Isharna Walsh was several years into a long-term relationship when she had a life-changing realization.
“We’d hit that point where the sex sort of decreases,” Walsh says, “and I realized I had no idea how to consistently create intimacy, talk about sex, or navigate the things I was experiencing.”
She started looking for resources and quickly discovered she was hardly alone — lots of people needed such help. “I had this light-bulb moment,” she says. “Improving this part of our lives flows into everything else; it’s foundational to our health and happiness.”
Walsh partnered with a who’s-who of intimacy experts — including psychologists, therapists, educators, and researchers — to create Coral. The app uses science-based lessons, conversations, and guided meditations and exercises to help users deepen their intimacy. Walsh hopes that, on a bigger scale, Coral can help normalize sex and remove some of the baggage many people have around it.
We caught up with the Los Angeles–based founder to chat about the advantages of being a first-time app creator and the challenges of being a groundbreaker.
Coral tackles a subject that’s sensitive for a lot of people. How do you design for that?
There’s a lot of nuance around sexuality and intimacy. It’s a very taboo topic, and there’s a deep vulnerability in opening up to someone intimately. But there’s also excitement and fun. In the design, we want to make you feel very safe, like this is a place where you’re going to be respected and seen. At the same time we want to make you feel curious. That’s a hard needle to thread.
How do you ensure the app speaks to everyone?
Personalization is one of our core guiding principles. Are you seeing content tailored toward people with vulvas or people with penises? Or toward people who are in relationships? We also have content versioned around what we learn about you. If you identify yourself as having experienced trauma, you’re going to see something a little different.
Does your mission expand beyond intimacy?
I’ve been really interested in mental health for years, and I see this as the biggest opportunity to drive change in the space. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, sex, and intimacy — they impact the way we feel on a daily basis. From a more holistic perspective, we’re trying to unpack a lot of the shame and baggage around a very natural and healthy aspect of our being.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
We’re trying to create something brand new. There’s no, “OK, here’s what a sexual self-improvement practice is.” We’re figuring all of that out. And there are issues around advertising policies: Are we a sex product, or are we mindfulness and psychology? Being a female founder in this context has its own challenges too. But we have a deep belief in the changes we’re making and the inevitability of our success. Maybe our path isn’t going to be as clear as some others, but I just know that this needs to exist.
Where does the name come from?
I love to scuba dive, and the first time I went diving I thought, “There’s a whole world here, but we never see it.” Sexuality is similar. It exists but is often hidden. You don’t really know what’s there until you go take a look.