Dr. Barb and Dr. Lyndsey Harper
Lyndsey Harper has been an OB/GYN in Dallas, in private practice for seven years; she is a Fellow of both ACOG and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. She has also taught at Texas A&M College of Medicine. She is now a hospitalist part time in order to focus on Rosy, an app to connect women with decreased sexual desire to hope and community. As a guest on the “Brave Enough” podcast, Lyndsey talked about the “the importance [for] women to talk about sexual dysfunction, low libido, and intimacy to make our relationships at the top of our minds and not the last issue of our day."
Barb: I first became acquainted with today’s guest about a year ago. Lyndsey Harper has practiced as an OB/GYN in the Dallas area. She’s a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and a member of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, or ISSWSH in our terms. She now is a hospitalist part-time, and she’s focusing on a launch of an app that I’m hoping she’ll tell us much more about today. Welcome Lyndsey!
Lyndsey: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity, Barb.
Barb: So let’s get right to it. Tell me what led you to develop this app for women.
Lyndsey: Yes! Well, it was really my patients. So, what was happening in my private practice was I was just having patient after patient, and I love these women and had, in my estimation at least, been able to help them effectively with their other problems that were related to pregnancy or just gynecology in general. But what was happening is that I had, you know, patient after patient coming to me really kind of confiding in me that she may have a wonderful relationship with her partner. She didn’t think anything was fundamentally wrong with her relationship, but she really could not care less if she ever had sex again.
What I started to see was this pattern amongst all these patients. And each of them felt ashamed. Each of them felt isolated. None of them knew what to do, and I was really starting to feel really passionately about connecting them, not only with real resources that could really help them, but also with a bigger community, so that they could understand that they were not alone. That they were not the only person feeling like this. That they were really not broken, and that there really was hope for improvement. So out of that real passion and desire came Rosy.
Barb: What does the Rosy app do for women?
Lyndsey: It’s really just a safe place. It’s a platform in the form of a mobile application that women can download and interact with very privately and as they have time. I know everybody is so busy, and we’re all strapped for five minutes or ten minutes to ourselves, so Rosy is really meant to come into those little moments where you might have a few minutes to yourself and you might want to learn something that may improve your life in some way.
There are really three ways we are doing that. The first are through educational videos. It’s pre-recorded videos where myself, and now we are starting to record with content from other health care professionals, where we learn about a lot of things. We learn about expected sexual function; learn about sexual response; how the things going on in your life including medical problems or medications you might be taking might be affecting your desire for sex. Right now there’s 48 recorded videos, and that content is continuing to be expanded on a really regular basis. And it’s my dream for that part that it not be just me, but all types of professionals, other physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, as well as physical therapists, sexologists. Just all the people in this space that have something to say that’s based on some evidence, then they are more than welcome to come and share that information with our users. I am really excited about creating an evidence-based place to share that type of information!
Then the second part is a library of romantic and erotic short stories. So it’s a really fun and light-hearted part of the app. We know that women, whenever they read erotica, it increases their desire for sex. So it’s really a way to get those wheels turning again and get women back in touch with the sensual part of themselves.
And then the last part are sessions with a psychologist, Dr. Laurie Mintz out of the University of Florida. She has written two awesome books: A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex and Becoming Cliterate. We took a lot of the big ideas from those books and put them into digestible video format – which is three to five minutes – associated with things women can do to incorporate those major themes like communication, intimacy, and really learning about themselves and their partners throughout the day. So the point is to be really approachable, easily digestible, and all evidence-based so that women can improve their sexual health and wellness in a way that they would expect to do so.
Barb: I think, obviously, we have a lot in common professionally, and I think probably the very same things motivated us to do the projects that we’ve now done. And I think you probably saw the same thing that I have over the years: What is available to women right now is just not accurate…
Barb: … or misleading, or just not comfortable for one thing. I’m just wondering, how did you think through the opportunities that technologies could offer women a different experience?
Lyndsey: I think, truly at this point in time, we expect to interact with things in a convenient way. Whenever we are searching for answers and the solution seems cumbersome or seems like it doesn’t pertain to us, then we are less likely to engage in that type of information. So you know, I was imagining. And what was happening in real life, I was recommending these things. I was recommending sex therapy. I was recommending these self-help books. But it just wasn’t hitting the mark with these women for some reason, whether it was too expensive, whether it was too much time, whether it was a stigma associated with any of these interventions. So I think by changing the way that we deliver information, in a way that is approachable and expected to our patients is really our responsibility as clinicians. And I feel very strongly about that.
I think that we have a very deep sense of responsibility to get the information out there. To fight all the misinformation that exists, and it’s very loud on social media, on the internet because if we’re not going to do it, then how do we expect those things to change? And I think the convenience of it and the approachability of it makes a huge difference to patients today. So that really helped to form the way that we created this platform and the content. Because we really want it to fit into our users’ lives in a way that they want it to fit in as well.
Barb: How are you expecting women to utilize the app? Or what group of women are you finding will be most successfully impacted by this?
Lyndsey: It’s interesting because when people think about low sexual desire, I think a lot of us maybe assume that that is something that happens late in their life. But it actually is the case for 38 percent of all women – ages 18 to 65 is the group of women who were studied that that data is coming from. So there’s content in the app for women of all ages. So women who are pregnant, post-partum, women who are menopausal, post-menopausal; there’s a lot of curate-able content. When you go into the video portion of the app, you can take a customizable questionnaire that helps the content to be curated to where you are in your life so that if a user who has a certain set of situations, won’t be watching content that doesn’t pertain to her and will be able to use her time wisely while she’s with us.
Barb: Is there an opportunity for other health care providers to utilize the app as well?
Lyndsey: Absolutely. So that’s really our biggest way that we’re getting the word out to users right now is through health care providers. On Tuesday we actually reached a 1,000 health care providers, so that’s a big milestone for Rosy. We are partnering with health care providers; they sign up on our website and they in turn receive information about Rosy, patient cards. So then they have completely free access to the app. So users have free access to the educational content and a little bit of the free stories and the free sessions, but the full library is a paid subscription. As health care providers, they can have full free access so they can familiarize themselves with the content, and hopefully feel comfortable recommending that to their patients.
Barb: So, is it a tiered payment plan for patients depending on how much information they desire?
Lyndsey: It’s basically two options. One is a one-month option for $10 a month, and then there’s a six-month option for $50.
Barb: And again, can you tell patients or our listeners where they can find this or exactly how it’s identified?
Lyndsey: Yes! Absolutely, thank you. Our website is meetrosie.com, and then if you just go in the Apple iTune Store and search Rosy, then it should populate pretty easily. It’s pretty easy to find which I’m thankful for. And then we’ll be available on Android sometime in May. We’re working on it right now; just making sure the designs are appropriate and looking great. Everything I’ve seen so far looks good.
Barb: In talking about kind of reinvention and working toward something new that you’re working on through this, and incorporating science and technology, I’m wondering for those who may be thinking about tackling a big project like you’ve just done, what was the biggest surprise along the way in bringing this to life?
Lyndsey: Oh my gosh! [laughs] As I’m sure you can attest, there’s a lot of surprises, and yeah, you don’t know what you don’t know until you encounter that. But, I think the biggest, happiest surprise for me has been user testing. I came into this project having worked with thousands of women as patients, right? So I think I have a good feel for how they are feeling, how they are approaching this topic, but whenever we design the product, it’s just so interesting to me and exciting to me to always try to be really careful about testing the product with users and sort of different versions of it to see how it resonates. And I have learned so much from user testing that is so insightful and exciting to me because it helps me see things from other people's perspective, and I love our user. I want to help her in a real genuine and true way, so the more I can find out about what motivates her, and how to help her, and sort of how she’s feeling, and help her through that time or state, then that to me is so exciting. That’s probably been the biggest happiest surprise for me in this journey which I’ve loved.
Barb: Have you had any negative push-back around the topic? I’m thinking about not that long ago with a very unique vibrator – an award-winning design vibrator – was actually banned at the Consumer Electronic Show just because again, this difficulty that we have culturally with sex and as providers, our attempt to bring this around the topic of sexual health. I’m just wondering if you’ve experienced any obstacles in trying to bring this topic forward in this manner.
Lyndsey: I think that luckily, we haven’t had a bunch of that, which I’m so thankful for at this point. But I think a lot of that is more subtle, like maybe people not really wanting to, institutional investors or traditional investors, not really wanting to stick their neck out on this topic. But there was one specific instance where we had a press release, and the press release company would not distribute it because they said they would not promote products that had to do with female sexual enhancement. So I [laughs], I got really mad and called them and explained to them that this is a medical condition. This is a medical diagnosis with true evidence-based intervention. It has nothing to do with female sexual enhancement in the way that they are describing it. You know the lady I ended up talking to pretended to at least understand what I was saying, but it still got stopped by her administrators. They wanted me to water down the language and talk about it differently. I just decided we were going to go another route.
I reached out to some other founders who had experienced the same difficulty, and they kind of gave me some workarounds to not have to distribute information in that way, which I really appreciated. I think that when you are in a field that there’s some controversy about – for whatever reason – to me it’s completely unfounded. It is good to be connected to other people who are doing the same things so that you can understand that it’s not anything personal, and that there are workarounds that can really help you to be successful despite those challenges. I really appreciate the community that has developed around our space and really hope to help other founders as well.
Barb: I do feel like this area has gained some traction and momentum as far as being more visible, both with the words we use and the products that are available, and that we are getting more credibility, so to speak, in coming out of the dirty corners of the internet and trying to make it understood as a true health condition that deserves proper attention as you said.
Lyndsey: Sure. Absolutely. And I think that it’s coming from a lot of different places. It’s coming from demand from women. There’s a little bit of movement in the pharma, especially in women’s health, menopausal health, sexual health, which is very exciting. And I think that really physicians like you and I and a lot of others are really understanding the importance of being a lot more vocal really supporting women in this way that historically, hasn’t been done, so that we can help our patients even more.
Barb: Yes. And for those of us who are doing hands-on health care and really make a difference in women’s lives in this arena, I think it’s hard to be more satisfied; at least in my experience, having done obstetrics and having done surgeries, I’m not sure there’s a more satisfying element to practicing women’s health care than to helping women achieve improved sexual health. I think it will continue to make strides in improving the communications we can make available to women.
Lyndsey: Oh, absolutely. I think that the missing link between us doing a better job for our patients and sort of where we are now is educating physicians. That’s something I feel really strongly about because physicians don’t like to not know the answer. They don’t like to not know what to do. You know we really truly want to help, that’s why, hopefully, all of us go into this field, and it’s not a good feeling when you don’t know the answers, or you don’t know who to go to for the answers. I think the more education we do, not only on a patient level, but also on a physician level, the bigger and bigger this gets with meaningful strides towards really improving the sexual health of women everywhere. I feel really passionately about that and try to do a lot of work towards that goal.
Barb: In the podcast series that I have done over the last couple of years, a lot of our discussions are about reinvention, and often that includes some entrepreneurship. Would you have predicted this would have been your path a number of years ago, or how did you find your way through this?
Lyndsey: [laughs] Oh my gosh. I never would have predicted this. I always thought I would do just primary OB/GYN. I love that relationship with patients. I love infants. I love surgery. I love all of that stuff, and so it was a really big deal for me to change gears in such a big way. But I really became compelled by the mission which is that I saw these women in front of me, they really needed help, and I didn’t feel like there was a place to get that on a mass scale for these people. So, instead of me thinking about it in a one-on-one basis, I’m hopefully – just like you are – I’m trying to help on a bigger, one-to-many basis. It’s like how can we get this information out faster so that people are not isolated one more day than they have to be?
So I think it’s been a very interesting journey how that all happened. My husband is an innovator for sure. So he, over the last 12 years we’ve been together, has always challenged me to look at the world in an innovative way. Like: What is going on? How could it be better? What could you do to make it better? – and especially from a medical perspective. So that worked its way into my brain somehow and really rubbed off. So those two things combined – my passion for women’s health combined with his ability to innovate – just kind of came together and encouraged me to take that next step, which I’m so glad I did. I’ve never been more energized or more passionate in a professional way than I am right now. I’m so thankful for the opportunity.
Barb: So how can we inspire more women to believe in their own dreams and make those dreams a reality? Do you have any additional insights?
Lyndsey: Well I think it’s really exciting the unique perspective that women have. Right? I think that traditionally innovation has been a men’s game so then, therefore, the innovation has happened in the spaces that speak mostly to them. I think we really need to own and hone the skills necessary to innovate in the way that we see necessary. I’m so pumped about all this breast pump innovation. I’m so pumped about all this ovarian cancer detection innovation. Like these issues are specific to us. We are the most affected by them. No one is going to speak up for us if we don’t speak up for ourselves. We are in a place in our society where we have the ability to do so. So it’s not just about us as individual women. It’s about women in general as a society. If you find something that you are passionate about, you have some level of knowledge about, and you know it should be different than it is right now, then I’d do it as an obligation to really move forward with that. See where you can take it. See what you can change in the world to make our world better for our daughters, and for our granddaughters, and everybody that comes later. You know, things don’t have to be the way they are right now, and it’s incumbent upon us as women to see that that is not the case.
Barb: Well thank you for those words of inspiration and encouragement because I think women do need to hear that and kind of own it, as you said.
Lyndsey: Yes. Thank you.
Barb: As we finish up our time together, my last question usually is about you. Where do you find fullness at this stage of your life?
Lyndsey: Oh my goodness. That’s a great question! [laughs] I think I am constantly seeking to do better and to really find that sense of fullness. Recently I found a group of women physicians who have a conference once a year called Brave Enough, which is just so inspirational. And I went to that conference in December and spoke – so I went as a speaker, actually – but I ended up as an attendee sort of having my life changed. I found a lot of value in self-examination, journaling, giving myself at least 30 minutes every day to self-reflect what is happening in my life, what do I want to be happening in my life, how does my schedule reflect my priorities, and really just digging down. That is a process that never ends. I don’t think that we ever get to perfection, or get to a point of completion, or any of those things. My goal is to really understand what my priorities are and how to structure my activities around those so that I feel that I’m spending my time every day intentionally. Whether it’s with the work that I’m doing or the time that I am with my family or the time that I’m by myself – which is also really important to me – and just making the most of each of those moments as best I can. I’m definitely a work-in-progress, but that’s sort of what’s fueling me right now.
Barb: Great! Well thank you for your time today, Lyndsey. And thanks for the work you are doing and sharing it with others.
Lyndsey: Well, thank you. I really appreciate it and, honestly, you have inspired me! The fact that you did what you did and stepped out there. That’s an inspiration to me, so I really appreciate your encouragement, your positivity, and just the example that you set for the rest of us. So thank you.
Barb: You’re welcome. Thanks for your time. Bye, Lindsey.