

Shermaine: All three of us met in 2021, during an entrepreneurship programme at Nanyang Technological University. Jia En and I teamed up when we discovered our shared interest in topics like STIs and sexual health. Not many others in the programme were comfortable with these subjects, so it started with just the two of us, until Angel joined us later.

Originally, we considered a contact tracing concept for STIs, but feedback from the mentors at the programme led us to shift towards a social platform addressing misconceptions and promoting sexual wellness. That’s how Hela came about.

How does Hela use platforms like Twitch, Instagram and Tiktok to educate Gen Z about sexual wellness?

Angel: We are frequent users of Tiktok, so it felt natural to launch Hela there. As we started creating more content, we began receiving more questions and comments, and thus we expanded to Instagram for in-depth discussions. Our Instagram topics cover relationship matters like boundaries and sexual identity, along with educational content on various kinks. Twitch was later incorporated for live streaming and direct engagement with the community.

@helatalk it'a time to reframe the way we think about v1rginity! #forthegirls #fortheboys #shamefree #openconversations #letstalk #mentalhealth #feminism #empoweringwomen #liberation ♬ original sound – HELA

Could you describe your individual roles within Hela? 

Shermaine: I focus on content, Angel handles business development, reaching out to brands and sponsors, while Jia En manages the production end of things, ensuring logistics are settled and events run smoothly.

How do you navigate the dynamics and challenges of discussing and educating about sexual wellness?

Jia En: One significant challenge is the misconception that we are “corrupting” younger generations by promoting sexual wellness. For some reason, there’s an association between sexual wellness and promiscuity, and we often face negative comments, even misogynistic ones, on social platforms.

Angel: We also come from pretty conservative backgrounds, and so talking to our parents about the nature of the business was challenging. But I told myself that I’m into this long term, and so I knew I had to tell my parents. It was awkward at first, but they have slowly come to understand and accept [me working in this field].

How important is it to normalise conversations around sexual wellness?

Shermaine: Sexual wellness is viewed as a basic human need and desire, similar to food. Normalising discussions is crucial to combat stigma and provide education, especially considering the increased access to sex-related content on the Internet such as porn, and the impact of societal norms.

What are your plans for the future of Hela, and how do you envision its growth?

Jia En: In the short term, we aim to challenge ourselves each year. Moving from content creation to events, the plan is to initiate projects that normalise the discussion around sexual wellness. For example, proposing period product vending machines in schools. Long-term, we envision a sex fair, akin to a food fair, where various aspects of sexual wellness are normalised and celebrated.

What does being part of Hela mean to you?

Jia En: For me, being part of Hela is a reminder and a way to stay authentic. It helps me embrace sex positivity, set boundaries, and communicate better. It started with understanding sexual roles, and Hela is a way to keep that mindset and authenticity, rather than hiding a part of myself.

Angel: Hela is a platform that challenges us to normalise conversations about sexual wellness. I see immense potential in the sexual wellness industry, envisioning a more comprehensive future education in five to 10 years. This includes understanding consent, sexual pleasure, and self-acceptance.

Shermaine: Since starting Hela, our friends have become more open with us. They now feel comfortable sharing details and seeking advice. It’s as if Hela has become a symbol of non-judgment, creating a space where people feel understood and accepted.