Even in the modern world, discussing certain women's health and wellness topics makes some people uncomfortable.
According to the Smithsonian, strong stigmas surrounding women's health issues can affect everything from gender inequality and economic disparity to the prevalence of serious diseases like cervical cancer. However, slowly but surely, it's becoming more accepted to publicly address women's health, especially with more women-centric startups forming.
"Issues affecting women — menstruation, contraception, fertility — remain taboo," said Kate Ryder founder and CEO of women-centric health app, Maven. "Creating a more equal system means bringing women's health out of the shadows."
These three startups were founded to help improve women's lives and make it easier for them to freely discuss the health issues that affect them.
The Maven app assists women in finding the healthcare that fits their needs. Users input the type of care they need, and the app then suggests providers. The platform gives users the opportunity to book a video appointment, where they'll meet with the provider via the Maven app, in real time.
Women have a variety of needs, which is why Maven users can see nurse practitioners, nutritionists, mental health specialists and a myriad of other health care providers, Ryder said.
"Doctors spend 8 minutes or less in-person with the average patient," she said. "We at Maven believe the first and most obvious way technology can improve outcomes and make the patient experience better is by restoring the depth and continuity in patient-provider relationships."
Maven aims to expand its services to help women at various times in their lives. The company recently launched a maternity benefits program, Maven Enterprise, that helps businesses both attract and retain top female talent.
"The program goes far beyond standard leave and insurance offerings by providing unlimited access to on-demand health care for women during pregnancy [and] postpartum, and as they go back to work," said Ryder.
The company's work doesn't stop at the end user, either. Through the Maven Foundation's Access for All program, the company donates $1 for every appointment purchased toward care for women in need. The foundation supports practitioners providing their services, free of cost, to women and children who lack access to quality health care.
Maven's prices start at $18 for 10 minutes with a nurse practitioner, which also allows you to get a prescription.
LOLA, a subscription service for feminine hygiene products, was created by co-founders Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman as a solution the problem of unpreparedness.
"We were able to get groceries, beauty products and dry cleaning delivered to our door. But for some reason we were still making last-minute tampon runs to the drugstore every month, even though it was never any surprise that we would need them," Kier said.
"Our goal was to help women feel empowered to ask questions about their feminine care and informed enough to make educated choices about the products they use," Kier continued. "Long term, the vision for LOLA is to provide all women with the products they need throughout their entire reproductive cycles, and beyond. To us, the entry of other startups into the space further validates the importance of all-natural products."
A LOLA delivery comes in discreet boxes that contain 18 tampons, available in three different sizes (light, regular, super) consistent with industry standards.
"It was important to us to build our subscription model to be a service we would want to use ourselves, so we make it really easy to adjust, skip or cancel at any time," Friedman said.
LOLA sells products made from 100 percent cotton, hypoallergenic material that doesn't contain any synthetics, chemicals or dyes. Additionally, LOLA tampons are wrapped in BPA-free compact plastic applicators.
Earlier this year, LOLA launched its blog, The Broadcast. The blog provides women's health, tips and features conversations with "trailblazing women the company admires."
The undergarments made by Thinx offer a new freedom that women may have never experienced: the ability to wear underwear during their menstrual cycles without traditional "protection."
According to the Thinx site, the top layer of the underwear fights bacteria and absorbs any liquid into the thin layer right beneath it, so you always stay dry. The product comes in a variety of styles and absorbency levels.
"There was really a huge opportunity and need for disruption in the feminine hygiene and underwear category," Miki Agrawal, co-founder and CEO of Thinx, told Business News Daily.
For every product sold, Thinx sends funds to its partner organization, AFRIpads. Based in Uganda, that group trains women to sew and sell washable, reusable cloth pads, empowering the women to become entrepreneurs. Additionally, local Ugandan girls can purchase the affordable pads, keeping these young students in school all month.
Agrawal said the company will be expanding affordable pad options to Nepal and India, as well.
Thinx isn't just addressing periods, either. Icon, Thinx's sister company, is an underwear brand made for women who have incontinence issues. Like Thinx, the product absorbs, remains bacteria-free and keeps wearers dry. It gives to the Fistula Foundation, which helps mothers who are giving birth without health care.
Agrawal said her company has received customer testimonials from not only women with menstrual irregularities, but also handicapped women and transgender individuals who have greatly benefitted from Thinx's products.
"People have expressed how this underwear has changed their lives with all different types of experiences," Agrawal said. "[There have been] endless amounts of people getting in touch with us. It's been magical."
Natural Cycles is an app that monitors women's menstrual cycles. Its capabilities include telling you when you are fertile, ovulating, when your next period is due, when you are pregnant and about the progress of your pregnancy
"Regulation is a good thing in the app and healthcare technology space," Dr. Raoul Scherwitzl, co-founder and chief executive of Natural Cycles said in a release. "Natural Cycles is backed up by well-researched, large-scale clinical studies. We know we are dealing with women's lives here and we take that very seriously."
According to the site, women using the app are encouraged to enter their body temperature daily, or as often as possible, to determine ovulation and help identify the days you are fertile.
Natural Cycles has over 100,000 active users in 161 countries, the release said. The company has raised $6 million in funding to aid international expansion and conduct new clinical studies; additionally, the company has donated $25 million worth of free subscriptions to women in Brazil to help fight the Zika virus.
"Health apps are an important part of daily life for many women which means the information provided by them impacts their health and well-being," Scherwitzl said.