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Women In Wellness: Carolyn Wheeler of Vella Bioscience On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Don’t over-define your future. It’s great to have clear ambitions, but the more flexible you are, the more resilient you will be too. Despite always being ambitious, I was never able to clearly define my career goals. Now I realize that because I didn’t, I left more doors open, which led to me having more opportunities than I would have had otherwise.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Wheeler, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of Vella Bioscience, Inc.

Vella Bioscience, Inc. is a femtech company driven to put science in service of every woman’s sexual empowerment. At the company’s core, women come first. Founded by a team of medical researchers, scientists and industry experts, Vella Bioscience, Inc. leads the intersection of proprietary science and luxury beauty for sexual wellness.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the heart of the bible belt. My family was progressive, and I found a tight group of friends in high school who were too. Because the difference was so stark, finding your “group” was perhaps was easier here than in other places. My friendships as a teenager in Tulsa defined how I understand women’s sexual equality today — -our right to pleasure, to choice — -and my understanding of gender and sexuality as a fluid system.

I moved to the east coast for college. Out of college, I worked in book publishing in New York, then I went on to get a master’s degree from Harvard in landscape architecture — -a field that, when it’s at its best, promotes social change by elevating the experience of public life. But my husband and I wanted to start a family, and couldn’t afford to stay in Boston and do that, so we moved back to Tulsa, which is when I started to work remotely for a Boston-based cannabis technology company called Manna Molecular Science, co-founded by a friend of mine from college, Nial DeMena, and Dr. Michael Frid.

This was in 2017, when the widespread legalization of cannabis was still only imminent. The idea that a business was being daylit for the first time, and was getting to write the rules of its existence, was compelling to me. Plus I really liked working with this group of people.

Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan, who was the Key Principal Investigator for Viagra and Cialis and an expert on sexual medicine, soon joined the Manna team. We followed a similar trajectory for the development of Vella as he had for Viagra. And when the results from the studies came back, we knew we had something big on our hands that would require our full attention, and thus Vella Bioscience was born.

The mission of Vella Bioscience is to put science in service of every woman’s sexual empowerment. As such, Vella has allowed me to engage with big questions about equality and social impact.

I still live in Tulsa, which I’m proud to say is the unlikely official headquarters of Vella Bioscience, with my husband and our two young daughters.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

When we were first starting to pull together educational materials to explain how Vella works, we quickly realized, after speaking with many experts in the field, that there was no visual reference for female sexual arousal. Which is to say that there was nothing available to educate people, even medical students, on the physiological change that happens to the vagina upon arousal — -and there is a physiological change! Needless to say,we have plenty of material like this for men. But nothing existed for women.

So we went out and contracted a board certified medical illustrator from John Hopkins to draw, with our medical team’s instruction, an aroused vagina, which we are led to believe is the first depiction thoroughly grounded in science.

This was a great lesson in realizing that if something doesn’t exist, sometimes there’s a good reason for it, but sometimes there’s not — -and it’s worth asking that question and seeking an answer when faced with a hurdle.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not delegating enough, because I was scared something might not get done. But it does.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Vella Women’s Pleasure Serum, which is a true scientific breakthrough allows cis-women and people with vulvas, to take power over their pleasure, by allowing for increased ease, frequency, and intensity of their orgasm. But besides the obviously wonderful benefit of easier and better orgasms, the bigger impact is that it leads to more equality in the proverbial bedroom. And I’m keen to think, this translates to outside of those walls as well.

By taking women’s sexual pleasure seriously — -by offering tools to increase it, which men have long had at their disposal — -let’s women have the opportunity to honor themselves more and to reach their full physical potential. As a mother of two girls, I’m very glad to be alive at this moment where we are witnessing these kinds of important milestones for women’s empowerment.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Respect the fact that your sexual wellness, whether with a partner or solo, is an important part of your overall health and wellbeing.

Track your body’s rhythms — -menstruation cycles, hormonal cycles, sexual activity. Knowledge is power.

Read. Read as much fiction as you read news. Understand the reality of other people’s lived experiences, but also keep your imagination alive about the possibilities of others.

Make your own personal mission statement for what you want your impact on the world to be. The scale of the impact you outline doesn’t matter. But commit to it and try as best you can to support it in everything you do.

At Vella we say, “women come first.” Which is as good of a lifestyle hack as any.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Free universal healthcare. Until we have that, it’s hard to imagine anything else that could or should be done that would increase the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Don’t over-define your future. It’s great to have clear ambitions, but the more flexible you are, the more resilient you will be too. Despite always being ambitious, I was never able to clearly define my career goals. Now I realize that because I didn’t, I left more doors open, which led to me having more opportunities than I would have had otherwise.

There’s a lot of people who deeply care about women’s sexual health — -most are women, but there’s a ton of men too. I entered this thinking it would be a hard uphill climb. That’s been true to some extent, but there’s a good population of people who realize they don’t know enough about female sexual function and they truly want to learn.

In most cases, when people are explaining something finance or money related, they’ll explain it in a way that is much more complicated than it really is. A lot of times this means they actually don’t understand what they’re talking about either, so don’t be intimidated.

Always question what school is good for and what it’s not good for. Don’t trust that it is more important than real world experience. Because there’s teachers there too.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten, which I wish took more seriously from the start, was from my mom. In my early 20s, she said, “If you don’t do it, some other idiot will.” The longer I live, the more I learn the depths of that truth, for better or worse. I wish I had fully embraced this the day she said this. And that’s not saying I’m so great. I’m just another idiot. But if I don’t do it, just another idiot will — and they might be a bigger idiot than I am.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Climate change is a hard one to beat, but in terms of my day-to-day working life, mental health as a cause is the one I feel closest to in terms of being any kind of influence on. Sexual wellness is an important aspect of one’s overall wellbeing.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Follow @vellabioscience on instagram and facebook. I don’t have any public personal accounts. I am a pretty private (and boring) person, which, I like to think, means I can be bolder and wilder in my public ventures.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.