What do a priest, a feminist, a racist, your best friend and a bat have in common? Probably not much, except for some fertile parents jumping each other. Conversely, their genesis began with someone having their period. Even though periods are the most natural thing, half of our society has them and every one of us was created from them, there’s a big stigma pinned to the topic like the little blue thread is pinned to almost all tampons. Today, the stigma already chaps a little bit but we are still far away from breaking it by normalizing menstruations. On our way to the teardown, we are wielding verbal wrecking balls and holding up aesthetic pitchforks – with nevernot leading the way. The Berlin-based soft-tampon company turns period product-communication as we know it upside-down. What usually is avoided, is clearly communicated by nevernot. Where there usually is a blue fluid simulating periods, there is actual blood and where there usually is a happy woman being super productive and perfumed, there is realness and a spectrum of menstruating people. Katharina Trebitsch and Anna Koessler, the founders of nevernot, talked with us about their product, period shaming moments, bubble-thinking, having sex with the soft-tampon and menstruating men.
Nele: Periods should mostly go unnoticed, quietly, odourless – basically they should be invisible. You do exactly the opposite: you are loud, direct and consciously break taboos. How important is this confrontation for you?
Anna: Our goal is for women to have the choice whether they want to be loud – like us as a brand – and tell everyone that they have their period or whether they want to be quiet about the issue. By talking openly about it, we show that nobody should be ashamed or hide.
Katha: The company’s claim is “Do what you want. Just because the period goes unnoticed by me as a woman when I use the product and I can enjoy absolute freedom and the greatest possible comfort thanks to the soft-tampon, it does not mean that I want to hide my period. While using the soft-tampon I don’t even notice that I’m using a period product.
Nele: So in both aspects, you are doing the opposite of what conventional tampon brands do. Conventional tampons are almost always noticeable and are a big part of your period. On the other hand, these brands’ communication is based on the fact that you don’t see blood. This is exactly how it should not be. We should talk about the period to normalize it, but also try to experience it as pleasantly as possible.
Katha: The period is something very natural. Half of our society menstruates. Everyone finally has to get used to that. And yet those days are not always the most pleasant days of the month. So our goal is to make this often unpleasant feeling more comfortable.
Nele: Talking about your period is often a thing that does not go hand in hand with comfort. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Did you first have to get used to being able to talk openly about the topic?
Anna: Probably nobody talks about the period as much as we and a few other few people in Germany do. For us, it is now as normal as talking about lunch.
Katha: Even talking about our periods during lunch.
Katha: Of course, we haven’t talked so openly and much about our periods our whole life, it only came along with the job. When it started, we told friends and acquaintances about it and especially the reactions of men were interesting. Many looked at the idea completely unemotionally, because they saw us as a business case and directly asked: “How do you monetise that?“ Others were intimidated and wanted nothing to do with the topic. But many thought the idea was great.
Anna: The inhibition threshold has fallen dramatically in recent years, especially due to the brand appearances of other tampon products. Or because of the tampon tax petition. A lot has changed. So we got involved at exactly the right time.
Katha: Many other people have paved the way for us, for example, Nanna Roloff and Yasemin Kotra, who are the initiators of the reduction of the so-called period tax. Franka Frei, who wrote an extraordinary book and other start-ups, that revolutionize the market for quite some time now.
Nele: As a teenager, I had a completely different relationship to periods: How often did you put a tampon into your sleeve at school or pass it on under the table hiding it in your fist? If we continue to communicate that openly, we can perhaps give more young women the courage to simply throw the tampon across the table in the classroom.
Katha: This is so weird to me, we aren’t embarrassed when passing a tissue, are we? We want to evoke exactly this self-confidence with our packaging: It looks like candy, in bright colours. Whereby we did not want to hide the period behind a candy facade, but rather show that period products do not always have to be clinical, medical and boring. Maybe we can make it easier for our customers to not pass their tampons underneath the table.
Of course, we talked to a lot of women of all ages. Recently, we even got a student intern. I can say that young girls and women today are very different from what we were at that age.
Anna: These are changes that extend over generations. A lot has already happened between the generations of our grandmothers, mothers and us.
Nele: For us, it might be quite normal to talk about our periods, but we are also in a bubble. My male friends wouldn’t even bat an eyelash if I talked about my period over lunch – neither would my father, by the way. But I think as soon as you step out of this bubble, there are still many people who find the open approach to the topic irritating. Have you had any experience with this?
Anna: From time to time, I move further away from my Berlin bubble because I come from a very rural area in Bavaria. When I tell people from my home town about nevernot, most of them don’t ask for more information, but some of the younger girls often come up to me. They think the project is very cool, but don’t want to say it in front of everyone. What happens in Berlin or Europe’s big cities has nothing to do with what the average person does and thinks. And we have to make sure that we can also address these people – especially with our current target group.
“No other period product can do what the soft-tampon can do in bed.”
Nele: What is your current target group?
Anna: Our typical users or customers feel comfortable in their bodies. The fact that the nevernot tampon has no thread may irritate someone who doesn’t like to touch him- or herself. So our task is also to take people by the hand: Entertainment and Education! For the launch of the product, we have recorded video and explanatory material. Our communication is very aggressive, but we also look at how we can pick up the people who are not yet comfortable with the topic. We want to create an option that will make women feel better during their periods. But if someone has already found their perfect period product, that’s okay with us.
Katha: nevernot also works well as an add-on product: when riding, in the gym, at the spa, during sex. And no other period product can do what the soft-tampon can do in bed.
Nele: Period and sex is a big topic, also for you. Sex polarizes naturally and even more in combination with periods.
“It’s about doing what you want as a menstruating person – do what you want in bed, do what you want in your professional life, do what you want in your relationships.”
Katha: Our Instagram channel is about what nevernot stands for, namely “Do What you want”. It’s about doing what you want as a menstruating person – do what you want in bed, do what you want in your professional life, do what you want in your relationships (always with consideration, of course).
The important thing is that it’s not about submitting to your sexual partner because he or she finds the period disgusting, but rather that I feel more comfortable during sex when having my period. It is not about pleasing the other person.
Nele: Not only that: How often did I have sex during my period and had to put a towel under?
Anna: Exactly, the tampon should free you from additional worries.
Katha: All the stains in the bedsheets, the number of detergents you have to buy… I have already disposed of so much bed linen and underwear in my life, even without sex being involved. Stuff that just ends up in the trash.
Nele: Did you experience personal period-shaming moments?
Katha: Quite often. What really gets me going is the sentence: „Because she has her period.“ I’ve been told that often in my private and professional life – whether it was the case or not. I have also heard this sentence being said about other women. In an office where I once worked, the men even went so far as to talk about their wives having their periods and how it made them unbearable. In that office, as soon as something was wrong with a woman, it was always directly assumed that she had her period. The women’s problems or criticisms were, thus, immediately dismissed and no longer taken seriously.
Nele: You have a slogan called “my body, my mind, my power” – when did you realize that this is a claim that cannot be taken for granted, but that it is something that has to be broadcasted to the world?
Anna: In the last weeks, we realized that we can make decisions about everything ourselves with our newly won independence as our own bosses – about our life, what we do for our career, what we do with our money… That was a crass moment. Especially the part “My mind, my power” hits this feeling on the head – we can change so many things with just our head.
Katha: “My body, my mind, my power” can have so many levels: We always talk about Europe and about a bubble and about whether or not we get a cat-call or hear a dumb comment, but girls in India can’t go to school when they have their period because it is considered dirty there.
We have tried to reflect in our campaign that nevernot is a product for everyone and not just for a certain target group or the bubble we come from.
Nele: What I find particularly exciting is that you don’t make a product for women per se, but for menstruating people.
“When you think of period products you directly think of women! But there are so many different genders you can identify with and about half of them can get their period.”
Anna: When you think of period products you directly think of women! But there are so many different genders you can identify with and about half of them can get their period.
The moment you feel male with a woman’s body, you may want to have less to do with your period because it doesn’t feel natural to you – that’s when the nevernot soft-tampon might become especially exciting. You do not feel it and it has no visible thread. That can have an additional value, for example for a transman who is in the phase of transition.
Nele: It concerns not only gender-fluid humans or Transmen in the transition phase, but also many Transmen, who further want to remain in their biological body and feel like a man. If they do not have the claim to reassign their gender, it can be very important for them to find a product that accompanies their life also in the long run.
Katha: If you want to be perceived as a man, the thread of a normal tampon can cause a lot of confusion. I have a good trans friend who always wanted to hide his period, for him nevernot is ideal. Not every walk to the toilet reminds you of your period(product).
Nele: Your campaign shows a trans man, a businesswoman, a sex worker… With your campaigns you provoke but also show different cases of applications for soft-tampons – this is your way to break taboos. What can you tell others to work towards an even more tolerant and open world?
“The world won’t stop spinning if I am talking about my period at lunch today.”
Anna: You have to remember that the period is a subject with which you cannot do anything bad to anyone. It can be uncomfortable, but that’s it.
Katha: I like to provoke anyway. I can only say that if you break a taboo, the maximum that can happen is that people get upset. And if you let that bounce off you, then you feel much better yourself. Only the others who get upset have high blood pressure. That is why it is important to say things out loud and to talk about them. The world won’t stop spinning if I am talking about my period at lunch today.