The vagina is the most contradictory part of a woman's anatomy. These—the most private of private parts—are the sources of both our deepest physical delights and shames. Our vaginas are so very much ours. But our vaginas are also not ours. This is something many women begin to contemplate after having sex, and come to know following childbirth. More than any other body part, vaginas are responsible for playing host to others, tasked with providing pleasure and a safe passageway for babies and sperm.
We are living in an age when the vagina talk is at an all-time high. It's a favorite plot point in the comedy of Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, and featured in style stories on the shifting aesthetics of pubic hair maintenance. There's even been some backlash to all this vag talk. Still, amidst all this chatter, there is little by way of conversation about the mechanics of our vaginas, how they work, how to make them work better, and how to feel more in control over them.
For about four years now I've been trying to sort out this dialectic of vaginahood. I've gotten pregnant, given birth, healed from birth, and am now in the process of trying to conceive again. This time, I've enlisted a doctor to help move along the process, which means that I'm regularly presenting myself, my whole self, to an ever-expanding cast of characters. The need to somehow manage the different, often conflicting, roles of my vagina has never felt so urgent.
Such was my state when I got an email about the Elvie, a new gadget that helps you work on your pelvic floor. (Think Fitbit, but for your nether regions.) Sure, I was drawn to the many health benefits of working out those muscles, but what intrigued me most was its promise of regular me-time with my vagina.
The Elvie, which is an egg-shaped insertable that could rest easily in a tablespoon, has a long tail that curves around the outside of your vulva to help it stay in place. The whole thing is wrapped in teal medical-grade, waterproof silicon; embedded within it is a Bluetooth that connects to your phone. When the Elvie's battery dies, you place the gadget into a small pod that charges through induction, meaning that there are no openings on the device itself. The Elvie is now available for $199.
Once I downloaded the app, a geode-like ball—my Elvie, evidently—appeared on-screen. I was instructed to make it move to various locations with, and only with, the muscles of my pelvic floor. That I scored pretty low came as no surprise; I had a nearly-nine pound baby and kegels have spent years on the list of things I will get around to one day maybe.
Unlike in France where all women are entitled to la rééducation périnéale, or extensive physical therapy for their vaginas following childbirth, us American women hear little about how to exercise our pelvic floors before or after having babies. Sure, there might be a quick mention of kegels by one's OB-GYN, but it's often presented as nothing more than a mild suggestion during a period of their lives overflowing with urgent demands.
Childbirth, as well as the normal wear and tear of living, puts a lot of stress on a woman's pelvic floor, which can lead to incontinence, leaking, and, if things are really bad, uterine prolapse. The weakening of the pelvic floor can also have a negative effect on one's sex life. These are the muscles responsible for contracting during climax, and when they are in bad shape, orgasms are weaker. When you strengthen this area, it is easier to get a tighter grip during sex, which makes for a more pleasurable experience for all parties involved.
After three weeks with Elvie, she and her three-minute-long challenges have become an enjoyable part of my evening routine. The games—and I say this as someone who has never once played a game on my cellphone—are fun. There's one that has you lift, hold, and drop the "ball," another that requires you to pulse, and a third that commands you to squeeze as hard as you can. That last one's a doozy. Doing two rounds of these every other night has already yielded results, which are easy to monitor through the performance charts that appear after each session. I'm too new to notice any major physical improvements, though I do find it easier to empty out my bladder fully while I urinate. I am also feeling better during sex, though I concede that this might be as much due to the psychological benefits of the exercises as to the physiological ones.
But my favorite result is the way working out with Elvie has stripped some of the mystery from my vagina. We, women and men both, often view female anatomy as a near-divine enigma, one viewed through the lens of magic rather than biology. That most of the vagina's duties happen behind doors, in the folds of the flesh, concealed from our ordinary powers of observation only adds to this mystique. The Elvie revealed to me another side of my vagina, one that is fairly logical and has a clear relationship with cause and effect. It's a rather good feeling.
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