You hear a lot about taking care of your physical health, but what about how to maintain sexual health?
One woman is working to educate on just this topic. Meika Hollender founded Sustain, a company that is questioning both the physical and environmental health impact of the products we use for our sexual health. Hollender answered some questions we had about what inspired her company, why its goals are important, and what she hopes to accomplish going into the future.
What inspired you to start Sustain?
I'm a child of the natural products movement. My dad founded Seventh Generation 30 years ago, and so my formative years were literally immersed in all things eco-friendly before being “green” was even a thing.
Sustain was founded because, as I recognized the growing interest in things like organic food, natural household cleaning and clean beauty products, I also noticed that there was a lack of focus on and innovation around products going inside of one of the most intimate part of a woman's body. From condoms to tampons, the FDA does not require manufacturers to disclose their ingredients, and so it's up to brands like Sustain to bring transparency and better ingredients to this space. Additionally, sexual wellness products have been forever made by men and marketed to men. What about women? I learned that 40% of condoms are actually purchased by women, and yet we have been completely neglected by the brands that have dominated this category for decades.
So I started Sustain to change all this. Sustain is about creating a brand that helps shape a sex-positive future free of shame and stigma, and where women have access to healthier products that enable them to take control of their sexual and reproductive health.
Even in our progressive society there is a lot of taboo about talking about menstrual products and safe sex. How do you get past this when trying to market your products?
I think when it comes to the taboo around periods, there has been so much incredible work done by other brands, and leaders, that came even before Sustain, and the stigma around period stuff has really started to fade away.
When it comes to sex and sexual health, we still have a lot of work to do. I think some parts of this country feel progressive, and maybe even are progressive, but even though 70% of people in the U.S. feel that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, most women still feel very uncomfortable talking about sex and even buying and carrying condoms.
Sustain is all about starting conversations and spreading education so that women have the information and products they need to take control of their sexual and reproductive health (without shame or judgment!) We do this by being real, providing content and education consistently to our community and customers, and by pushing ourselves to build a brand that people can come to to ask the obvious and the hard questions. You have tampons, pads, and period underwear on your website, but one of the most talked about products in sustainable period health is the menstrual cup. Do you have any thoughts on these?
Menstrual cups are amazing! Besides the environmental benefits, it's great way to save money, and also not have to deal with changing a tampon every few hours. At Sustain, we are huge advocates of giving our customers options for taking care of their sexual and reproductive health needs, and because of that we do have a few new period products we're working on for later this year!
There is a lot of press around better period management but very little about how condoms and lubricants impact the environment and women's bodies. How do you think this movement can be made bigger? It's just a matter of time. As I mentioned above, sex and sexual health is still so incredibly taboo to talk about, and because of that we talk less about healthier options when it comes to products like condoms, and lubricants. With brands like Sustain building our presence both in terms of our thought leadership and advocacy as well as our business and availability of our products, in a few years there will be just as much press and content around sexual wellness products as there is around period products!
Why did you decide to give 10% of your proceeds to women's health organizations?
Even before launching Sustain, I came across some incredibly devastating statistics: that 20+ million women lack access to reproductive healthcare in the US. I knew we had to do something beyond just building our business, in order to work towards a future with greater access. So much can be prevented when family planning, sex ed, and basic needs like STD testing and breast examinations are accessible. When women lack this access, they lose, among other grave things, the capacity to decide if and when they want to have children—and even control over their own futures. So, through our dedicated fund 10%4Women which we started at the company's inception, we donate 10 percent of our pretax profits to women who currently lack this access, especially to organizations like Planned Parenthood.
In addition to the website with your products, you also have a blog. How do you think this supports the brand?
Education is critical in order for Sustain to be successful. If women feel comfortable talking about and asking questions about sex and sexual health, they will naturally start to question the products they are using and feel more empowered to make educated decisions when purchasing these products. Right now, the average person spends less than 7 seconds in the condom aisle because they're so uncomfortable! If we can get women to even feel slightly more comfortable hanging around for a couple extra seconds (or even a minute!) I have no doubt they would be more likely to choose Sustain.
What do you hope is next for Sustain going into the future?
Through Sustain we've been able to bring sexual health and wellness into the bigger wellness movement happening. You see this in so many different ways - from the panels I am invited to speak on, to the fact that Goop sells our condoms along side their brand of moisturizer! I would love to see Sustain in places like Sephora, and in magazines like Vogue, to continue to bring sexual health and sex into the larger wellness movement and conversation!
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Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.