I started my entrepreneurial journey with a vision of making the menstrual cup mainstream. I quickly became aware of the ways women silently suffer through period leaks, incontinence, and painful intercourse.
Words by Elise Maxwell / Photography by Marie Ketring /
Illustration by Meghan Murphy
Ova Woman is ending the days of silent suffering. We want all women to have access to intimate products that increase their confidence and comfort. The menstrual cup is just the beginning. It’s time for a revolution in women’s intimate health.
I use a menstrual cup and have for over ten years. The cup has provided me greater comfort and confidence during my period. I can insert my cup in the morning and go about my day without the worry of finding a tampon or leaking through my pants. I have interviewed many women and the majority have either never heard of the menstrual cup, or are only vaguely familiar with the product. Fewer than 10% of women in the U.S. use a menstrual cup. Was I just a werido? With so many benefits, why wasn’t the menstrual cup mainstream? Was I the only one who was dissatisfied with tampons? I set out to learn more.
I conducted over 100 interviews with women of different ages and backgrounds. These women opened up to me about moments when they struggled with their current menstrual products. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve faced some sort of embarrassing tampon leak. I always thought I was just really bad at managing my cycle and wasn’t really cut out for womanhood. Wrong! Almost every woman I interviewed experienced very similar struggles. I realized there was a huge opportunity to support people with periods by spreading the word about the menstrual cup. These interviews also opened my eyes to other intimate health challenges.
Women shared their experiences with incontinence during and after pregnancy. Several told me they had no idea they would pee every time they laughed or sneezed after giving birth, and wished someone would have given them a heads up. My sample size was small, but their stories were consistent. After hearing similar experiences from several women, I researched the prevalence of incontinence. Approximately fifty percent of pregnant women suffer from incontinence. Women are almost twice as likely as men to experience incontinence.
I’ve accidentally dribbled in my pants on more than one occasion and having wet underwear is the worst. I want to support women who face this challenge on a regular basis. Wearing panty liners and frequently changing your underwear are burdens, not solutions. I want to make sure women aren’t surprised by incontinence and that they have medically sound information about strengthening their pelvic floor. I want to offer women undies that look good while keeping women dry and protected from leaks.
I also spoke with women about menopause. Just like menstruation, menopause is rarely discussed. I for one had no idea that sexual intercourse can become incredibly painful during and after menopause. Most attention is placed on women’s libido and lack of desire to have sex with age, however very little attention is given to the pain that many women suffer after menopause. Once again, this isn’t just a small group of women. The prevalence of painful intercourse isn’t fully understood, but medical studies have found that between forty and fifty percent of postmenopausal women suffer from vaginal atrophy and, for fifty percent of these women, painful intercourse is one of the leading symptoms.
As a young woman, I’ve experienced painful intercourse from a lack of lubrication. If this was my experience every time I tried to have sex, I could see myself avoiding the advances of my partner. Like the women who were shocked by incontinence during and after pregnancy, many women I spoke to didn’t really see this side-effect of menopause coming. I can imagine the isolation that women feel during this transition. I want to provide them a space to share their experiences and feel supported during menopause. I also want to help women find solutions that ease their discomfort during intercourse.
After hearing these women’s stories, there was no turning back for me. I admire all of the women who have opened up about their intimate health experiences over the course of my research. We find ourselves patching together subpar solutions to these natural processes. But let’s not do that anymore. These topics aren’t easy to discuss, and I believe that open dialogue will spur innovation and lead to better comfort and greater mobility for women.
Ova Woman’s mission is to catalyze innovation in women’s intimate health. We need products that provide comfort and confidence over the course of our entire lives. Our site is home to both products and information that provide women solutions to common intimate health issues. We are creating a community that openly discusses intimate health and actively finds supportive products. If Ova Woman succeeds, and if women are heard and served, we will send a message to women that their wellness matters.
Ova Woman Upcoming Public Events—We would love for you to join us!
1. Launch Party: August 13, 6:00–8:00 p.m. at Public Functionary
2. Pop-up Store for YWCA Women’s Triathlon: August 16, 10:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. at Lake Nokomis
3. Info Booth for Blooma’s Bellyrama: September 12, 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. at Lake Harriet Bandshell
Are you satisfied with your current menstrual products? Have you experienced embarrassing leaks? Have you ever struggled to find a tampon? Maybe it is time to try something new.
Ova Woman will support you in trying the menstrual cup. Visit ovawoman.com to simplify your period.
This is part two of a three-part essay on Elise’s entrepreneurial journey. This story is presented in partnership with the Sands Fellowship at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.