Blog by Sarah Dubow
When you think of men’s health, what words come to mind? “Bigger”, “longer”, and “stronger” are often the verbiage utilized to signify male health enhancement. But, when it comes to women, our vocabulary falls short to explain the complex experiences of sexual, reproductive, and hormonal health. In fact, the words “vagina” and “vulva” are often banned from TV advertisements and classified as “adult content” on social media platforms. If we can’t use the anatomical words for a woman’s body, then it becomes incredibly challenging to have meaningful conversation about women’s health.
At Serendipity, a first of its kind conference that unites women across ages and industries, this topic of language was front and center at the Women’s Health salon, which was hosted by Nicole Dahlstrom, Women of Wearables Bay Area Ambassador and founder of FemTech Collective and Nimisha Gandhi, founder of Moon Cycle Nutrition.
We’re sharing our five takeaways from the conference on the ways FemTech is changing the language of women’s health with insights from one of the attendees: Rebecca Story of The Bloomi. With a masters in sexuality studies and a track record of working for successful female health startups, Rebecca birthed The Bloomi from a desire for cleaner, simpler products that addressed intimate health needs. In addition to a suite of products ranging from organic tampons to period underwear, The Bloomi also offers essential health advice for those seeking to have more honest conversations in the space.
Rebecca, as well as the other Serendipity attendees, made it abundantly clear: they will be the catalysts to change the way we talk about women’s health. Here’s how the industry is shaping a new conversation:
1. It’s Normalizing Stigmatized Conversations
Why can we complain about sore shoulders but hesitate to share when our uterus is aching? How is it that men talk so openly about Viagra but so few of us know of the female near-equivalent Flibanserin?
The largest barrier is simply that these conversations are not socially acceptable in most circles — a relic from days where women were expected to be prim and proper and cast their womanhood in a cloak of mystery. The FemTech industry is eradicating this old-world way of thinking. FemTech companies like Maven Health are making these conversations easier to have
with a female-focused approach to medical care that makes sex, periods, and hormonal issues regular territories of discussion for a woman’s healthcare plan.
Advertising is also a large barrier. “We have to collaborate and understand what we’re not being given access to — a major tool for women’s health is education and if we’re limited with where we can provide that education, we reduce the scope of our reach.” Rebecca shares. Many FemTech companies have begun to work more closely with the social platforms to change protocols that limit their ability to use appropriate language for their products. Others are finding innovative ways to advertise like Hey Girls UK, which printed a pad cut out to highlight the grim options for girls who can’t afford sanitary items.
“The bar is so much higher when it comes to women. We are complicated and so the language we use is more complex, but that should never be a barrier to having these essential conversations.”
2. It’s Providing Essential Information for Women To Better Understand Their Bodies
With conversations around women’s health so stigmatized, the data show women are failing to ask their physicians critical questions about their health. Enter the internet. “The internet is such a blessing. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there that’s only growing, but it’s important to vet sources and make sure information is credible. Thankfully, there are companies with incredible missions that are having great women’s health conversations, content and ultimately making these important topics fun.” Rebecca says. Rebecca’s company, The Bloomi, shares advice on everything from How To Use & Clean Your Period Underwear to Erogenous Zones as Sensitive as Drake.
Other FemTech companies like Moment Health, genneve, and Lioness, are sharing critical information on topics like making maternal mental health mainstream, pain in menopause, and how on earth to define sapiosexuality.
“The first step is engaging online,” Rebecca explains, taking a deep breath before sharing, “the next, and more difficult step, is bringing those conversations into the real world and making them normal.”
3. It’s Connecting and Amplifying Powerful Female Voices
This year, for the first time, Serendipity hosted a Women’s Health salon focused on bringing these conversations to life. Attendees, “feel the same sense of urgency to talk about women’s health” Rebecca says. She goes on to explain that as today’s climate continues to ignite fear in marginalized communities, it is the role of her and other women’s health companies to be open, to have the hard conversations, and to advocate for all that is positive in women’s health no matter what people say.
Beyond Serendipity too, the FemTech industry is seeing already powerful voices like Serena Williams, Sophia Bush, and Halsey, use their celebrity to bring light to women’s health issues. Before Serena Williams, most people had no idea that black women in America are three times more likely to die during child birth. By sharing her story, Williams brought women’s health out of the shadows and sparked a conversation that was met with an outpouring of support and interest — evidence enough that women are craving a way to have these conversations.
Williams is emphatic about sharing our stories, “This helps. We can help others. Our voices are our power.”
You can hear the excitement in Rebecca’s voice too, “There’s enormous movement now with so many companies discussing taboo topics. The goal is to get to a point where we are all able to talk about sex and pregnancy and periods as regular health concepts versus stigmatized words. We’re getting there, but it’s going to take all of us.” By connecting and amplifying these voices, conferences like Serendipity are helping women become more aware of their options, feel more comfortable speaking openly about their health, and are providing role models to emulate for a more fulfilling future.
4. It’s Applying Examples From Across the Globe
Speaking openly about topics like sexual health may be a fairly new concept in the U.S. but in other countries, it’s old (and important) news. In Denmark, sex education starts at an incredibly young age. While the U.S. may bristle at the idea of having “the talk” with our youngest citizens, the data behind the practice speaks for itself. “I wish the U.S. would better understand that sex shouldn’t be one big conversation.” says Rebecca. “Many smaller, age appropriate, and ongoing conversations are proven to be much more beneficial and to take away the stigma associated with sex.” The Danish who practice this, in fact, have one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, less occurrence of STDs, and a lower divorce rate.
FemTech is taking note and seeking to start these conversations earlier with brands like LOLA introducing a “first period kit” to have conversations about womanhood before the questions begin.
In Denmark, a simple turn of phrase may be a major factor in all ages better understanding the topic. It’s not called the limiting one-act “sex ed”. Their term? The better, and more all encompassing “sexuality education”.
5. It’s Quickly Becoming an Unstoppable Force
With destigmatized conversations, a blossoming of women’s health resources, and the connection and rising up of powerful voices, it’s no wonder that FemTech is changing the way we talk about women’s health. The exciting part is these conversations are only the beginning. Last year, female VCs received less than 3% of all funding. Despite this, FemTech is poised to become a $50 billion industry by 2025. This, coupled with a new wave of activism, increased attention from the media, and a rise in R&D investments in women’s health will fundamentally change the way we talk about women’s health and make the industry unstoppable.
Rebecca ends our conversation at this, “It’s time for us to truly change the way we talk about our health and sexuality. Seek out and support the companies that are making an impact. Learn how to talk about your experience. Connect and share with others. If we do that, we’ll change the face of women’s health.”
This article was written by Sarah Dubow. Sarah is a healthcare strategist, women’s rights activist, and wellness aficionado. She graduated from Bucknell University with a double major in Psychology and English where her passion for women’s health was first ignited. She is extremely passionate about the FemTech space and strongly believes it is a critical component to closing the gender gap in healthcare. She is also a volunteer ambassador for FemTech Collective, the first organization connecting innovators in female health globally. To see more from Sarah, visit her online wellness community The Lemon Tribe.