Christine Mason founded and grew technology companies starting in 1996. She's a mentor to young businesses and nonprofits, and has served as a futurist an innovation advisor for global companies like Estee Lauder and Panasonic. From 2009 to 2013, Christine curated and led TEDxSanFrancisco events; she continues to convene gatherings around the world. She serves on the board of the GRIP training institute, working in the California State Prisons with life-eligible inmates on victim-offendor communication, and with the Stone Research Foundation. She founded Rosebud Woman in 2017, after years of research into responses to women's intimate care needs. Christine is also the mother of four and a grandmother, in addition to being an author and business leader.
Dr. Barb: Christine Mason is an entrepreneur, yogi, writer, and mentor to new businesses and nonprofits. She's an innovation advisor to companies like Estee Lauder and Panasonic, as well as a mother of four and a grandmother. In 2017 she founded Rosebud Woman, a completely plant-based line of intimate care moisturizers and stimulants. I first met Christine at the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health Conference and we learned how much our missions align. Welcome, Christine.
Christine: Hi. Thank you so much. How are you doing?
Dr. Barb: Good. And thanks for joining me today. I'm eager to hear more about your company and your mission and sharing that with listeners. So, but first I want to start out by saying your background is interesting. You have successfully founded and launched a half a dozen technology companies which seems quite different from the company that provides intimate care products for women. So, can you just share with us a little bit of your journey and what has sparked your interest in women's sexual health?
Christine: Yeah. So I was pretty bought into the traditional hierarchical climb in corporate America when I was in my 20s, but I took a first job out of business school and I had three little kids at home and I couldn't juggle that. And I saw that there were only two places to be as a woman who had a lot to offer in the world of work and that was either in charge or on this freelance schedule. And so, my journey to becoming a company founder was really driven by a culture that couldn't adapt to a woman with kids who wanted to work in it.
And so I became—I founded my first company then, and I built on a lot of things that I had learned on technology and heavy industry, and they all came very naturally. And then when I was in my early 30s I started to sort of long for a more feminine way of being. I started studying tantra and yoga and sexuality and plant medicines and things like that in parallel with my main work. And so around I think 2010, 2011 I shifted all the work I was doing in technology to innovation for health and wellness companies and still was doing this very high-touch sensuality, sexuality, women's health thing along concurrently.
And then when I got some free space I sold the company, I sold my house. I was like, "This is the thing that I've been working on gifting and making items at home and I want to turn this into a real thing." So I took my tech experience and I did a survey of 3,000 women on their needs and then turned that into this, with the best chemists and really great formulators and opinions and advice from medical doctors as well as homeopathic and traditional medicine people. So it's been a really amazing journey that combines both sides of my brain and life experience.
Dr. Barb: So your journey and your survey of 3,000 women, what was the unmet need that you identified that you knew needed a solution?
Christine: Well, I thought it was a just about moisturizing, like vulva and vaginal moisture, which I knew was a concern and that most of the stuff that I saw in the market was super chemy. But I was surprised to find out that there were more needs—like there were more needs that I could solve also, by the way. But the top four needs that people said they had was dryness, lubrication, which go together, lack of sensation, basically the pelvic basin not being able to feel much of anything, particularly in the vaginal opening, introitus, or the vulva. The other one was irritation like soothing, itching, redness that could come after waxing or exercise or after sex, and then cleanliness, that's a tough one. It also got described a lot as odor but it wasn't just that. There were also concerns around scarring, stretch marks, particularly scarring from episiotomies that people talked about.
And I divided the results up by had you gone through regular menopause or surgically induced menopause or were you still actively bleeding and tried to see if the needs differed. And among the needs the only one that significantly differed by menopause or not was the moisture question; that was about twice as many women after menopause as before. But the others were pretty consistent regardless. The other one on the arousal or sensation was more tied to whether or not you'd had a vaginal birth or you'd had sexual trauma then it was tied to menopause. So, it was a very interesting study. So I really like to—we're not trying to invent a new problem for women to solve, but actually to both address these underlying concerns and, in play or pleasure, there's nothing wrong with just having more comfort and ease and pleasure there either; it doesn't need to necessarily be medicalized.
Dr. Barb: So you identified this need, and now what, you network, you know people, your chemist plant base? So tell me how somebody takes this understanding of improving quality of women's lives and then is able to produce on that? I guess I just most of us...
Christine: The humility of that part of the trip. I have an interest in Ayurveda, I have an interest, like I was saying, in plant medicine. So the first thing I did was talk to Chinese medicine doctors, Indian doctors, what I call the white witches, the people who carry the Northern European plant medicine. What did they use for these particular conditions? And others, like period pain and things like that, what did they use? And then I talked to my doctor friends: what did they use? And then I looked at research on the plants. And I had already been with my blender in the kitchen for many, many years making a moisturizer and a lubricant and a skin cream as well that I was giving to friends like learning how to emulsify and do all that stuff.
So I thought, "Okay, now what I need to do is to make sure that this is medically accurate, that it's a good formula." And so, through my contacts at Estee Lauder I found an amazing chemist in the Los Angeles basin who was very heavily focused on plant based and organic, so super-clean-ingredient beauty as well as had the attributions of doing several skincare lines for famous doctors, really high-end lines like $200-, $300-a-bottle serums and things like that, that you would recognize the names of if I said it to you. And I walked into his office and I showed him my prototype formulas and he said, " Ha, ha, ha. They're well intended; they look like a cookie recipe. Let's see what we can do."
So, he took the formulas and upgraded them, added some new ingredients based on what we wanted to achieve, and then we started testing them on people. And we went through about four or five iterations on each product to get them right and then we did patch testing and gynecological testing as well to make sure that that worked, and stability testing and all of that. So I really owe it to Fred and then Francesca, our chemist, who's done some of the other products for really getting the formulas just right with us. So that was the formula part and I could pause there because there's just so much even in that—and specific ingredients that we discovered that I could talk about for days.
Dr. Barb: And what you determined was what women need didn't already exist?
Christine: It did not, no. I mean there were some very—there were some vaginal moisturizers and lubricants and that you can get from a doc; some of them are fine but most of them had really harsh chemicals where they were petroleum jelly, petroleum based, which we don't like in that part of the body. And then there were some things that you could use for cleaning but I thought they had also chemy ingredients. Plus they had this message that it wasn't just about cleaning the stove top or feeling better or having a non-irritating cleanser: it was about deodorizing and fixing you, which was not what we wanted at all. We just wanted people to keep the outside clean so the vaginome didn't get disturbed. So looking around I didn't see what we wanted.
And then a lot of the packaging that things were coming in was very neon and sexualized and I wanted something beautiful. Just packaging that you could put this glass out on your bedside and keep it and look at it and it looked nice and had that glow about it. The items themselves would become something you'd want to have out in your bathroom or on your bedside table. So yeah, those did not exist for sure.
Dr. Barb: And I—unfortunately we're only audio, we're not video, so we can't show our listeners the beauty of your products, but they are beautiful. [Here’s a link to some photos.]
Christine: Thank you.
Dr. Barb: Yes. So my website, MiddlesexMD, is just starting to carry your products because I do think you have found something very special and unique. But what's the response been to your company and your products?
Christine: I am a little overwhelmed. It's very culty-like; people love it. And I sometimes when I'm having a low night or something I'll just go read testimonials [laughs]; it's really lovely.
Barb: It is lovely.
Christine: I vary the products and a lot of other stuff. Like we wrote a little book that talks about self love and teaches about your body parts and unwinding cultural messages around your sensual and sexual life. And I do a lot of women's circles with my team around the country on that and just getting people together and realizing that we don't have the red tent situation in the west, we don't have a lot of women gathering talking about these intimate questions. But when you start to put people in triads and dyads and they're talking amongst themselves on specific questions whether it's related to early sexual experience or periods and cycles or what they know about menopause, or how to care for themselves, that they just explode.
There's so much that's buried inside of us that isn't being conversed about, that's also the big opportunity. It's not just normalizing talking about the vulva or talking about your intimate life but inviting a space where people can be really authentic about that. And some people talk to their doctor about it but most doctors, unlike you, don't have a lot of time to have those more in depth conversations on sexuality and sensuality.
Dr. Barb: And I think as a provider recognizing the need we so appreciate people like you who can have an authentic, passionate voice speaking into the beauty of sexual health and I think you've nailed it.
Christine: I feel... I'm blushing. You can't see that because I'm on audio.
Dr. Barb: So I also appreciate the Rosebud Woman mission statement. Can you share that and talk a little bit about it?
Christine: Well it's long, but I keep trying to cut it down to more joy and less suffering. And it's about restoring this part of the body, the whole pelvic basin to body care and normalizing it and encouraging the integration of this into our whole self. So we do that in a lot of ways. My longer-arc life's work is connecting what's going on inside of our bodies, our inner lives, our spiritual life, our emotional, psychological life, with the cultural systems we create.
And so, I feel like the denigration and the denial of the vaginal area in general, like we say the pussy (I don't know if we can say that on your podcast), but the denial of that area is reflected in the way women are insulted in general. They're objectified; there's just a lot in there that I don't want to get into right now because the podcast is short. But that we believe that by shifting the way we think about our bodies that we can shift cultural systems. And when I say where is the world broken around women: domestic violence, economic opportunity, maternal health. So we do a lot to connect the dots between our own inner life and those systems, and we use a good portion of our proceeds to support charities that are working in those particular areas while we do the self correction and start advocating for full care and love of a woman's body in all of these areas.
Dr. Barb: And because this has been an interest of yours over time would you say you've seen some favorable results from the work and the efforts that we're actually culturally achieving a better sense of respect and love, self love?
Christine: I think so. I think you look at all around the world: women in Saudi Arabia are driving, in India now your local town council has to be 50-percent women by regulation. Here in the U.S. you're seeing the closing of the wage gap, that's a big deal. I think more body positivity, a lot of that. I mean I do sense in my lifetime that my daughters have a much different experience in some ways but then in other ways it hasn't changed it very much. Like particularly around the body pressure to conform to a certain image that is very bifurcated. There's body positivity but there's still this incredible intense Instagram culture that wants you to look a certain way and, yeah, it's not real.
So, there are changes in some areas, and the other side of that is I feel like the men's movement is finally getting its act together and saying, “each for equal.” That if women are respected in these ways and come into their power, then men have a much broader menu of ways that they can be in the world, how they can express, their expectations are diminished, et cetera, and they can be more genuinely themselves. Also a little bit free of the male role belief system or the gender roles that they've internalized. So that's my—I feel it's definitely changing. I just want it to change faster.
Dr. Barb: Yeah. Well, thank you for your efforts. So do you feel like in the work you're doing specifically through Rosebud Woman you're able to impact men as well?
Christine: I have gotten some notes from men, particularly the men who steal their women's Soothe product for their eczema. It's interesting because I get notes from men who buy the Arouse product for at home use or who buy the Honor product, which is the moisturizer, hoping to help their wives become more sexually active. Who don't understand why women in menopause don't have the same interest like they feel neglected and they want to put some spice back in the bedroom or something. And they say that it opens up a conversation with their partners or their wives that they hadn't had before, so to that extent yes.
I'm really proud of my friend Christopher Robbins, real name, who has a company called Soul Degree that is doing men's circles just like the Good Man Project and other things like that, where it's more men having the conversation with themselves. And Christopher, they are allies where we as women, if we're invited into this space to have a real talk with men who are conscious and want to know we can have that dialogue with them and otherwise it seems to be a secondary derivative benefit from the products.
Dr. Barb: Well that's encouraging. At MiddlesexMD we've had a number of instances where we've been blocked from trade shows or advertising that's been rejected. Just really not being able to get out there to have the frank discussion and use the proper terms for women in sexual health. Have you run into some of that same thing with Rosebud Woman?
Christine: I'm so glad you asked that, I'm so glad. So we advertise a lot on Facebook, it's a fairly effective platform but repeatedly you can't use the word vagina, you can't use the word, there's just a lot of words they block because they don't understand the difference between porn and the sexualization or objectification of women and women's health. And so, I know that 60 or 70 percent of women have this problem and I can pretty much tell you what conditions will cause it, "Can you help me find them," as I want to reduce suffering and they block our ads continually.
In New York, there's tons of ads for erectile dysfunction in the subway and dancers, ladies, “live, live, live” all the time, those kind of ads, strip club kind of ads, but when they tried to do ads for women's period care products those were blocked and they actually did a lawsuit. It took two years to get the MTA to accept that advertising. So one thing I'm concerned about as we move forward is algorithms and technology. They bake in the preexisting assumptions of the people who wrote them. The optimizations and the blocks are all done by an algorithm and so we're coding into our technology preexisting biases around women's bodies and women's health. And so, I'm really encouraging along with a few other firms in this space, Facebook and Google and other companies, to have a white-listing program that people who are in sexual health and wellness can be part of, that will stop the blockage of those ads, as well as a way for broader culture to understand the difference between those two things. There's so much more in that area to talk about, yes.
Dr. Barb: Is this something you were aware of before you were more personally involved in the sexual health business? Did you recognize that that was part of the fabric of our culture or has it more just come to your awareness now that you're working with the efforts of Rosebud Woman?
Christine: Yeah, I did not know. I just figured those companies weren't advertising. I did not know that they weren't being programmatically blocked from reaching me. I would have been very interested in a tantra course for example on how to improve your sensual and sexual life. I would totally have done that many times if they'd advertised that to me or the body love program that we're starting. I would've done that a decade ago if I'd seen it advertised, but if it was blocked, I wouldn't have known it; so it's a little bit of a negative proof.
Dr.. Barb: How has launching this company been different from launching the other companies you've been involved with?
Christine: Well, first of all whenever you launch a company of any kind you have to figure you're going to do it for three or five years and that all those people in your new company in that industry are going to be your best new friends. That's who you're going to hang out with. Like I got to meet you at a trade show. Prior to 2014, the people that I was meeting at trade shows were foundries and steel mills and guys who ran server farms [laughs].
Barb: [laughs] I’m not seeing it.
Christine: A very different cohort. And so, "We're going to buy a tractor company in Nebraska." So I mean I would go do that. So it's a totally different milieu, number one. So I really like this a lot more, the beauty industry, the health and wellness industry, the people are just amazing. They're so kind, they're so sisterly, I love that.
And then number two, I have been for the first time able to merge my personal mission and my practical skills “more joy less suffering” and “inner life outer world”; those are my personal missions in life. And so, it's a beautiful both passion for me because it's direct to consumer and I'm selling right to the end user and sometimes the retailers and spas and doctors. But I'm having these dialogues where you can see the impact right away.
Now I started, I began starting companies in 1998 and so that, I guess 94 actually, but the first tech company was 98 and back then, to do what we did to get this off the ground just from a technical perspective it would not have been possible. So if you're a woman who has an idea for a business this is an amazing time, all the technology tools that are out there that can help you get up and running. So it's been easier to launch. And plus because I was clear on it from the beginning we haven't had any missteps in terms of I know what I want, how it should look, and this ongoing interaction with the customer that we're constantly tweaking and improving things. So also it's just been a really joyful project from the beginning. I don't have any sense of it being work, it feels more like joy.
Dr.. Barb: Well you can certainly tell that from the way you just described it, the enthusiasm and the joy that exudes from you, so again, thanks. Can you give the listeners just a summary of your products?
Christine: Sure. So we have our flagship and most popular product is Honor Balm and it is a bedside like I actually designed the jar to go like those old cold cream jars that your granny might have had. It's like a beautiful rose-colored glass with a lid that has a little embossing, so a modern version of that. So Honor Balm is a daily moisturizer, and it has an extract of bisabolol, which is a German camomile concentrate that has NIH studies against it on improving skin texture and resilience. It's plant based and beautiful and you just take a little bit on your hand, it's like an unguent and when you start to move it around on the skin it turns into an oil and you can manipulate that on the labia, on the inner labia, on the clitoris all the way into the introitus and really put that on at night, a little self massage, leave it on overnight and let it do its magic. It can be used as a lubricator also but it is oil based, so if you're using condoms that's not for you.
And then the next product is an experience product called Arouse, and one of its actives is a plant that I discovered in Hawaii: It's spilanthes acmella. And if you bite the little flower head off the live flower, your entire mouth explodes; it starts like foaming and salivating. And it's used in Polynesian culture for an oral hygiene because of the way it moves saliva and as a sexual aid. So that creates plumping and tingling in the labia and in the vulva overall. And it also has all kinds of adaptogenic, traditional aphrodisiacs like ashwagandha, maka, summa in the formula. So, I would say 80 percent of women have the experience that is described on the serum, and maybe 10 percent can't feel anything, and another 10 percent it might be a little too strong for. So I really recommend you to try that. You can also use that on your regular lips as a lip plumper and tingler; it's enjoyable that way.
The third product is Soothe. it's a soothing cream that has calendula, arnica, comfrey, all kinds of things to fight itching, redness, swelling. That's just a really great all-over cream for the whole body. And in the area of the vulva it works on if you've had a waxing or shaving irritation or if you've had rough sex or if you've been on the bike too long or any kind of irritation. It's also super cooling, it has a little tiny bit of mint so if you have other complications and you just want some ease, it's good countering infections.
And then the Refresh products are both a wipe, a bamboo wipe and a spray that are aloe and hydrogen peroxide, Witch Hazel, tea tree lavender; they're antiviral, antibacterial. They're really, really lovely, and they don't have any stripping cleansers while still being cleaning. And the wipes are really easy; toss them in your purse. The spray is probably better left at home. It's a glass bottle that you use after the bath or toileting. And then I have a new body oil coming out plus a couple of books and a journal for tip tracking at home your own relationship to your body and healing that over six weeks or so of content.
Dr. Barb: Good. Well, thank you for the work you've done and the work you're doing and what's to come, because I know we are all benefiting from your passion around this.
Christine: Well, for you and me I really hope that we proceed with our thoughts on doing an online program on “the change” and help people learn more about everything that's going on in a woman's life during the perimenopause and the meny-pause [laughs]... menopause era of the life. I mean I'm through that right now; it's a very alive time. I didn't expect that when I was 30 or 40. It's just the best time I have had in my life. So, I know you have a lot of medical and psychological information, and we're going to, I hope, proceed with that program and do more stuff like that together.
Dr. Barb: Yeah, I think that's what was so fun about hanging out with you, Christine, was your ideas. It's always about a new idea and how we can reach women and what could we do and what would that look like, and so it was completely energizing to me. So I'm looking forward to what we might partner on in the future. And as we finish our time together today, I'd like to ask where do you find fullness at this stage of your life? I think we've heard bits about it, but I don't know if you have a summary statement there.
Christine: I want to just say a couple of years ago I had an accident, and I died. I was in that liminal space between life and death for a while and everything's been different: like there was nothing to fear. Death, that space was so beautiful. Maybe it was a trick of the mind, but I'll tell you ever since then, just being alive in my body, breathing, moving, starting and ending the day with blessing, starting and ending the day with thank you and I love you and clearing up any mishegoss that happened during the day—that's where my life is finding fullness. Loving the people I love and being infinitely grateful. Yesterday was the day of the blessing of blossoming trees, and it's an annual rite in some mystical traditions where you go out and you just say thank you to the trees for doing their thing. And that's what you are and that's what I am and that's what the listeners are: You’re beautiful nature and there's nothing to fix about you; just be grateful and happy and serve.
Dr. Barb: Well, thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for sharing and thanks for your time today.
Christine: All right Barb, thank you. Have a wonderful day.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.