Mariah Curtis of Portland dips a dropper into a new personal lubricant she's making from local, Maine seaweed. "This is a personal and massage lubricant that can be used for any sort of sexual activity,” said Curtis, 26. “It’s for any part of your body you want to have slick or wet for any reason.” Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — When contemplating amorous, late-night moves, slimy plants from the bottom of the sea probably isn’t springing into most lovers’ minds. One Maine woman hopes to change that.

She’s perfecting a seaweed-based, all-natural sexual lubricant made especially for Mainers planning on heading, uh, “Downeast.”

“This is a personal and massage lubricant that can be used for any sort of sexual activity,” said Mariah Curtis, 26, a Portland woman who grew up mostly in Orono. “It’s safe to rub it all over your body. It’s totally absorbable — or you can wash it off. It’s for any part of your body you want to have slick or wet for any reason.”

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Curtis is calling her new formula, which still needs FDA approval to be sold commercially, Sea ME Lube. It’s made from Irish moss, a local seaweed well known for its gelling properties. The crinkled, dark brown plant is abundant on the Maine coast. It thrives in water between three and 20 feet deep.

In other personal lubricants on the market sometimes Irish moss as a minor ingredient, but Curtis said hers will be the only one made primarily from the slippery aquatic plant.

“I wouldn’t call this an invention so much as a personal formula. I just have a unique approach that is more natural and sustainable than what’s currently available,” said Curtis.

[Is Maine’s seaweed industry facing a ‘gold rush’?]

Sea ME Lube has just three ingredients: Irish moss, water and a small amount of preservative to make it shelf stable. It’s almost colorless, with a slight yellow tinge, and has no discernible whiff of the ocean.

Someday, If customers want her product without the stabilizing preservatives, Curtis already has an idea for that: Frozen “lube cubes” to be thawed as needed.

That idea is still far in the future. For now, Curtis is experimenting with natural scents or flavorings to add to the formula.

“I’m currently in the market research phase for that,” she said.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

The value of inventing

Sea ME Lube is not Curtis’ first invention.

A few years ago she developed and patented a needleless sewing tool resembling a shoelace called the Sewing Lace. It allows young children to sew without the danger of a pointy needle and It also does away with the need to thread one. Sewing Laces are lengths of thread with shoelace-like plastic tips on the end, cut at an angle. The angle makes them just sharp enough to pierce most fabric.

[Seaweed on the menu for Maine harvester]

“I’ve always been a creative person. I come from a family of artists,” Curtis said. “I know very well it can be difficult to make a living from creative work but being independent is very important to me. So, I got really interested in the idea of inventing. It seemed like a great unity of creative ability and tangible, undeniable value.”

Curtis’ idea for lube came while trying to invent a disposable, eco-friendly solo sex device for men.

“I’m a really sex-positive person, it’s really important to me. There aren’t as many outlets for men that feel casual and fun to indulge themselves with,” Curtis said. “So I got an idea to develop a disposable sex toy for men.”

[Portland lingerie store uses local customers as models]

She wanted it to be eco-friendly, all natural and biodegradable. It was clear that this device would require some kind of lubrication.

“Through experimenting with many substances, I found my way to seaweed,” Curtis said.

It was an “ah-ha” moment and, for now, the rest of the original idea is sitting on the shelf.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Friends in the seaweed world

From the start, Curtis found support and enthusiasm for her idea in Maine’s commercial seaweed community.

Josh Rogers is a former Google product developer who now runs the Heritage Seaweed Shop in Portland. Rogers’ shop is a boutique selling all things seaweed including food, cosmetics and home goods. He developed and produces seaweed-based Cup of Sea teas, as well.

“She just walked in one day and said she was making seaweed lube,” said Rogers. “I just blinked and said, ‘Cool.’”

[Why a Portland artist is giving you permission to touch her]

Since then, he’s mentored Curtis, giving her marketing and networking advice. He’s a real believer in her product and sees it as more than just a novelty.

One of the first things Rogers did to help was hook Curtis up with seaweed harvester Micah Woodcock of Deer Isle. Woodcock happened to walk into Rogers’ shop just after Curtis left.

Rogers told Woodcock about Curtis’ lube idea and he was immediately interested in helping.

“He bounded out the door after her,” said Rogers.

Woodcock, who runs Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed, caught up with Curtis that day and they started working together.

[A Maine man is making tea out of seaweed and people are drinking it]

“I often collaborate with customers and companies interested in making value-added products with seaweed, and have been keeping my ear to the ground for someone interested in making a seaweed based lubricant for quite a while,” said Woodcock. “Seaweed based lubricants have reputedly been used in Asia for millenia, and I have customers who have been making seaweed based lubes at home for many years with great results.”

Woodcock makes his living hand-harvesting six different kinds of seaweed, including Irish moss, off Stonington and Isle au Haut.

“Along the coast of Maine, Canada, and Ireland, Irish moss has been traditionally used as a natural thickener to make pudding, and to thicken soups and stews,” said Woodcock. “I suspect it has long been used topically as well, but I don’t think those recipes made it into the cookbooks.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Sliding forward

Curtis isn’t ready to tell Sea ME Lube commercially just yet. First, she needs to clear a few governmental approval hurdles, do a bit more testing and product refinement.

For now, she’s looking for business partners to help grow her company and retail outlets to carry the product.

“I feel like I’m on an adventure. I’ll go wherever the road takes me. I’m ambitious. I’d like to see this grow. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be more competition in this area, forcing the market into more natural, community-based solutions,” said Curtis. “Every person, who is an adult, has some sort of relationship with their sexuality and it should be celebrated. There’s no reason to keep that under the covers.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

The public is invited to get a first hand look at Sea ME Lube on March 14 at Heritage Seaweed Shop in Portland. Curtis will be on hand to mingle, answer questions and get feedback.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.