What's The Deal With "Smart Tampons"?

The idea of a "smart tampon" inevitably elicits scary mental pictures of blinking lights and wires and charging stations — an unappealing thought for women who'd rather keep their technology out of their pants. But for the groundbreaking startup that actually owns the "smart tampon" trademark, it just means the regular, 100 percent cotton deal — backed by the science to allow women better control over their health through data and knowledge. It's way less Jetsons and way more practical, meaning that you're definitely going to want to know how to get the new tampon from NextGen Jane when it's finally available.

NextGen Jane's product will "detect signals of nascent and asymptomatic disease in bodily refuse that normally finds its way into landfills," Harvard engineer and the company's co-founder Ridhi Tariyal explained in her keynote talk at the 13th Annual Technology Venture Conference at Cambridge University’s Technology and Enterprise Club in June. Essentially Tariyal and her business partner, Stephen Gire, have devised a method of testing the blood and cells from the ovaries and uterus that a woman ends up either throwing away or flushing each month for conditions that may otherwise go undiagnosed. That means women may need to visit their doctors less frequently while still maintaining control over their health.

It all sounds very futuristic, even if the tampon doesn't require an internet connection. And, for now, it does exist only in the future for the general public. As Romper's Abigail Wise reported, NextGen Jane will start making its "smart tampons" available to consumers in 2019 or 2020. But it will be worth the wait: by simply returning their used tampons to the company and waiting for the lab results, women will learn whether they have conditions like ovarian cancer and endometriosis, which affects 10 percent of all women. Endometriosis can also cause infertility if left untreated or undiagnosed, which it frequently does. Oh yeah — and a diagnosis usually requires full-blown surgery, so the smart tampon is definitely a positive development, to say the least.

In the meantime, those anxious to get the product ASAP can sign up for NextGen Jane's newsletter via its website in order to be the first to get product updates and be among the first to try it out when it's ready.

It's all about empowering women to stay informed about their reproductive health, while encouraging them to be proactive instead reactive when confronting issues like sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, according to the company's website.

"We had to come up with something that would allow women to find out about these conditions sooner than every year," Tariyal told Fast Company in an interview in May. "You can pick up a disease any time, and letting it sit there for a year until your next visit can have consequences downstream that you don't want. The system has to change."

For now, she and Dire aren't sharing exactly how the product will work — but they're confident that it will, and that it could be revolutionary.