While social media has played a crucial role in empowering women to explore their sexual health — with its interesting variety of content ranging from videos to podcasts — it can also perpetuate misleading or inaccurate information.
So when Liu Xi, 29, launched Ferne Health, which offers home-based sexual health screening and teleconsultation services, she knew she wanted to do more than sell STD test kits and morning-after pills. Besides articles written in collaboration with doctors on its online portal, Ferne Health also organises Zoom panel discussions on topics ranging from sex toys to period care.
Liu Xi was inspired to set up Ferne Health after spending five years in Silicon Valley as a product manager with Amazon. The Xi’an native shares: “I grew up with little knowledge of sexual health. There was little sex education and the topic was considered taboo in Asian culture and society. But I believed that things could be done differently and this was a gap I could fill. I was inspired by my many amazing friends in Silicon Valley who worked hard to impact people’s lives.”
Liu chose to start Ferne Health in Singapore because of its reputation as a business hub for Southeast Asia and its diverse culture. By delivering sexual healthcare solutions to clients’ doorsteps, she hopes to empower people to take care of themselves.
Since launching in September 2020, response has been positive and “we’ve had stable growth for the past few months”. Ferne Health’s bestseller is the Full STD Essential 7, which tests for HIV, syphilis, herpes 1 and 2, hepatitis B, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Although Liu declines to share how many units are sold every month, she lets on that it accounts for more than 30 per cent of the company’s total sales.
Through Ferne Health, Liu wants to address and alleviate the stigma surrounding sexual health and help create more awareness among people in Asia. Of the gaps she’s seen and feels disturbed by, she shares: “There’s a lack of sex education among youths as many schools and parents consider it ‘too early’. Women who are sexually active before marriage are also judged for their ‘wrong’ behaviour even though we are marrying later. And there’s a misconception that the LGBTQIA community has different sexual needs.”
But she takes heart that her generation, which grew up with greater access to the Internet and different information channels, is more willing to confront sensitive issues like sexual health.
“There’s such amazing content on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok… it definitely helps that they have adopted less aggressive approaches to sexual health,” says Liu.
Better access to products and services in the marketplace have contributed to greater openness. For instance, contraception can be prescribed by telemedicine platforms while sex toys are available at pharmacies. That said, she feels it’s important that schools offer a more comprehensive and friendly sex education curriculum to help build a positive understanding of sexual health among youth.
“Women have become more aware of caring for themselves. The younger ones are especially more willing to speak up about intimate topics such as sexual health. That’s not all; our numbers show that more people are sexually active than we expected — so no matter gender, age or race, we share the same desire for healthy sexual relationships,” Liu says.