Sex & Relationships

9 Ways Female Entrepreneurs Are Making Your Vagina's Health a Priority

Trump might not be, but the vaginal wellness industry is looking out for us.

Photo Credit: Dan Kosmayer/Shutterstock

The day after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, women hopped on to Twitter to make a plea: get an IUD. Today. One that will outlast the Trump presidency. Throughout his campaign, the Trump has made promises that, if fulfilled, would have a devastating impact on women’s reproductive rights. If we can say anything about the next four years, it’s that politics might not fall on the right side of the issue. But there are people who will continue to fight the good fight,and some are even making a business out of it. Today, there is a pool of female entrepreneurs on the scene looking to embolden the cause of women's reproductive and sexual health by championing the very thing that sets us apart: our vaginas. Listed below are 9 marketplace introductions to give us some hope going forward.

1. “Natural” solutions

If knowing what we put into our bodies is at all important, then menstruating women appear to be out of luck. Unlike food and cosmetics, menstrual products are not required to list the ingredients on the box. That’s not exactly a move that inspires confidence, especially since tampons have been linked to complications like Toxic Shock Syndrome. For those who aren’t interested in introducing the chemicals mainstream commerical tampons contain into their bodies, organic options exist. Like sea sponge tampons, a bathing alternative that used to be popular among the ancient Greeks. Organic cotton tampons are another popular option, as are reusable pads. Both could help put concerns around the long-term effects of chemically-treated tampon use to rest.

Of course, there is another, albeit less popular option out there: no tampon. As Sharra Vostral writes in Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology, “By using a tampon or sanitary napkin you can pass as a non-bleeder.” The real liberation, she says, comes with eradicating the need to conceal our menstruation in the first place. Unfortunately, reality and social norms continues to block our progress with that one. Until the bloodhound movement fully kicks off, we’ll have to stick to blocking or absorbing the flow.

2. Disease-tracking tampons

“Sometimes you have no way of knowing what’s happening on the inside,” reads one of the eeriest tampon adverts in history. Of course, if president elect Donald Trump takes back his support for Planned Parenthood and follows through on the Republican push to defund the nonprofit , he won’t just be slashing services to prevent unintended pregnancy, he’ll be stripping access to tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases as well. And yeah, if that happens, then it certainly will be more difficult to know what’s happening “on the inside.”

But NexGen Jane, a company dedicated to healthcare management, is trying to introduce a way for women to do just that, on their own terms, in their own homes. And that mission starts with the development of the world’s first “smart” tampon.

Every month, women are presented with a unique and noninvasive opportunity to collect information regarding their sexual health. Every month, we menstruate. NexGen Jane is looking to capitalize on that. The aim is to use the blood and cells collected during a woman’s menstrual period to test for sexually transmitted infections, including HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. You can read more about the company here.

3. Products for period sex

If you’re looking for a piece of breaking non-news, here it is: most people don’t think period sex is sexy. People are so freaked out by the concept, that a number of bloggers have actually been encouraged to write “how-to” guides for those willing to give it a try. But if you’re the kind of person that demands a mess-free experience (probably because you want your cake, and to eat it too?), you might want to think about Flex. The device is designed to sit at the base of the cervix to collect the menstrual fluid. Meanwhile, the vaginal canal is left clear for entry. While it’s true many women feel insecure about having sex on their period, a number of women have also admitted feeling friskier during menstruation. According to the Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) organization, it’s not uncommon for women to experience a peak in sexual desire during their periods. That’s because levels of progesterone, the hormone responsible for decreasing libido, are at their lowest during your period. So really, everybody wins.

4. Period-proof panties

Thinx is brand that provides “period-proof” underwear to those who are tired of using other costly products. The underwear can hold an estimated two tampons worth of blood. So rather than run to the bathroom every few hours while menstruating, you can breathe a littler easier. And while the invention alone introduces a novel approach to periods, the real buzz came with their attempts to advertise the product. New Yorkers might remember the ads plastered around the city subway system featuring women wearing the full-coverage underwear. The copy read “For Women With Periods.” But Outfront Media, the company that sells the subways ad space felt the ads weren’t appropriate for subway riders (meanwhile, images featuring disembodied, floating breasts designed to sell breast enlargement surgery are). Oh, and if we haven’t mentioned it five out of the seven members of Outfront’s leadership team are men. “You don’t want to talk about how women’s bodies actually work, but you want to doctor the way a woman feels about her body?” asked THINKX CEO Miki Agrawal. Fortunately, the ads stayed up.

5. Condoms made for women, by women

There’s a difference between a female condom and a female-friendly condom. The folks over at Lovability Condoms specialize in the latter. Housed in a container that looks more like lip gloss than the traditional condom wrapping, the product is designed to make women feel more comfortable both buying and carrying condoms, and introducing them to their respective partners. But the point extends beyond introducing the condom as a female accessory. Research has shown that women are more inhibited than men about buying and keeping condoms. The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior finds that condom use by females between the ages of 18-24 is only 38.7 percent compared to 45 percent for males the same age category. Recent estimates hold that there are upwards of 20 million STI diagnoses in the U.S. every year, and of the estimated 123 million women who become pregnancy each year, 46 million end in abortion. It’s because of stats like these that Lovaility founders Tiffany and Claire consider the condom the “ultimate female-power tool.” In keeping with the wellness trend, all the condoms are 100% natural vegan latex. Unwrap, and enjoy.

6. The Period Game

American sex education is pretty dismal as it stands. And there's no indication that a Trump/Pence presidency is going to help matters much. It’s unfortunate that we can’t rely on our schools to provide adequate information on sex to kids, but knowing that this is now a reality, it’s probably time to take a do-it-yourself approach. First stop: periods. In 2016, designers Daniela Gilsanz and Ryan Murphy won the Red Dot Design Award for “The Period Game,” a card game designed to destigmatize a normal part of female development. “The act of playing creates an open and engaging environment where players can learn and say words like “period” and “tampon” without the usual discomfort and taboos found in society,” the site states. So parents, take note. Christmas is coming. Yeah, including you, parents of boys.

7. Protecting your pubes

Porn has made its way into our bedrooms, a fact exemplified by the thousands of “real women” whose pubic hair regiment now mimics those you see having sex on screen. Of course, your body, your choice. Even if it’s the “choice” is dictated by intense pressures to conform to shifting beauty ideals. And research has shown that younger women are most vulnerable to these kinds of not-so-subtle suggestions. The least we can do is make the transition from bush to bald as painless as possible. After all, it’s easy to knick yourself shaving. It can also lead to ingrown hairs, and in some cases follicular infections. So I guess we can celebrate that there is a dermatologically and gynecologically tested product to keep those risks at a minimum.

8. Egg-freezing made easy (and affordable)

As of 2010, women made up 47 percent of the work force. And while economic independence is certainly something to be celebrated, it does introduce some new realities. Like the fact that women are waiting longer to have children

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), female fertility hits its peek during our early 20’s, and declines dramatically at 35. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, the inability to conceive has been linked to anxiety, depression and stress. Early intervention, we know, is the best way to combat the issue, and freezing our eggs is an important option to present women who want to wait on getting pregnant. Unfortunately, it’s also a hugely costly endeavor. Those looking for cheaper options can check out Extended Fertility, an egg freezing facility that offers their services for half the price of other options on the market. Because not all progress needs to come marked by sacrifice.

9. Menstrual Tech

A menstrual cup is a sustainable feminine hygiene product that is worn inside the vagina during your period to collect menstrual fluid. A “smart” menstrual cup does all that while tracking your fluid volume, color and analyzing your cycles. It’s also known as the LoonCup, and it relies on a senor and antenna to deliver information about your menstrual cycle directly to your iPhone, a stunt made possible by Bluetooth. You can read more about the company here.

 

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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