On vaginal discharge and endometriosis
Inbal joins Shlomit and they set up Gina Life.
"We can get a lot of information from women's vaginal secretions and this information can save lives. It’s a fluid that comes out of the body, like snot, therefore it’s open to the environment and has very specific properties. Like COVID-19 - which is examined by snot, a lot of things can be learned from vaginal discharges."
“We are first and foremost scientists. We extract information from all kinds of platforms and it's simply and undeniably a treasure trove. It's amazing how much information can be extracted from there and how much this medium, this bio-fluid, has not got the place & respect it deserves. There are very few academic articles that talk about the molecular properties of secretions and we understand that research is needed for this, awareness and education. We are told we are brave for researching & envisioning it. And I ask - why? ".
Through research and analysis of vaginal secretions, they identify different biomarkers and characteristics. These days they are researching and looking for biomarkers that will help in the early detection of ovarian cancer. They’re also developing a special test that will allow any woman in the future to check for ovarian cancer at home and detect it at a very early stage, just like a pregnancy test, because unfortunately, today it is discovered in a very advanced stage of the disease, and time is a crucial factor to win this fight.
We also talked about the BRCA test, which has now entered the Israeli health care system for Ashkenazi women and can save lives, so for those who are relevant - go get tested. We also discussed how we, as women, are going to break out and give ourselves the power to be in charge of our own lives.
As part of their vision in Gina Life to save lives, it is important for them to address endometriosis, which affects 10% of the female population. These are cells in the wall / lining of the uterus, which move to other areas of the body, and change on certain days of the month around ovulation and menstruation, which creates very large pains. These are lesions that are not cancerous, but still aggressive. The big problem surrounding the treatment of this disease is the lack of awareness which is leading to a long time for diagnosis, an average of 7.5 years.
The question arises - why does the diagnostic process take so long?
In endometriosis, the symptom that women experience is pain. In many cases a woman who complains of menstrual pain is sent home when she first arrives to report the pain. The test is invasive and complex, and is usually diagnosed when a woman announces that she is unable to conceive, because endometriosis causes fertility problems. Only then the doctors return to all the symptoms the patient has shared in the past. Part of the process of understanding the cause is through elimination. Endometriosis is chronic and has no treatment, so often syndromes related to sexual behaviors are neglected and sometimes that itself can cause more damage along the way. It’s important that we recognize this disease as a society, and it’s also important that women will know that it exists and there is an explanation for what they are experiencing. In Gina Life, they also aim to diagnose endometriosis early.
On menopause & pain during intercourse
Rebecca and her co-founders have developed in Aquafit a product that allows the secretion of lubricants naturally, which leads to softening of the vagina, its expansion and reduction of pain during intercourse.
Let's take a moment to explain -
The two most important hormones in women’s bodies are estrogen and progesterone, and in men there are two other hormones that can cause imbalance. Estrogen is what binds us from the first cycle to menopause - it’s responsible for all our sexual health, pre-menstrual pain and mood swings. Estrogen is affected by the day of the month, when we’re menstruating, when we’re breastfeeding, and in menopause it’s completely affected - it disappears.
As young women we don’t know enough about the phenomenon of menopause. This phenomenon is prevalent in 100% of healthy women who reach the stage where their menstrual cycle ends -
"In Israel it’s called the age of “worn-out”, and I don’t feel that in any way", says Rebecca. Sometimes the way things are named does them an injustice.
Menopause has several side effects that affect the vagina and in particular the ability to circulate blood and moisten it.
There are intimate workouts that can be done, and of course, to produce more than that - "foreplay" is a great thing, also from a biological standpoint, because it activates the natural lubricants. Sexual pain can be experienced from a young age at the beginning of having sex, but it’s also true for all ages - 40% of women experienced pain when they had sex. It’s not one in 10 but 2 in 5, and the report of pain crosses every age.
"A lot of women are not educated from a young age how to treat their vagina as an organ that is critical to pleasure. We do see it in a distorted way in porn, which many men are affected by in the way they approach sexual expiriences with women. Looking at the Jewish religion - the attitude is that our body and our sexuality are not for pleasure, but only to bring children into the world."
On the phenomenon of Vaginismus - there is an involuntary narrowing of the vagina. 20% of young women experience pain, hence, they are in a state of involuntary muscle contraction because the initial penetration was not done with "foreplay". Although today there is more openness, much of our sexuality knowledge & behavior is mediated by digital interfaces.
We all agreed, that every woman should talk about pain she is experiencing in sex. We are responsible for our own pleasure & pain. One thing is certain - sex should not hurt. In most cases when it hurts it can be resolved, and anyone who talks to a woman who says sex hurts her - should talk about it and not ignore it.
Education as a tool for healthy sexuality
We are entrepreneurs, investors and many of us are parents - it’s important that we’ll be aware of what message we are conveying to children. We have a responsibility for their sexual perceptions - sexuality & sex are wonderful things, and should be mediated & adapted for the appropriate age, but not ignored. One of the reasons we’re embarrassed these days and don’t pass on proper sex education is because when we were kids, the adults in our life haven't spoken to us about sex and we learned to not talk about it honestly and openly, so now, it permeates our children as well. There are professionals today for healthy sexuality - the goal is to impart tools and knowledge for proper sex education that will allow them to be informed & enjoy their bodies, and as parents - we need to know what our children consume and how, for their own good.
Women FemTech entrepreneurs come to male investors - what's going on within that space?
Inbal shares about the types of investors she encounters - those who connect to the vision and goal because they have a personal story from home, or because they have daughters and they want to create a better world for them, but there are also those who don’t connect at all because it has no market from their point of view, even though women are 50% of the population! In this case, science & the business model speaks for itself, and she goes in her explanations in the direction of its impact, what it does and how much money it will make them. But it's still a struggle - Rebecca shares that there are complex moments even with the consumer companies themselves - "they gave us the innovation award from Procter & Gamble and then the investors asked me to take out the product and everyone was shrunken. They asked us to build the market first and come back in another 5 years, because sexual health is complex."
I asked Orit about her perspective as an investor, and she replied that all of the healthcare departments up to the times of COVID-19 didn’t get much investment attention, but COVID-19 has changed the game. Since then there has been an awakening. She shares that this field has been considered difficult for years because it is long-term & requires a lot of clinical trials. It‘s an investment that requires a very large amount of funding even before the product is ready for commercialization. It involves high risk and isn’t suitable for every investor. Beyond that, she added that there’s something in the word 'discharge' that arouses bias, and from the men point of view it may shatter their ideal of the alure of sex or the beauty model - because if you recognize it, you admit there is a problem. The second thing concerns women investors, and that's also difficult for them - it holds up a mirror and confronts them - "what does it say about me if I use this product".
What’s important for us to remember from now on
We talked about a lot of issues related to women's health, sexually transmitted diseases and new technologies. Out of all this amount of information that takes time to digest, what’s important that we remember right now and enter as habits into our lives:
1. The responsibility for our life is in our own hands - no matter what age, we need to take the reins, manage it and not give up.
2. It’s super important to do an annual checkup with a breast surgeon, breast ultrasound, Pap + HPV, and put our health as a top priority. Because without it, we can’t be our best selves as managers, mothers, entrepreneurs, investors, etc.
3. We want to be true to ourselves, to talk about sex openly, to talk about the female medical aspects openly - with ourselves, with our spouses, with our children. Everything we talked about in the two parts of this conversation - affects labor productivity in the economy and employers should know, be aware of it and address it.
4. Investors - did you hear that? This is not feminism, these are health issues concerning the minority that is 50% of the population. This market is estimated to reach $ 60 billion by 2027. FemTech includes a full range of domains, so even if we talk about 10% out of 50% of the population - it’s still a significant share.
Finally, I asked Orit, Inbal and Rebecca, what their wishes were for today.
Inbal shares that her wish is to show that vaginal secretions are an important part of maintaining health and to break new ground in this field and thus also commemorate the memory of her sister Hava. Rebecca simply says - "to live in the venture for another year. We didn’t know what we were getting into in the beginning and we still don’t know what's ahead. We are very proud that we were able to take out a product and reach women, and we hope to continue to do so." And Orit hopes that more women will enter the world of investments.