Hello and welcome to the FemGuide! Thanks for joining my monthly update. This newsletter will cover three topics - science, startups, and social change - as they relate to the experience of being female. I believe these areas have the greatest impact on how individuals find empowerment in their biology, shatter the status quo, and transform the world as we know it.
After completing a research degree in women’s health, I now work across all three areas: conducting scientific research on the menstrual cycle, consulting for early stage FemTech companies, and working directly with women to understand their bodies and connect with their power. This newsletter will provide my recent musings across each topic.
On to our first roundup:
In the past few years, postpartum depression - when an individual becomes significantly depressed after giving birth due to a sharp change in hormone levels - has become a more recognized and well-understood issue (CC: Chrissy Teigen). Meanwhile, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a similar, highly serious issue that is still not commonly discussed.
An individual with PMDD experiences a drastic drop in hormones after ovulation (about two weeks after their period), which causes a host of debilitating symptoms. PMDD is often characterized by mental health symptoms, such as intense depression or anxiety, though many patients suffer from a severe version of physical PMS symptoms as well. Unfortunately, we still know relatively little about the symptom presentation due to the dramatic sex/gender gap in medical research. (Unsurprisingly, the intensity of my kickboxing hobby has increased in tandem with my understanding of the gravity of these research gaps.)
The official rates of PMDD are between 3-8%, but experts believe the rates are closer to 13-15%. Yes, that means 1.5/10 women feel their bodies and emotions are out of their control on a monthly basis with no idea why. These rates are highly understated in part because most females aren’t taught how to track their cycles, and thus do not make the connection between feeling suddenly depressed and a specific time in their cycle. Consequently, many women are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.
There is a huge opportunity for further research, better individual understanding, improvements in medical care and treatment options, and more. The current situation with PMDD is one of my many motivations for educating women on elements of female health, but it also creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs to step in and address this problem. I hope to see more PMDD solutions on the horizon in the FemTech space at large.
STARTUPS: Hanx + a new era of condoms
When I began my scientific degree in period health, I was initially hesitant about announcing my career path in social settings. During a birthday event at a London pub (@People’s Park Tavern wow do I miss you), a guy I semi-knew turned and asked what I did. I cringed, responding that I work to help women understand their menstrual cycles. Without a beat, he replied, “Oh you must meet Farah - she makes condoms.” Farah and I spent the rest of the night talking about how social taboos can spur business opportunities. Now, I am a passionate supporter of Farah’s company, Hanx. (And I also proudly announce my line of work.)
Hanx aims to innovate on the condom, raising the bar on materials and feel for both partners, as well as tackle stigma related to the purchasing process for women. They’ve expanded to include a cleaner, better-for-you lubricant (not something I ever anticipated being gifted in my career, but here we are) and a whole range of products for vaginal infections.
The condom + lubricant market is indicative of a larger trend: when it comes to FemTech, Europe is 10 years ahead of the U.S.
Based on my work-related research, I should be getting hit with all sorts of Hanx-esque targeted ads. But since moving back to the States this year, not one condom brand has been marketed to me (just another *always-sells-out* nonstick pan or pair of joggers). Upon further inquiry, there are a few options that do exist, but none that seem to have created any real brand awareness.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Hanx is sold not only online in the D2C market, but also at the common convenience and grocery stores (Boots, Sainsburys). Where is America’s female-marketed, better-feeling, better-for-you condom brand sold at CVS or Kroger? How has the country that brought you the lightbulb, the internet, and chocolate chip cookies not iterated on shitty Trojan? Lube for thought.
SOCIAL CHANGE: Love + Basketball
If you haven’t yet read GQ’s editorial on Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, it symbolizes massive advancements in the feminist movement for women in sports, women in love with each other, and women fighting for what they rightfully deserve. As I read it, I pictured throwing my two gender-focused degrees in the air and doing a celebratory dance.
The article gives a fantastic overview of their individual historical successes, both on and off the court/field. This is important because, despite becoming international icons, the accomplishments of both parties have been significantly understated throughout their careers.
GQ highlights not only the extent of their numerous athletic feats, but also their monumental activism. To name a few examples: Bird’s role in the Warnock campaign or Rapinoe being the first white athlete to kneel in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and the first active USWNT player to come out as gay. Moreover, it is a beautiful rendition of the story of their love, complete with absolutely stunning photography. Highly worth the full read.
And as an unexpected addition...
For the first time in my life, I finished writing 10 days before my (...self-imposed) deadline. Sue Bird then happened to launch a new company in the interim. It’s like she just *knew* when I started this newsletter I’d obviously be spotlighting her. (Tbh, I wouldn’t be surprised if telepathy was somewhere in her skillset.)
TOGETHXR is a media and commerce company that aims to amplify female athletes’ stories and women’s voices overall. It was started by four Olympians: Simone Manuel, the first American black female swimming gold medalist, Chloe Kim, the youngest female snowboarding gold medalist, and Alex Morgan, the World Cup/Olympic soccer champion, along with Bird.
Female athletes only comprise 4% of total sports media coverage. FOUR percent. TOGETHXR looks to fill the need of an untapped, but eager market: young girls and women looking for stories, role models, and inspiration who currently do not see themselves represented in mainstream media.Read the full NYT spotlight on this initiative here.
That’s all for round 1! Thanks for reading.
Quote of the week:
“I always joke that I want to be that older disgruntled athlete, because all the players who are 20, 30 or 40 years younger than me are getting paid millions and are on TV all the time because that means that I helped. That means that I did my part when I was playing and I helped move the game and move female athletes forward in some way.” - Sue Bird