Gadgets, gizmos, and apps are making it so we really don’t have to think about much any more. We’ve now got endless options of device-based notifications that will alert us to do or remember just about anything. During a group project in her masters-level engineering classes at UC Berkeley, Amanda Brief decided to apply this kind of technology to provide a solution to what she calls “menstruation mortification,” a feeling brought on by leaks and/or surprises. So she founded my.Flow, the maker of a newfangled tampon that talks to a wearable “flow monitor” that talks to a smartphone app, which ultimately “tells you when your tampon is full.” All that, just so you remember to change your tampon.
Tech journalist Dana Wollman, who notes she is “one of few women who write for Engadget,” was invited to see an early demo of my.Flow two weeks ago, and penned a great, in-depth piece about it. She breaks down my.Flow’s viability, usability, and necessity, ultimately arguing for good ‘ol common sense as a pretty reliable means of remembering to change your tampon. That said, she also acknowledges the potential impact that period management startups with products like this (and “noble intentions”) can have on making women’s lives easier and helping to remove the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.
Though the initial email I received described it as a “smart tampon,” this is, in fact, a bit of a misnomer. The tampon itself looks like any other tampon, complete with a plastic applicator. There’s no circuitry inside, so in that sense, it’s dumber than its name implies. Instead, an insulated (and very long) string connects to a small sensor that the wearer clips onto her underwear or waistband. The sensor then talks to a smartphone app that sends notifications when the tampon is nearly saturated. Over time, too, the app can predict when a woman’s period will start, how long it will last and what her heaviest-flow days will be.
The idea is to help women avoid embarrassing surprises — the sort of leaks you’d see if you neglected to change your tampon or weren’t expecting your period to start that day. My.Flow is also trying to prevent toxic shock syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal complication sometimes caused by leaving a tampon in too long. Conversely, says the company, if the cotton has barely absorbed any blood, a woman can avoid the discomfort of having to remove a dry, unlubricated tampon.
While the my.Flow site states the company has “a works-like and looks-like Patent Pending model ready to launch,” it’s not yet available to consumers. Dana reported, “The company is seeking seed funding, with hopes of launching a commercially available product sometime next year.” If that comes to be, the scoop on the price is that the sensor will cost a one-time price of $49 (Amanda told Dana the battery is rated to last “years”), and the tampons themselves will be sold online, as a subscription. At roughly $13, Dana points out, “they’ll be more expensive than competing products (a 50-pack of Tampax costs around $10 on Amazon).”