Entrepreneur Meika Hollender Launched A Co. To Break Down Stigma Around Women’s Sexual Health

If you ask us, there needs to be a total re-branding of the term “safe sex”. Living in an eco-conscious age where we are mindful about what we put into our bodies, what we spend our money on, and how we impact the environment, this should also factor into the topic of sex. More specifically, the “safe” part shouldn’t just be about STIs and pregnancy prevention, but also about staying healthy by choosing products that don’t harm our bodies long term.

Think of the evolution cycle of birth control and the countless ways each variant has been improved upon over the decades. The same process should apply to sexual health products also. One determined entrepreneur has had this mission firmly in her sights and launched a company called Sustain in 2015 with her father. Meika Hollender was 25 at the time Sustain was launched, and had already co-authored a book about non-toxic cleaning after earning an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.

Her father Jeffrey had previously founded Seventh Generation, a green cleaning brand, before joining forces with his daughter. Mika’s passion for women’s sexual and reproductive health lead to the idea to ensure products were available to women that not only did the job they were supposed to, but also took care of the most sensitive parts of their body.

All products made by Sustain, which include condoms, personal lubricant, wipes, tampons and pads, are made with natural ingredients that don’t harm a woman’s vagina. Why is this significant? First, vaginas are the most absorbent part of the body, and second, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require tampon and pad manufacturers to disclose their ingredients. This means there are countless women across the country who are perhaps unknowingly putting unhealthy products into and on their bodies.

This is where Sustain comes in and is filling the market with a mission and a message to women that their sexual health matters, and it shouldn’t just end with birth control. In a profile piece in Teen Vogue in 2015, Meika says safe sex should include contraceptives as well as condoms, and her brand is recognizing how women are taking charge of their sexual decisions.

“It’s critical for women to use the natural alternative for these products. Lubricant rates and usage rates are increasing. The younger generation should know off the bat that there is a natural alternative, and most people aren’t thinking about that…You just start talking with your friends and everyone is super into it. I would never think most of my friends were using lubricant. It’s funny, you’re trying to hand out condoms, and most people are like, ‘oh, I don’t use condoms’. You don’t get that response with the lubricant,” she told Teen Vogue’s Vera Papisova.

Most lubricants are marketed toward older women, Meika says, yet 43% of millennials are using it, and Sustain wants these women to be armed with healthy products. Sustain’s lubricant doesn’t contain petroleum, glycerin, and parabens, while others do. The presence of these ingredients can lead to Bacterial Vaginosis, one of the most common vaginal infections among women.

“When petroleum enters your vagina, it damages the cell tissue. It basically makes your vagina sick and less likely to protect you against contracting an STI. You’re also 13% more likely to get BV from petroleum,” she said. According to the CDC, 84% of women who have BV don’t even know they have it. That is NOT ok!

Sustain’s mission to aid with better sexual health, especially among women, also has a philanthropic aspect to it. With over 20 million women in the US who don’t have access to reproductive healthcare, they give 10% of their profits to various women’s healthcare organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

You’d think a country like the US wouldn’t have such a problem with sexual health or access to the right information and care, give we are commonly referred to as the “most powerful country in the world”. But scratch a little below the surface and you will see some sad statistics. While numbers have been declining, we still have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies and STIs in the developed world.

Our sex education (or lack thereof) is a huge part of this. Only 22 states require public schools to teach comprehensive sex ed, and only 13 of those require the information to be medically accurate. States which focus on “abstinence only” have higher rates of teen pregnancies and STIs. No shocker there…

We currently have a presidential administration appointing anti-choice leaders to important Health and Human Services positions who are not interested in arming youth and women with accurate information about birth control and reproductive care in general. Sexual stigma is seeing a resurgence under this conservative Trump administration, and aside from fighting back wherever possible, we should also support brands like Sustain which are working to break down misconceptions, myths, and major barriers to keeping especially women healthy.

Look, human beings are going to have sex. We have the choice as a society to guide people in the right direction with healthy information and products, or ignore the obvious and deal with an even bigger fallout. When we deny human sexuality, we deny the opportunity for health and happiness. We love what Meika and her father Jeffrey have created, and hope Sustain will continue to be a leader in this market.

 

 

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