Tess Brooks (center) with other members of the Confi team. Photo credit: Harvard Innovation Lab – Evgenia Eliseeva.

This is a First Look: It’s the first time any news outlet or blog has covered this startup. You can read more First Looks here. (We do this a lot.) 

Let’s talk about sex.

Did a tiny part of you just squirm? Well, you’re in good company, as most people get at least slightly uneasy with this taboo topic. While I’d like to place the blame on our Puritan roots, Bostonians aren’t alone in avoiding discussing the nitty gritty details of sex – even with their doctors. It happens everywhere.

Tess Brooks, an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, picked up on this widespread discomfort, especially among her female peers. So she did something about it and founded Confi, a venture that’s focused on informing women – and people in general – about the intricacies of personal and sexual health in a way that’s not as daunting.

In the next six months, Brooks is planning on expanding Confi to feature merch and local events. But in the meantime it’s a website full of free content verified by doctors. It answers women’s most personal questions that they don’t want to ask out loud…and men are appreciative for the intel, too.

A startup gets personal

“I’m in my second year at HBS, but I was never planning on starting a business while I was here,” Brooks confessed.

Early this year, though, one of Brooks’ friends approached her with a personal question that she was too embarrassed to share with her boyfriend, even her physician.

“I wanted to help her, but I didn’t know what to do other than Google it, which isn’t always reliable,” Brooks started.

“My personal sex ed experience was looking at scary pictures of STDs.”

“I asked my other friends if they ever have these personal questions and, if so, where they go to find the answers,” she went on. “I found out everyone had questions and insecurities, but had nowhere to trust. Everything they’re dealing with is common, and they shouldn’t be uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be so taboo to talk about it.”

With infographics and articles that are actually comprehendible – not pure medical jargon – Confi is trying to demystify what you’ve always been wondering but never had the guts to ask. Which is making the medical community rejoice. Doctors have been voicing their support of Confi, gladly helping to verify content on the site. Mostly, that’s because their patients are finally getting the cold, hard facts they secretly need to keep themselves sexually healthy.

“A lack of information is definitely a huge issue in the U.S., largely because we don’t have sex ed,” Brooks began. “My personal sex ed experience was looking at scary pictures of STDs. They made us watch a woman give birth and an after-school special about a girl who has sex with an older man, gets an STD and then dies.”

“U.S. parents aren’t comfortable talking about it either, so no one is getting the information they need,” she added.

Men want to know these things, too

Here’s the compelling part: Even though Confi’s content is made for women, almost half of the site’s users are men. That’s because guys are also totally in the dark.

“It shows how little men and women talk to each other – about sex in particular,” Brooks explained. “There’s a lot of pressure on men to fit the alpha male role, that they should know all about sex without having to ask questions. That’s hard for them, and I think Confi is refreshing for them.”

In fact, men have told Brooks that they prefer that the website is branded for women. It makes them feel more confident in the information provided. Because the content is all directed to women, it seems more authentic. It isn’t going through a guy filter.

“I asked men if they would use a parallel site specifically geared toward men, or a special section on the website,” Brooks told me.

“They told us they’d be more likely to use the site if it looked like it were for girls because it would seem more reliable, in their opinion,” she continued. “It’s almost like peeking into their girlfriends’ diaries, like this is what women are actually talking about.”

Where Confi is going next

On top of plans for future events and ecommerce – which Brooks hopes will make Confi a self-sustaining startup – this venture intends to expand in other ways.

For starters, the founder recognizes that sex isn’t the only topic that’s taboo in the U.S. Mental health issues also carry a stigma in our country, and Confi is starting to create content about these personal problems, as well. If the public is more informed about mental health, it could entice more people to get the help they need.

Confi will also (eventually) be continuing its mission on a global level. We aren’t the only nation to have a borderline shameful attitude toward certain personal health subjects. Once Confi gains more domestic traction, Brooks said the startup is aiming to start producing content for other countries around the world, catering it to specific cultures.

Image via Tess Brooks.