In 2014, Meika Hollender launched Sustain, a condom brand marketed at women, empowering them to take their sexual health into their own hands. She didn't realize how quickly she would become the target of harassment. When she explains her company's mission, men regularly ask her whether she would like them to test out the condoms she's selling. "Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it isn't," Hollender says.
It's even worse on the Internet: Hollender, who has a prominent mole on her lip, has received hundreds of nasty comments from people suggesting she might have an STD and instructing her to use her own products. Once, she was so distressed by it all that she called her dermatologist to see how quickly she could have the mole removed. Her mother finally talked her off the ledge, telling her not to alter herself or her brand because of this negative behavior. "She reminded me that combatting this culture was exactly why I had started the company," Hollender says. "I wasn't the one that needed to change; this was about changing society."
For Hollender, these experiences have brought to light exactly how difficult it is for women to talk openly about sex in our culture. But she believes this silencing doesn't just happen in public forums; women sometimes have trouble talking about sex with their partners, which makes it hard for them to advocate for themselves in the bedroom.
Today, Hollender is launching a video campaign in conjunction with Women's Health Week. The goal of the campaign—which is called #GetOnTop—is to open up a conversation about women's sexuality and get 100,000 women to take an online pledge to practice safe sex at LetsGetOnTop.com. For every woman who makes the pledge, Sustain will donate a condom to a young woman in partnership with Bedsider and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. But while the campaign is about encouraging women to "get on top" of their own sexual health, it's just as much about talking about women's sexual pleasure. "This is about making sure that women feel good about having sex," Hollender says. "It's about normalizing the idea that women have sex and enjoy it."
To amplify the message, she's gotten 10 well-known women from a range of industries to star in the video—all of whom have taken the pledge. For instance, the founder of Thinx Underwear, Miki Agrewal, makes an appearance. Agrewal has been very vocal about breaking taboos about menstruation and was keen to do the same with women's sexuality. Piera Gelardi, cofounder of Refinery29, has used her media platform to talk about safe sex before, so she was game to participate. Film director Olivia Milch, who will soon release a film called Dude, also lent her voice to this effort. "So many movements today are driven by people that you relate to taking some sort of action," Hollender says. "We have a really great group of voices and people each had a unique take on how to talk about sex and their own sexual health."
A key part of the message is that safe sex means different things for each woman. Given that Sustain is known for its sexual wellness products, Hollender believes that condoms are certainly part of the solution. Currently 21% of sexually active single women ages 20 to 44 use condoms regularly and 71% feel shy about purchasing protection. According to the CDC, there are 20 million new STD cases in the U.S. every year and half of these occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
But Hollender says that it's not just about getting women to ask their partners to use condoms. "The reality is that everybody has their own definition, everybody is at a different place in life," she says. "If you're in a committed relationship and you're both tested, it might be safe for you just to use an IUD. Perhaps you're trying to get pregnant or trying not to get pregnant. What I'm trying to communicate is that safe sex is not just one size fits all."
The most important thing, in Hollender's view, is that women start feeling comfortable talking about sex in an honest way. In the context of the college rape crisis, the astounding number of unintended pregnancies, and the fact that millennials are becoming sexually active at younger ages than previous generations, she thinks it is more important than ever for women to voice their opinions when it comes to their bodies. "I've been slut-shamed and banned from speaking at events because I sell condoms," Hollender says. "I felt it was really important to take a stance on this."