Last night I went to see a show called Your Favorite Woman: The Joy of Sex Education. It’s a one woman show featuring the profoundly smart and funny Samantha Bee and it’s touring the U.S. If you are a) female, b) male or c) any or all of the above, you should run, not walk, to see it. There are a few more shows on the tour and hopefully it will soon be a Netflix special or equivalent because everyone should get to see it. It is amazing.
The focus of the show is really women’s health, but also more broadly human health as seen through the lens of female biology from puberty, through reproductive years and into menopause. It is funny as hell (like, tears streaming down your face funny) but also is a truckload of real talk about what weird stuff happens to women and, as importantly, how little either women or men know about these things and how this affects women’s lives and society as a whole. There was a particular peach of a segment showing men talking about women’s reproductive health that featured Idaho State Representative saying he knew all he needed to know on the topic because he raised cows and had walked behind many of them. His specific quote: “I’ve milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions.” I kid you not. There is video.
Unfortunately, this is the real state of the world and much of it starts with the lack of education about women’s bodies or anybody’s bodies, for that matter. Most (not all – consider this foreshadowing) of us get some crap form of “sex education” in school, but it’s often wrong and very weird, at best. Some people think their children should be shielded from knowledge about the body and what it is, at least in part made from and made for. And as a result, we end up with public policy that is based on cows.
During the show Bee pointed out some statistics on sex education which made my head spin, for instance:
- Only 38 states and D.C. mandate sex education and/or HIV education – note: 10 states mandate HIV education and NOT sex education – riddle me this, Batman…
- Only 25 states and D.C. mandate both sex and HIV education (for those of you who are not math geniuses, that’s half)
- A whopping 11 states require discussion of the importance of consent to sexual activity during sex ed
- 4 states require only negative information to be provided on homosexuality and/or positive emphasis on heterosexuality. One state prohibits instruction on gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation (guess who, sports fans! Consider the story of the cows and it will explain a lot)
- OK, ready, here’s my favorite: Only 18 states require that sex ed content be medically appropriate (and even better, Arizona requires that HIV content be medically appropriate but does not require general sex ed content to meet that standard)
I’m going to sit here while you let that last one sink in….
Kill me now. If you are even remotely sane, seeing this list on how the various states mandate/regulate sex education will make you reach for the nearest bottle of liquor and reinforce your plan to seek alternative citizenship.
Bee spent about half of her live show talking about early female health – mainly the time between getting one’s period and having a baby – and the other half on perimenopause and menopause, which is, by the way, a 10–15-year journey for the uninitiated: dudes, I’m talking to you. Men care a lot about the first scene of this show and perhaps don’t even know they should care about the second act. Trust me, you should care. If you have a partner and haven’t suggested that you know all about her because you have seen cows, you are going to experience my bespoke Wheel of Misfortune as a participant and spectator.
One cool note: Samantha Bee and Soledad O’Brien are currently in the process of co-creating a TV series on women’s health to appear sometime soon, hopefully. According to them, the show is intended to cover the “urgent mess” that is women’s health care in America from abortion rights and birth control to the wellness industry which has preyed on the lack of information and care available to women. It aims to be an antidote to misinformation and a view into how America has utterly failed women. Specifically, here’s what Bee had to say about it, “This show is for anyone who’s ever casually mentioned endometriosis at a brunch, and then needed 12 more hours of mimosas to handle the ensuing show-and-tell of ailments.”
Seeing the Samantha Bee s how was particularly timely for me as I have been asked to give a presentation on Investment and Entrepreneurship in Women’s Health to a group of young women affiliated with Caraway, a cool emerging company focused on wholistic healthcare issues for women aged 18+. It was a coincidence that my show tickets were for the same week, but I literally finished writing my talk and then went to the show and wow! Now I really understand why the state of investing in women-led and women’s-health companies is so freaking fraught.
Let’s start with the fact that more than 60% of women’s tech-enabled healthcare startups were founded in the last 6 years, and that there has been a 1,000% increase in the number of businesses in the space over the last 10 years, according to FemHealth Insights research. So that’s sort of good news if you forget that women are more than 6 years old. Women represent 51% of the population and women’s health companies got $1.16 Billion of venture capital in 2022, a massive increase over the $130 Million in 2016, but chump change in the world of overall investment into the sector.
Most, though not all, of the women’s health companies are founded by and led by women. Here are some painful stats from Pitchbook: In 2022, companies founded solely by women garnered just 2% of the total capital invested in VC-backed startups in the United States. In Europe, the percentage was even lower, at 0.9%. Companies with at least one female founder (and also a male founder) raised about $38 billion in venture funding over 3,503 deals in 2022, while startups with only female founders garnered $4.3 billion over 926 deals. How about them misogynistic apples? That’s across all venture deals, not just health, but in health it’s really not much better. Also, women-led companies get far lower valuations at both early and late stages than do man-led companies. And this is despite the fact that women-led companies have lower burn rates and exit sooner than man-led companies. No wonder drinking is on the rise among women. You can’t make this stuff up.
Most of the women’s health investment deals are led by female venture capitalists, no surprise. They aren’t afraid to talk about periods or menopause or other taboo subjects like, say, human biology. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’m interested in women’s health because I am a woman. I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.”
The reason the number of deals in women’s health has rise is that the the number of women venture capitalists has also risen over the last decade. In healthcare-focused VC firms, female representation was 20.3% in 2022, vs. 4.5% in all firms (according to the NVCA), thus somewhat higher in relation to decision-making on healthcare investments. But we are a long way from 51% and note to all you male investors out there: women are not just small men. We have different healthcare issues and experience health and interventions differently than you fleece vest-wearing types. I have created the graphic below to explain to you how this plays out in investing reality:
I’ve got a whole talk written on this topic now, so let me know if you would like me to present it to your group. While I’m at it, I might explain to them the differences between women and cows or why sexual consent is a reasonable topic of conversation. Just sayin’…
In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious clip from Saturday Night Live highlighting the problem of lame sex education and what it means for lame entrepreneurship. Your welcome.