This is the #menstruationinnovation we’ve been waiting for.
For those of us who use menstrual products, we don’t often think twice about our options: pads or tampons. Fortunately, the list of available choices has expanded, with solutions like period panties, reusable pads, menstrual cups, and even menstrual discs! Now, this doesn’t mean we’re all racing to test out every new product we discover. It’s scary trying something new (and even scarier when a pool of blood on your clothing and furniture is on the line)! Menstrual cups have been something I’ve been particularly curious about and I was thrilled to discover improved options for existing cup users and those who are curious to try. The founder behind this new technology? Jane Hartman Adamé, creator of the Keela Cup—now FLEX Cup—a device that eliminates the daunting task of removing your menstrual cup. I’m proud to share Jane’s story with you and hopefully dispel some menstrual cup myths so you can become a power user in no time!
For starters, let’s get to know you! What is your background and how did you get into what we like to call #menstruationinnovation?
I have a very untraditional background when it comes to product design, but I’ve been always been entrepreneurial. That term sort of grates me, though, because to me I think it carries an expectation of someone who is very money motivated. I have just always been motivated to get things done myself, and if something isn’t being done the way I envision it, I find a way to make that happen.
I co-owned a salon for about 6 years after having worked at a few salons for 4 years prior. It was very untraditional. The vibe was such that clients often ended up engaging with each other. We broke all the typical house rules and frequently talked about religion, politics, and anything else you could imagine. We created a true community space.
When I started to lose the ability to stand long enough to style hair, it wasn’t a loss that was happening in a vacuum. I was also losing my autonomy in so many other ways. Driving, walking, carrying things, and nearly all of my hobbies. The path to my life-changing diagnosis came about when I was on a “health kick” where I booked several doctor’s appointments to get answers and take care of myself. In the same week that I was diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I also got a birth control implant in my arm, a common side effect of which is a kind of tsunami period that lasts for months.
I had started using a cup a few years prior, but with the cumulation of injuries and instability I was experiencing with my hypermobile joints, the cup just wasn’t usable for me anymore. Losing access to a tool that helps you is just so, so frustrating.
It may seem small, but being able to change something out only twice a day, when you’re in constant pain, is such a huge benefit compared to tampons which for me were a 4-5 times per day ordeal. Coupled with months of bleeding, this felt like a problem that needed to be solved.
My friend Andy popped into my head in this moment—this may seem strange, but we’ve racked about a decade of friendship and he was a frequent salon client of mine. We used to chat about “head in the clouds” product ideas. When the idea to make cups easier to use struck for me, I reached out to him. The timing was right, and much needed for me, and we got right to work. He was a seasoned medical device designer with his name already on 8 patents. Andy knew about menstrual cups, but he had no idea that they were intimidating and nearly impossible for so many to use. So that’s what we set out to solve with the Keela Cup, now FLEX Cup.
After launching on Kickstarter, we received an email from a competitor, The Flex Company, who we’d been eyeing since the beginning of our project. Lauren Schulte, Founder and CEO of Flex flew up from LA to SF to treat us to a celebratory dinner at the successful conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign. As we talked, it became clear that our mission and vision for the future of menstrual care were tightly aligned, and Lauren pledged to support us on our way to product launch. Months later, over another dinner, we collectively decided that we could serve more people if we joined forces instead of competing. So, Keela Cup became FLEX Cup, and our little Keela team of two became an integral part of the Flex team.
Can you tell us more about FLEX? What problem(s) are you addressing and how does FLEX solve them?
The Flex Company was founded because, similarly to my background, Lauren was having medical issues that directly resulted from her tampon use. One can only tolerate so many yeast infections before change must be made. After trying over 30 different alternative menstrual products from all over the world, Lauren set out to make a new and improved version of the relatively unknown menstrual disc.
Since menstrual discs are worn in the same place as a diaphragm, which is an area called the vaginal fornix, they can’t be felt once in place. The fornix is just past the vaginal canal and has fewer nerve endings. Like cups, discs can safely be worn for up to 12 hours, and they are the only internally worn product not linked to TSS.
The FLEX disc has a unique polymer in the rim, which warms and forms to your body when inserted. This ComfortSeal™ technology is by far the greatest benefit of the disc, since many FLEX users report a reduction in cramps and even forget they’re on their period while wearing one. Another customer favorite is that the disc is the only sex-friendly internally worn menstrual product. The overall goal is to normalize periods, but also make them just another comfortable, normal week as much as possible, and the FLEX menstrual disc does a fantastic job at this.
Let’s talk about the FLEX cup. How is it different than other cups on the market?
Menstrual cups form a seal with the vaginal wall, which helps keep them in place and prevents leaks. To remove a traditional cup, the wearer has to reach inside and indent the side of the cup to remove it. This is a tricky maneuver, even for able-bodied people. For those of us with physical limitations, it can be next to impossible.
This is why the FLEX Cup features an innovative ReleaseRing™, which is a soft loop that attaches to the top of the cup and exits a carefully engineered seal at the bottom of the cup, in place of a traditional stem. When the ring is pulled, the side of the cup indents so the wearer can remove the cup like a tampon. Our goal with this design is to break down barriers. Many folks are nervous to try a cup in the first place, because you don’t have to look far to find stories of ER visits to remove stuck cups. Other folks may have tried cups, and the learning curve was insurmountable for them. This cup offers a great solution in that it’s much more familiar to use, since removal is akin to a tampon.
Kristen Bell recently said in an interview that she fainted trying to remove her cup and ended up needing to see her doctor for removal. I completely understand apprehension about trying something new when the risk seems so high. Although the risk of needing assistance with removal is very low, I think it’s a risk worth mitigating, and this is what we’ve done with the FLEX Cup design.
What are some of the common misconceptions about menstrual cups?
Many people think that cups are gross, which is understandable. For most of our lives, period product commercials showed something akin to laundry detergent to demonstrate absorbency, instead of anything that remotely looked like menstrual fluid. It takes some adjustment to normalize handling and disposing of your menses, but we believe it can actually help you better understand your cycle and this aspect of your health. Menstruation is an important and natural bodily function, and something we don’t need to be ashamed of. In fact, it can provide insights into our health, if we simply pay attention to it.
Many people think that there is NO WAY a cup could hold the amount of menstrual fluid they produce, but tampons in particular can trick us, in a way. Since they expand and also don’t do a great job absorbing clots, we’re looking at the material and using this as a gauge for our flow. It can be surprising to switch to a cup and see how much or how little menses is typical for your body. Just as menstrual cycle trackers can help us learn more about our bodies, so too can simply increasing your awareness of your cycle by using a non-absorbent product and seeing firsthand what your cycle actually looks like.
Who is the FLEX cup for vs. the FLEX disc?
I fundamentally believe it’s not appropriate for anyone to decide who specific products are for, except for the individual who is using the product. The most important thing is that we’re providing innovative, different options so you can try and decide for yourself. This is why the item I’m most excited about heading into 2019 is our Discovery Kit which features one FLEX Cup and two FLEX menstrual discs in one box. The cost is the same as one menstrual cup, so in a sense the discs are complimentary.
We understand it can be costly to try new products, so this box alleviates some of that pressure. One of the motivations for FLEX is, “between two adventures, always choose the one you’ve never tried.” Our goal is to empower menstruators to question the norms of the menstrual experience, and try options that may provide some relief for their unique body and lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what works best for your body.
Furthermore, it seems we were all conditioned to choose either tampons or pads as our holy grail product. One of the best things I’ve discovered in this endeavor is that many people would actually prefer to have multiple options themselves. In the same way that you don’t wear the same shoes for all things, maybe we don’t need to choose just one menstrual care product for all circumstances.
Perhaps you’ll discover that either the FLEX Cup or FLEX menstrual disc are the only product you need, or that they supplement each other or another product you already use.
Is FLEX (cup or disc) a good option for someone who experiences pelvic pain and can’t use a tampon?
This is a big question. There are myriad reasons why someone could be experiencing pelvic pain, and we encourage everyone who has new or different pain to be checked out by their doctor. Identifying the source can help you make the most informed decisions for your body.
That said, many people who experience cramping with tampons find it to be significantly relieved when switching to the FLEX disc. For some, pelvic pain and cramping can be a result of the body not liking whatever is inserted. Since tampons absorb everything, not just menses, they can cause dryness and even alter the vagina’s natural pH. This is a really big “a-ha” moment for many of our customers, who have always thought that the entirety of their pain and cramping was caused by their period, not their period products.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that periods are supposed to be terrible and uncomfortable, but the reality is that we haven’t known about other choices we could try that could vastly improve how we feel during our period. If you’ve ever met a cup evangelist, you know exactly how much a simple change of product can affect someone. We aim to increase awareness, education, and access to innovative alternatives to set the bar higher for what we should expect from this category of products.
What advice would you give to a first-time cup user? Or perhaps, someone who is nervous to stray from tampons and/or pads?
It can be intimidating to try something new. Think back to the first time you tried a tampon. You read the little pamphlet, but it probably took you a few tries to get the hang of it. Maybe you had a sibling, parent, or friend who guided you. It can be a little strange to find yourself back in this feeling, but remember that you are wiser, more knowledgeable about your body, and pretty much a period expert. Admittedly, this is casually approximate math for the sake of making a point, but: If you’ve had a period for over 7 years, you’ve bled for over 10,000 hours, which according to Malcolm Gladwell makes you a period expert!
However, even experts need a helping hand sometimes. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:
Buddy up. Have a friend join you in this new experience. Let’s face it, you’re probably already cycle synced with someone, so grab their hand and jump in together! Trying something new with a friend is a lot less intimidating than trying it alone.
Use a back-up. There is no shame in wearing a pad as back-up while you figure out your new internal product. Placement is key, and it can take a while to learn how something fits with your body. In the meantime, making sure you don’t have any catastrophic leaks will make for the best experience.
Join a group, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. At FLEX, we have an amazing community on Facebook called The Uterati where no question is TMI. We share all things FLEX, as well as funny, inspiring, or impactful news. Here, you can ask the company a question, or other users of the product. Our customers are the true experts, and they have amazing tips and tricks ranging from sex with FLEX, to how to use FLEX with acrylic nails. Even if you aren’t a FLEX user yet, we invite you to join our diverse, welcoming community and see what we’re all about.
Contact the company with any questions or concerns. We have a dedicated team of trained Flexperts. You can literally ask them anything—just like The Uterati, no question is TMI. This is a great option if you don’t want to ask your question community-style and would prefer 1-on-1 assistance. They can be reached pre- or post-purchase at email@example.com. Come say hello!
When it comes to self-care, what stressors did you leave in 2018 and what positive practices have you brought into 2019?
I love this question! 2018 was my most difficult year, but also the year I am most proud of.
With the security of joining FLEX, I now have the privilege of leaving behind financial worry heading into 2019. Launching a new product is not immediately profitable, and ideally, I would have had savings going into this endeavor. With the loss of my previous career, which I really felt like I rode “all the way down with the ship,” being able to not worry about paying bills and affording food is huge. I’m not at all ashamed of the hardship I endured here, because without it I wouldn’t have learned how to ask for help. As a stubborn person, this is a life lesson I took a while to master and it is one that requires constant practice.
My intention I set into practice for 2018 was to trust my decision making. I had a lot of “impostor syndrome” to undo. I really feel like I achieved putting this into practice, and I’m looking to carry this forward into this year. Going into 2019, I have some additional intentions to layer on and build from this, a lot of which has been guided by feedback from my amazing team at The Flex Company. I am working on understanding my limitations, so I can avoid overworking myself. With my lifetime of gradually increasing pain, I’ve learned to tune out my body when I want to get something done. In this sense, my independent drive is both my best and worst quality. When I overdo, it can put me out of commission for days. Working with a bigger team means I can pass the baton when needed and take the time to take care of myself. This again, requires asking for help and leaning on others, which is an area I hope to grow wisely in the next year.
Header image illustrated by Leonor Carvalho
Do you use menstrual cups? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!