Cycles and sex. No catchy title or lead needed here, the name speaks for itself. Actually, it is perhaps misleading, since for many of us "cycles" sends our minds straight to a vehicle composed of two wheels and a frame as opposed to menstruation.
Fortunately, there is a massive shift towards changing the way women - and men - think (or don't think) and talk (or don't talk) about bodies, bleeding and intimacy. We connected with the cheeky founders of Cycles+Sex, a leading organization in this movement, to discuss how to encourage empowering conversations about reproductive and sexual health, with a healthy dose of pleasure and humor.
Inside/Out: Introduce yourselves.
Cycles+Sex: We are CYCLES+SEX (no, not sex on a bicycle) and we teach people about their bodies. We highlight the interconnectedness of our menstrual, hormonal, reproductive and sexual health while including pleasure in the conversation. We are for all bodies - if you came from a uterus, this info is for you!
Our mission is to provide people with a go-to place where they can overcome shame and be inspired to become curious about how their bodies work and can learn the support and tools out there to help them along the way.
Inside/Out: Lots of women, even in their 30s, have no clue about their cycle and fertility windows, how can we change that?
C+S: Very true! And that was why we birthed CYCLES+SEX! But it starts earlier. Way earlier. We need to get this education to students as they first start to encounter hormonal shifts.
I/O: Historically, in many cultures and religions menstruation is considered to be impure, something to hide… How can we combat this cycle of shame?
C+S: Talk about it! Our platform really values the shared human experience… your voice, her voice, his voice, their's voice. And we believe shame can be overcome by learning that you are not alone - that others have similar stories - and then by providing tools to help along the way. There are some pretty amazing organizations involved with our upcoming CYCLES+SEX event (editor's note: next one is in L.A. on Nov. 4th - check out their clever promotional video here ) working towards providing tools to those with less access. Cora (organic tampon subscription service, providing pads to "girls in need") and Period (menstrual underwear) for example.
I/O: Women have inherited an extensive vocabulary of euphemisms referring to their periods, such as “Aunt Flo,” “that time of the month,” “the monthly gift,” etc. How should we be referring to our monthly bleeding? To our cycles overall? Is there a new, positive vocabulary emerging?
C+S: Well it’s interesting. All the language that is commonly used, only talks about the bleeding part of the cycle. And to us, that’s what is so problematic. The cycle has so many different elements to it, ones that can give us clues to our overall health and wellbeing. So it would be great to stop highlighting solely when we bleed and instead start talking about our luteal and follicular phases, too!
I/O: In a recent round up on Refinery29 called Clue App "the Zooey Deschanel of period tracker apps” and referred to Period Diary as "the 1986 bridesmaid dress of period tracker apps." Actresses like Lena Dunham made it "ok" but mostly fun, to talk about our cycles. Is humor the best weapon to fight conservative minds?
C+S: We definitely believe that humor helps. And to know our audience, we need to be able to communicate with them in a way that makes them feel safe and listened to as well in order for anything to get across effectively.
I/O: Do you think that cycle apps are a trend, an educational tool? Do you think they are part of a larger revolution regarding the way we deal with our own physiological process?
C+S: We love cycle tools. They are playing a huge role in getting people interested in tracking again. While good ole graphs and pens are great, the likelihood of the millennial set and younger actually doing that? Good luck. We particularly love Alisa Vitti's MyFlo, Clue and Flutter that can be used to not only for contraceptive or contraception purposes, but as teaching tools for people to learn what information their cycles can teach them about their health (for example signs of potential cysts or endometriosis). One important thing to note is that some of the apps don’t take cervical fluid into account, and this can be problematic as only temperature can tell you when you’re likely to be ovulating, not just when your fertile window is starting.
I/O: What other “fem-tech” products or other brands do you use, enjoy or condone?
C+S: Dame. Love Dame. We also think that The Pleasure Chest is doing really important work by reaching lots of different bodies with different orientations and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment while valuing education.
I/O: In the past, magazines for teenagers used to have a column dedicated to questions young women did not dare to ask their families or friends. What tools would you recommend to our younger audience?
C+S: Yes! Not to toot our own horn but...CYCLES+SEX! We have a series on Instagram called #askcyclesandsex where people can write in with any question and we have our team of experts answer them. We also have a podcast and are in the process of creating a whole new website that will be chock-filled with killer content.
I/O: In Rio, in 2016, Chinese athlete Fy Yuanhui broke the sporting taboo of discussing menstruation, blaming her bad performance on having her period; and sports magazines today - predominantly about male athletes and read by men - have begun to explore the topic with athletes and experts. Do you think it’s a strong sign that the sports world is finally evolving in the favor of women?
C+S: Time will tell...let’s see what actually happens.
I/O: Tampons were invented in the 30s and it’s only recently that “fem-tech” and new products for women (underwear, cups) started emerging. How can you empower women to run businesses themselves in order to change the world?
C+S: It still boggles my mind that businesses such as ours - even though we don’t cater to only women - and the ones you mentioned are considered “niche” whenwomen drive up to 80% of consumer purchasing. (And are, you know, half the population.) What I can say about this space, which I think is very special and how we really can make a big impact is that we are seeing a lot more collaboration instead of straight competition between companies in similar fields. We are learning from each other. Supporting each other. And together, driving change.
I/O: In the future, how can women find their way of taking more space in a political sphere lead by men voting on tampon taxes, anti-abortion laws and other limitations?
C+S: Run for office. Our co-founder Lauren Bille is a future candidate!