FLEX Company, a socially driven startup focussed on helping women, loves talking periods and sex. Individually both still taboos subjects. Put them together and you have most of the reasons why #paulryansoscared.
But the new menstrual product designed for 12 hours of period protection and mess-free period sex isn’t letting "unacceptable" get in their way. In fact, It's a conversation that cofounder and head of marketing, Erika Jensen has been having for years.
After dropping out of college, Erika began working as a copywriter for a women’s clothing brand. During that job the sex-positive powerhouse got poached by a CEO of a vibrator company to run their e-commerce. “After a really awkward interview at the W Hotel in Hollywood,” she shares. “I decided to go for it. I learned a lot about myself and found a new passion in sexual health and wellness.”
Then came a call from a friend who told Erika about Lauren Schulte, a girl who was doing “this other vagina thing.” The two met for dinner in San Francisco and discussed the lack of innovation in the feminine care space. “I was admittedly in love with her,” says Erika, “but not the idea." It was only after Lauren gave Erika a sample of FLEX did she come to understand the product potential. After giving it a test run during a a day of board meetings, and experience Erika says was "a game-changer," she changed her mind. There was no cramping. No getting up to change her tampon. “I honestly forgot it was there,” the co-founder shares. The only problem? Lauren had only given her one sample. The next day she went back to using a tampon, an experience she says that felt like “razorblades.” Erika quit her job the following day.
For her part, Lauren isn’t a woman who was simply doing a “vagina thing.” She’s been coding websites since the age of 12 from her small hometown of Sugar Hill, Georgia. “I didn't think the boys should have all the fun, so I tried my hand and found I was good at it,” Lauren says. And she didn’t stop there. As the eldest of five children, money was tight. “At 15, I started freelance web development in earnest. At 19, I used my coding skills to land a full-time job at IBM. After 2 years, I wanted to get into consumer marketing, so I joined Coca-Cola.” During that time, “and what most people didn’t realize,” she says is that she was attending college full-time at night. She was sick a lot during this time, stressed out, working a full day and attending school from 4:30-10:30 pm. She also says, “People weren't really sure what to make of me. I was smart but horrible at politics. My bosses would tell me I had a bad poker face.’" It was also daunting for her to be a young woman in a corporate environment, but they were ultimately environments that came to shape who she is as a business woman. “Thankfully, at every job I found women who served as role models and confidants,” she says.
She went on to work for Autodesk in San Francisco, where she learned about product design and manufacturing, but Lauren had another little work secret. Tampons were making her “miserable at work” and giving her infections. “I was really scared but eventually I was losing sleep over the fact that tampons hadn't been innovated in 80 years. After 1.5 years of research, I got the guts to quit my job to work on my product full-time.”
"I started FLEX with a mission to create positive, engaging conversations about women’s health," Lauren explains.
One of FLEX’s messages is that you can have mess-free sex. (And it’s probably why 25% of the companies signups are from men.) But changing the stigma around sex and periods wasn’t always part of the messaging. When the co-founders started giving out samples to different cohorts of women with different messaging, they were “surprised to see that the mess-free period sex messaging was what go women to try it the fastest.”
It was no longer only about using FLEX instead of tampons, "it was solving a new problem entirely - one that no one else was addressing,” shares Erika. FLEX has conducted studies that show that the product allows couples to increase their opportunity to hear sex by 23 percent.
"Erika and I are sex positive,” extols Lauren, “and we want to give men and women more options: FLEX allows couples who wouldn't have previously had period sex a new opportunity to talk about it and try it.”
They are also committed to opening up the conversation to include men. “Most Americans learn about periods in school (if we're lucky enough to have sex ed, which many states don't). Boys and girls are separated, and boys don't learn much about periods. Girls are told to keep their period private and to hide their tampons. This dynamic immediately makes the topic taboo.”
But taboo didn't tabulate for her and Lauren says that early on a male investor told her, “don’t be afraid to tell everyone you meet about your idea.” While talking about periods in Silicon Valley initially felt “a little awkward,” she says this is some of the best advice she’s received, specifically because of FLEX’s desire to de-stigmatize the period convo.
“If we genuinely want to see menstruation become less taboo, it will be critical to have men as our allies,” the CEO explains. Noting that, “Period sex in many ways can be a gateway to creating conversations about menstruation between the sexes... especially for the men who are more uncomfortable talking about tampons or menstruation.”
For her part Erika has three goals: "change the way sexual education is taught in all American schools, get my glider pilot's license, see the day where menstrual discs are more widely used than tampons in the United States."