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How These 5 Women Are Changing The Way We Deal With Periods

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    Photographed by Tayler Smith.

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    This story was originally published on Jun. 17, 2016.

    Periods are a totally normal part of human life. Yet, somewhere along the line, through centuries of stigma, we've forgotten that. Whether you think periods are gross, a painful nightmare, or a beautiful representation of what our bodies can do is completely up to you. But the one thing we can't stand any longer is being shamed for menstruating.

    For too long, that shame has kept women silent — and discouraged any innovation in making periods less of a hassle. Fortunately, that's beginning to change. We've seen a plethora of period-tracking apps, tampon-subscription boxes, and a variety of menstrual cups, tampons, and gadgets become available in recent years. And that's just the beginning.

    Ahead, we talked to five women who are actively changing the way we deal with periods — both the actual physical experience and the stigma that comes with that — about their products and the challenges they faced in bringing their inventions to the world.


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  2. Photo: Courtesy of Clue.

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    Ida Tin

    Product: Clue, a non-gendered app that helps track your periods and everything that comes with them.

    What have been the major obstacles in getting Clue out there?
    "The biggest initial obstacle was demonstrating the value and opportunity of a women’s health app in what is a vastly male-dominated tech scene. But at Clue, we believe that family planning and fertility affect 100% of the population. Even if you don’t experience a menstrual cycle yourself, you are almost certainly close to someone who does. Women may be underrepresented in tech, but there is no denying that women are starting to make a name for themselves within the industry — digital female health is one of the fastest-growing sectors."

    What have you learned about periods through the creation of Clue?
    "That period-tracking isn't new; it's something women have been doing throughout history, which is so important, as every cycle is unique. Knowing when your next period is coming is critical information at every stage of life, for planning both your daily life and your reproductive life."


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    What can we do to continue normalizing periods?
    "I think it's important that women's health keeps moving away from its status as a 'niche.' I remember people said that about Clue when I started, and I always thought, How can a product for half the world's population be niche? So women's health needs champions — [including] startups like ours, and doctors and researchers, and of course patients themselves — to continue to be pushed into the spotlight and given the proper support and resources.

    "Periods are not something we should have to talk about in hushed tones. You wouldn’t think twice to mention that you have a headache or sore throat, for example. And when people feel as comfortable talking about cramps or other period-related symptoms, only then have we managed to fully break down the stigma surrounding them."

  4. Photo: Courtesy of Flex.

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    Lauren Schulte

    Product: Flex, a small, secure "menstrual disc."

    Where did the idea for Flex come from?
    "I have spent 25% of my life on my period, and about another 25% with a persistent yeast infection. It wasn't until I moved to California about six years ago that a nurse practitioner brought it to my attention that my persistent infection and vaginal discomfort could be a result of tampons, which I was using every month for my period.

    "Switching to natural tampons did not help. Years later, I learned about menstrual cups and actually tried five different kinds. My yeast infections went away, but I found the cups difficult to insert and remove, and I didn't love the idea of rinsing and reusing them for five years. I felt like it was kind of inconvenient."

    Did you have to correct any misconceptions during the development of Flex?
    "Yes, a lot... In the process, I realized my mission was talking to both men and women about periods and menstruation and answering a lot of questions. It wasn’t always easy to do that. I'm naturally a pretty introverted person. Sometimes men would just walk away from me mid-conversation.

    "But I met other men who, at bars or parties with friends, would just start crying and telling me these questions they’ve suffered with. Or they haven’t been able to connect with their partner about her period because she feels uncomfortable and they feel embarrassed. We’ve received letters from dads, thanking us for what we’re doing for their daughters, because they’ve struggled with ways to talk to their daughters about reproductive health.

    "On the female side, there's also a lot of misunderstanding, whether it has to do with not understanding that period sex isn’t any more dangerous than regular sex, or having a lot of questions about anatomy. When I tell women that Flex works by creating a barrier between their cervix and their vaginal canal, a lot of women don’t know where their cervix is."

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    What can we do to continue normalizing periods?
    "I think that it really starts with the education of children. We made a video for Menstrual Hygiene Day where we talked to three kids that had never heard about periods. The girl was 7 and the boys were 10. At the end of the video, they can describe what menstruation is. And we asked them if they thought it was weird, and they said no. They knew instinctively; it's not weird, because it happens to all women... So I really think better education is the way to stop stigma for women in general."

  6. Photo: Courtesy of Thinx.

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    Miki Agrawal

    Product: Thinx, underwear that comfortably absorbs your menstrual flow. Icon pee-proof undies and Tushy bidet attachment coming soon.

    What kind of period stigma have you noticed in your own life?
    "Every time I talk about it, people are giggling like schoolchildren. Especially as we were starting the company, it was still very uncomfortable to talk about. Any time there was a guy in the room, they would kind of glance over several times like, Why are you talking about this in front of a guy?

    "We're still facing it as a growing company, even though we've hit this period-and-feminism turning point. We can barely work with modeling agencies, we still can't advertise in places like taxis, and we still can’t be on morning shows, because it's still too taboo. There’s still so many stigmas that we’re fighting every day."