What is Femtech?
The term femtech, or “female technology”, refers to innovations that improve women’s health and health tech solutions for the female body. Female bodies have distinct health needs given their ability to get pregnant and give birth, resulting in various general health conditions which, because of the patriarchy, have been neglected by science and research for centuries.
Ida Tin coined the term “femtech” in 2016, after she created Clue, one of the first and most widely-used period tracking apps. Now, entrepreneurs around the world are building more than 300 femtech startups to create solutions in reproductive health, birth control, sexual health and menstrual health, such as period care products. Femtech is a broad, umbrella term that also includes menopause, maternal health and pregnancy, post-pregnancy, hormonal disorders, breastfeeding and sexual wellness.
Femtech goes far beyond your typical health and wellness bullshit. It’s about health technologies that save lives and maximize female freedom, control of their own bodies, longevity and enhance their quality of life. Other leading femtech companies include Maven, fertility tracking apps like Flo, and diagnostic at-home test kits for ovulation like Proov. As of December 2022, even generic wearables companies are catching the femtech wave, like the Apple watch’s built-in period tracker. Additionally, with Flex’s menstrual cups, Daye’s CBD-laced tampons and Aavia’s smart pillpack, creative solutions to age-old problems are cropping up everywhere, and it’s time investors took more notice. The femtech industry is predicted to be worth $50 billion by 2025. Things are just getting started 🚀.
Why is Femtech a big deal?
The femtech sector is creating health tech solutions to address some of the most understudied and persistent problems faced by half of all humans on Earth. Because 91% of venture capital investors were born male, they have no personal experience of these healthcare needs and consistently underestimate demand in the global femtech market. Many femtech startups are also built by female founders, who receive a small but growing amount of venture capital investment. But at the end of the day, money is money. What about social change?
Femtech challenges the status quo.
Across cultures, females have often been taught to put up with things. The healthcare industry has not been designed, for example, to give women pain medication when they get an IUD inserted. If we’re having a painful experience, such as recovering from a C-section, we’re taught to keep our pain to ourselves and suck it up. There’s evidence that doctors constantly dismiss women’s pain, and that this leads to misdiagnosis. Femtech says: enough is enough. We don’t deserve to be in pain, and we can take action to address it. We can build women’s healthcare to actually serve...drum roll please...women!
Femtech gives us new freedoms.
One example of femtech is the Mirena Hormonal IUD, a highly effective form of contraception that can prevent pregnancy for up to 8 years. Effective birth control helps females who sleep with males avoid needing an abortion or experiencing miscarriage. The localized hormones in the Mirena also makes many users’ symptoms of their menstrual cycles lighter, and make their periods lighter and shorter, or even stop altogether (amenorrhea). I have had a hormonal IUD for the last 7 years, and for me, buying tampons is a thing of the past. My Hormonal IUD has given me an incredible amount of freedom from pain and suffering that I experienced with my “natural” period for 11 years. It has been completely transformative for me. Femtech health solutions provide females with new experiences of life that would have been unfathomable or impossible before they had been invented, often as recently as a couple decades ago.
Femtech changes the course of history.
Cheesy, but true. Every time I meet a group of femtech co-founders, I think, “Wow, I wish you had invented this 100 years ago.” Take Yona, a new speculum created by Fran Wang, Rachel Hobart and team. The speculum is used in medical procedures that millions of us go through every year, like pelvic exams, but it hasn’t seen a significant design improvement since Thomas Graves’ model, which was created in the 1870s. Yona will give this device the upgrade it deserves.
Additionally, the age of digital health services has arrived. For example, telemedicine calls from Maven Clinic and Millie provide consultations on everything from postnatal lactation to UTI check-ins with gynecologists. Inclusivity is also very important to many femtech companies, such as Tia addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ patients.
Femtech shows us that we have the power to solve our own problems.
Founders often create a femtech product because they had a terrible personal experience with their own health and decide to do something about it. These days, we’re not just waiting for some Boring Old White Dude to solve our problems for us. Research done by LinkedIn shows that women are now pursuing careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) more than other fields. We’re gaining the scientific knowledge and skill sets we need so that we can design better health solutions for ourselves.
Femtech helps us envision new futures
For example, we could create birth control that is 100% effective with no side effects (that is not abstinence 😆), or a watch that gives you perfect information on when you will ovulate. These are some of my ideas. What ideas do you have?
What are the current shortcomings of the Femtech industry?
I recently read a fascinating piece by Alexis Moore, titled, “Where is the Feminism in Femtech?” In this piece, Moore acknowledges the very important point that many femtech companies discussed only address women’s health issues for people who are wealthy and employed at fancy tech companies. If you want to get your eggs frozen, you better be working at Google or Facebook, where they have fertility programs that make it affordable and accessible.
Access to health solutions is a key issue. Femtech companies are doing a lot to improve the level of care being provided, and expanding our perception of what is possible, with the fancy spa-style clinics of Kindbody or Tia. But these venture-backed organizations are often making women’s health less equitable and accessible.
So, where is the feminism in femtech? Moore quotes the feminist Mikki Kendall, and her groundbreaking book Hood Feminism,
“As feminists we need to take critical, radical measures in listening to women in the poorest communities about what they want and need instead of projecting narratives of ignorance onto them. . . . We have to be ready to listen to the girls and women who are still there, and not just the ones who were able to get out.”
Hood Feminism reminds us that we need to keep our perceptions broad of what feminist issues actually are. Gun violence is a feminist issue. Poverty is a feminist issue. Education is a feminist issue. These are crucial social problems that much of the femtech movement has forgotten about by primarily serving white, college-educated women who can afford to drop $17k on getting their eggs frozen. In this way, femtech companies may actually be exacerbating inequities across classes, races, income levels and education levels.
The femtech movement for the most part has a huge inclusivity problem, and founders at these companies would do well to reflect on how their companies can make the world better for all women and more equitable.
How can you help build a future with Femtech?
Support femtech startups by testing out their products.
Femtech solutions can only improve if we spend the money and give our feedback to make their products better. If you see a new period cup that looks cool, buy one! You’ll be taking a small step to help them improve solutions for menstruation. If you’re breastfeeding, buy multiple pumps if you can afford it and see which one you like best. By giving femtech startups critical feedback, you can help them make their products better. And tell your friends about them too 😜.
Bring your personal experiences and pursue your interests in STEM.
In female health, we face different social stigmas and health issues that have long been neglected. Money has been poured into men’s health issues, whereas we’ve been left in the dust with devices that were designed hundreds of years ago.
Each of us are uniquely placed to best understand the challenges we face with our own bodies and people like us in our communities. No one knows what you need quite like you do. Pursue any interest you have in STEM, so you can be part of creating new solutions. Sign up for that Statistics class. Get the extra lab training. Apply for that master’s degree. Become a healthcare provider. Femtech needs a diversity of experiences and all the brainpower we can get, and you bring that 🧠.
Look at the data, then make your own choices.
Anecdotal stories from friends that aren’t based on science can be misleading. Instead, embrace findings from research 🧬. Read reputable sources like PussyPedia to understand the truth about your body. Read systematic reviews and meta-studies, rather than individual studies that might be biased. When you’re informed, you can feel more confident about making your own decisions .
Become the researcher.
If you can’t find the research to answer your questions about women’s health, it doesn’t exist yet. For example, we still don’t know why people experience such different side effects from hormonal birth control. We need this research to happen, and no one is coming to save us. Could you run the experiment and publish the study? Why not?
The future is in your hands 🤓