Welcome to The V, our weeklong series devoted to all things sex and reproductive health. This is a safe space free from "taboos," because there's no reason anyone should feel awkward talking about their bodies. That said, we'll be clearing up any misinformation on the subject, starting with this huge misnomer: The "V" in this case doesn't refer to he vagina, but he vulva, which is the anatomically correct term for external female genitalia (including the opening of he vagina). Stay tuned all week for need-to-know guides on birth control, tips for taking your orgasm to he next level, real-life stories about endometriosis, and everything in between.
Menstruation—a normal biological process experienced by approximately half the world's population—is still considered a taboo. This stigmatization silences the conversation around periods and limits our understanding of them, keeping both individuals with periods—and the marketplace serving them—behind. Not satisfied with the period products on the market and desiring to change the conversation around menstruation, two women decided to develop something new. Founder and CEO Lauren Schulte and Co-Founder and Head of Growth Erika Jensen developed Flex, a new brand disrupting the menstruation industry and changing the way we talk about periods.
Schulte never had the intention of becoming the founder of a company. But after 15 years of suffering from yeast infections after every period because of the tampons she was using, she decided to take matters into her own hands. With a nurse practitioner who refused to continue writing her prescriptions for yeast infections until she quit tampons and the only viable alternative at the time being the little-known menstrual cup (it was 2011), Schulte began looking into the marketplace and tried over 15 products looking for the right fit.
Both the applicator tampon and the menstrual cup were invented in the 1930s—so why are we still being sold products that were invented almost a century ago and have hardly updated since? This was a question Schulte sought to correct. Working in tech in San Francisco, Schulte saw how much investors were putting money into things that weren't even problems while women's health was getting left behind. She researched the space for about a year and got the courage to found the company.
Flex is a body-safe tampon alternative that gets delivered right to your door. Its convenience doesn't stop with its subscription method. Unlike traditional tampons, pads, or even cups, Flex is a menstrual disc made of a medical-grade polymer (the same used in surgical tools) and is FDA registered and hypoallergenic. Schulte and Jensen emphasize that their number one concern when developing the product was safety. "When we chose the materials for Flex, the first thing we cared about was to make sure that the materials had been used in hundreds of other products that come in contact with the body and had been tested hundreds if not thousands of times before for safety," Schulte recounts.
Flex the only internally worn period product not linked to toxic shock syndrome. In fact, it provides a solution to those prone to yeast infections or vaginal itching due to tampon shedding. Because of cotton's absorbency, tampons soak in all the healthy flora that your body works so hard to produce to help your immunity, explains Schulte. "That can disrupt the ecosystem of your vagina. Furthermore, because tampons keep menses contained within the vaginal canal, they can disrupt the pH of the vagina," she adds.
What's more is that women report that their cramping is reduced when they wear Flex because of where the disc sits in the body—right below the cervix and out of the vaginal canal (meaning users can also enjoy mess-free period-sex). Additionally, "because of the materials it's made out of, it's softer and more flexible," notes Schulte. "Flex heats up and gets more pliable once inside of your body," making it a personalized fit for each wearer.
"I think the first thing that I would say is we're not in a business to pressure people," promises Schulte. She notes how traditional period products try to shame women into using the product. Though many might be hesitant to give Flex a try, they make sure to be available to answer customer's questions and help them through the process. "Our mission is to help create a world where women feel comfortable and confident in their own body."
For Schulte and Jensen, Flex isn't just about helping women manage their periods, as it's also about changing how women—and society—perceive them. "The thing I struggle with most is how often women say that their period is gross or how they're turned off by it," confesses Jensen. "This general feeling that they can't touch their body—and I think that it stems from not knowing about their own anatomy." Schulte is sure that "in the future, women will not feel afraid of inserting a product with their own hand." Flex is at the helm of taking the conversation about periods (and the products made for them) out of the dark ages and steering the industry into a new direction free of shame and stigma.