This Startup Wants to Fix the Broken Women's-Sexual-Health System



Last year, New Yorkers had their morning commutes on the MTA disrupted by suggestive advertisements for Hims, a direct-to-consumer wellness brand established by Andrew Dudum with a mission to help men address their less-than-desirable health issues such as hair loss and sexual dysfunction. This month, the company has expanded its reach by launching a line called Hers that targets women's health issues related to sex, skin, and hair.

Hilary Coles, the brand lead at Hers, explained that it’s overall mission is to enable women to “make the most important choices of their well-being without any judgment, obstacles, what have you in the way.” She adds, “We want to be that trusted resource for women, and we didn’t see one in the market like this that can help you understand all of your options when you have health concerns and guide you toward the most efficient and reputable way of taking care of those options.”

Hers aims to fix what it views as a broken process in the American healthcare system by “connecting women directly with trusted physicians across the country so that they can take care of themselves where they want and need to.” Essentially, the brand is committed to providing solutions so no woman is left behind due to factors beyond her control, whether it’s a lack of accessibility or affordability. It’s “putting the purchasing power back in women’s hands,” as Coles likes to say. Even though Hims was founded by a man and specifically for men, the team behind it was predominately made up of women, so branching out into this new territory wasn’t necessarily a reach by any means. Coles and her colleagues spent the past year doing market research to fully develop Hers while also building the foundation for an established network that contains 120 doctors across the U.S.

In the sex section, consumers can register for generic birth control pills and Addyi (also known flibanserin), the only FDA-approved medication to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder that has been referred to as the “female Viagra.” It should be noted that those interested in these products have to complete a questionnaire that is then evaluated by a doctor for approval, check-ins, and refills. Even though Hers has only been open for about two weeks now, there has already been some backlash for selling Addyi because of its similarities to antidepressants by increasing dopamine and lowering serotonin levels in the brain and the dangerous side effects. This is exactly why Addyi is not for everyone, though. It’s a drug that is designed to treat a specific dysfunction for women who suffer from low sex drives.

“Our goal is always to provide women with options, and our hope is that more options will continue to come out on the market,” said Coles. “Our medical team established that Addyi reduces stress and improves sexual satisfaction. A key piece to getting to the root of that is when you go through your questionnaire which has been reviewed by a doctor, we get to see if there are pre-existing mental health conditions because that’s not the same as a sex drive disorder, so this is not going to be a good product for you. Or are you having relationship problems? That’s not the same thing as low sex drive disorder. We can’t address that, so this is not going to be a good fit for you. This is not going to work for everybody but broadly for women who are distressed in their day-to-day lives and affected by it. Those women can then make the call to see whether or not this could work or if it’s worth pursuing for them.”

While there aren’t necessarily stigmas that women need to overcome in terms of their sexual health, there is certainly a list of common concerns that are often ignored, even in the presence of doctors. Consumers will instantly notice the shift in tone between Hims and Hers. Gone are the sultry visuals and witty banter in favor of imagery that is more on the sleek-and-serious side. For men, it was crucial that Hims came off as conversational as a way to break the ice and start a dialogue. Women speak a different language because they tend to be more in tune with their bodies and inherently know when something doesn’t feel quite right, so the approach for Hers had to be altered.

“I generally know what’s going on with my body. I know what a UTI feels like; I know what I need; it’s everything else around it that I don’t need,” said Coles. “I don’t need the judgment. I don’t want to cancel meetings so I can run to the pharmacy if my prescription is up. I don’t want any of those things. So we really focused on trust, building that relationship, and coming at it from a different sense of community.”

A quick browse through the website won’t have women feeling overly marketed toward by saturated shades of pink. Instead, customers are greeted with neutral, cool tones of blue and green. The product packaging is refined so that it has the potential to be “worthy of a shelfie” rather than hidden in the back of a drawer. It’s taking away the embarrassment that is associated with these problems and breaking down the shame shelf. Some of the models cast in the promotional photography for Hers are over the age of 30. Hers also has the Savoir Vivre blog to educate customers with additional information in the form of articles that continue the conversations around uncomfortable topics such as pelvic physical therapy, low libidos, acne myths, and porn.

Beyond sexual health, Hers takes this no-nonsense, wellness-oriented ethos into markets like hair and skincare. There’s a seafoam-green tinted shampoo to reduce shedding and multivitamin gummy bears loaded with vitamins B12, B6, D, and folic acid to strengthen hair, nail, and skin growth. (In January, Hers will be introducing a minoxidil topical solution to “stimulate hair regrowth” among other products that address other gaps in the market.) As far as the complexion is concerned, Coles simply wanted to focus on creating affordable products that combated acne, aging, and melasma on the same level as what board-certified dermatologists would prescribe to patients. Coles argues that Hers is showing respect for women’s time by giving them reliable resources that work and require little effort to use.

With Hers, it’s like we know you know. Now let us help you cut through all the bullshit so that you know that you can come to us as a trusted resource, that we’re going to point you to an efficient way of going about your business and you feel like you’re in a reputable, safe place,” added Coles. “You are in the driver’s seat.”

Next up: Making this one tweak to her diet helped one editor get her period back.