To Read While Googling Questions About Reproductive Care

Intercourse. The birds and the bees. STDs. Uterine diagrams! We at W+K Lodge have had our fair share of uncomfortable (and comfortable) conversations with our parents, our friends, and our P.E. teachers to learn about sexual and reproductive health. And yet, we still count ourselves as lucky to have had an, albeit awkward, sex education. Only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in public schools; only 13 require it to be medically accurate, and three states require parental permission before a student can attend a class.

With sex ed being taught only once while we continue to experience daily hormonal, physical, and psychological changes throughout our lives, it’s no wonder we are wholly unprepared to take care of our sexual and reproductive health for the long term. It feels eerily similar to attempting a proof from a freshman geometry class 10, 15, or 20 years later — while the instructions for completing the proof have also changed without our knowledge.

In such an ecosystem, products and brands have an incredible opportunity to fill in the gaping holes in sexual and reproductive health knowledge as people grow—by educating users about different products, extending customer support beyond sale, and forming long-term relationships with users through their reproductive health journey. How can a brand foster an authentic and empowering relationship with a consumer about a very intimate relationship within themselves?

One tried-and-true way companies can begin a long-term relationship is through subscription services. A concept that started in the beauty and fashion industries with Birchbox and Stitch Fix now brings that same ease, efficiency, and privacy to each and every woman while they navigate their personal health needs overtime. Nurx allows women to get birth control prescribed and delivered to their door. Cora and LOLA are both tampon subscription services with transparent ingredients and customizable monthly boxes.

We see reproductive and sexual health testing processes following suit to meet the consumer where they are most comfortable and relaxed—in their home. Companies like Eve Kit and EverlyWell provide much-needed personalization and privacy to the testing processes for patients. With kits delivered to the home, people can test anything from their egg count to screening for STDs, removing the need to head into a clinic or to an OB/GYN. Which even the most aware and knowledgeable patients prefer the immediacy and privacy of the internet and direct-to-consumer resources. “The healthcare system was not my first place to turn to, which is unfortunate,” says Anneka Van Scoyoc, a family planning and reproductive health researcher at the Population Council, “The process of setting up an appointment and going to the doctor all just to talk was unrealistic in my busy life. Instead, I learned most of my info from friends and Google.”

Van Scoyoc also recommends the app Bedsider: “Now, when it comes to choosing contraception, I refer my friends to Bedsider, which has great info on almost all methods. I particularly like the videos where they interview people of different sexes who have used that form of [birth control].” The site is an educational, content-driven platform that strives to educate and put the onus on people of all gender identities about contraceptives and sexual health. For an even greater sense of professional support, check out Maven, the digital clinic empowering women and families with expert, convenient, and compassionate, on-demand health care. Named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2018 and designed by women for women, Maven works tirelessly to return agency and confidence to women about their bodies through an increased access to professional opinions in a timely fashion and regardless of insurance status.

Both Bedsider and Maven provide accurate and professional, easily digestible, and trusted resources almost as efficiently and quickly as a Google search, while saving women a trip down the rabbit hole of WebMD. Their expertise also helps to mitigate another digital health challenge—helping people direct their research and education.

“I don’t think I realized there were gaps [in my own personal knowledge] until I started working in [reproductive health],” explains Van Scoyoc. “Distinctions such as hormonal vs. non-hormonal, invasive vs. non-invasive, permanent vs. temporary, etc., weren’t really on my radar and definitely should have been.”

As consumers become increasingly informed about their bodies, companies in the reproductive care space must keep pace to ensure they too are evolving to deliver increasingly personalized information and education. In the realm of subscription services, brands can apply AI and machine learning and overtime better hone and improve these packages and kits to match the specific needs of their users after each touch point.

Take, for example, contraception. Currently, choosing a form of birth control is a leap of faith; until you start taking it, you never know how it will affect your body. An ongoing brand relationship can help individuals identify and understand any negative experiences and make an informed decision should they choose to switch.

“Right now, a lot of the process of finding out what BC method is best for you involves trial and error,” Van Scoyoc says. “It would be amazing if there was some machine that could assess your physiology [and feedback] to figure out what side effects you’d have on a certain type of birth control, and then also take into account your lifestyle preferences.”

Connecting the information and data gleaned from these subscription services—frequency of bleeding, changes in flow, type of birth control, side effects of your chosen birth control method — with a person’s medical charts would make possible the ability, on a smaller scale, to recommend a different form of birth control to better fit their lifestyle and needs. Or, on a larger scale, this data could help flag potential medical risks for the user.

Even small adjustments, such as saving, analyzing, and predicting daily data inputs, lift a burden from the patient to manage and predict her care needs. This solution may not even necessarily deal with pregnancy prevention, helping women take birth control to regulate acne, pain, and other conditions like endometriosis.

All of these technological innovations, though, must inherently act to serve and educate users on their bodies as they navigate their reproductive journeys—despite differences in living situation, race, socioeconomic status, or gender identity. In this initiative, we applaud Cora, which covers the sales tax on all products sold through their website so that their customers are not affected by the luxury tax placed on menstrual products in 38 states. As physical clinics face opposition around the nation, Nurx and Maven Clinic ensure women in any financial situation, insured or not, receive the care that they need.

Brands, it looks like there are many of you on the right track ensuring that everyone gets the care and education that they need to manage their reproductive health. As product and technologies advance, it’s critical to remember who is being designed for and who is seen and heard by the designs, products and brands. Innovating for the most privileged customers will cease to be acceptable as more and more companies emerge and find new ways to design for every female and family, not just those who are privileged enough.

Illustrations by Alessandra Genualdo.

In this Reproductive Care series of W+K Lodge Frontiers, our team of designers and engineers explores how brands can create better products and experiences for women, children, and their partners. Join us as we consider what it means to deliver not just utility but care along the reproductive journey. If you’re interested in collaborating on any projects or learning more about W+K Lodge, email us at frontiers@wklodge.com.