Photo by Carmen Cheung
What they are: Part exercise weight for your vagina, part sex toy, Kegel balls come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles, from the Ben Wa balls made famous by Fifty Shades Darker to the jade eggs made infamous by Gwyneth Paltrow. They can be made from stone, stainless steel, plastic or silicone, and come as singles or as pairs to be inserted at the same time. Some are sold as sets that have increasing weights to encourage progressive training. You can purchase them online or at adult shops.
How they work: When you insert a Kegel ball, you have to contract your pelvic floor to keep it in, and doing Kegels with the extra weight can make the exercises more challenging for some people, but for others, it makes it easier to target the right muscles. “It can be like resistance training,” says Céleste Corkery, a physiotherapist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. You can also just let the balls sit inside you for a short period of time—while you walk the dog or do the dishes, for example, but you may need to work up to being able to hold them in for these activities.
What you need to know: Some products are marketed to be worn as you go about your day, but experts don’t recommend leaving them in for a prolonged period. “That would be like grabbing a dumbbell, going into a partial bicep curl and walking around like that for the whole day,” says Kim Vopni, a women’s health and fitness coach based in Port Moody, B.C. “It’s not functional training.”
Corkery adds that you shouldn’t feel any pain when using the balls, and you should look for products that are made with safe, hypoallergenic materials, such as medical-grade silicone and BPA-free plastic. Some materials may be unsafe, especially during pregnancy, so it’s best to check with your doctor or midwife if you’re unsure. For example, jade is porous and could harbour bacteria, potentially leading to bacterial vaginosis or toxic shock syndrome. “You need to be cautious about what you’re putting in there,” Corkery says.
Some Kegel balls can be used during pregnancy, but check with your doctor or midwife first to make sure they’re safe for you. Corkery, for one, doesn’t recommend using them during pregnancy. You should also get the go-ahead from your healthcare provider before you start using the balls post-delivery. Women are usually advised to wait six weeks after childbirth before having sex and the same goes for putting anything in your vagina.
What they are: Like a FitBit for your vagina, these interactive training devices connect to an app on your smart phone, monitor your progress and send you push (squeeze?) notifications reminding you of your next session. There are several on the market and they all have different designs, shapes and features. Devices can be purchased on the companies’ websites, on Amazon or at retailers like drugs stores and baby boutiques.
How they work: When it’s time to work out, you insert the device and wirelessly connect to the app. The app leads you through a series of exercises and provides real-time feedback in response to your Kegels. The workouts are typically five to 10 minutes, and you can do them as often as you want. Kegel exercisers are designed to be used on an ongoing basis. Like any muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
With the Elvie, which looks like a pale-green Easter egg, you follow prompts on the screen and move a peach gem with your contractions. For example, one exercise asks you to quickly contract and relax, hitting targets with your gem like you’re collecting coins in Super Mario Brothers.
The Perifit, which resembles a magenta dildo, is even more like a video game. As our writer described it: “The delightful music mixed with the popping sounds represented my vaginally-steered butterfly collecting fairy lights as it floated over graphics of a pleasant Dutch hillsides dotted with windmills and trees.”
The kGoal, made of bright blue medical-grade silicone, vibrates to let you know you’re doing a contraction, and also gives feedback via a free app.
Smart devices help you visualize your pelvic floor movements, which can be really valuable as you can see how strong and controlled your contractions are. Playing a game can also be fun, and tracking your progress can encourage you to continue working toward your goals.
“A biofeedback device can be a really cool, educational and motivational tool,” Vopni says. “When people have the reminder and they know exactly what to do, they’re much more compliant.”
What you need to know: The problem with some devices is that they can’t tell the difference between bearing down and contracting and lifting. “In some biofeedback devices, if someone were to bear down instead of doing a Kegel you would see the gauge move up as well,” Vopni says. “Bearing down is not an appropriate, correct pelvic floor contraction.”
Vopni says the Elvie is the only device she knows of that can tell the difference. “For people who are not able to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist or need continued reminders to make sure that they’re not bearing down, the Elvie would be really valuable for them,” she says.
Like Kegel balls, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before using a Kegel exerciser during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. Kgoal, for example, doesn’t recommend using the exerciser during the first trimester, after your water has broken or in first six weeks after delivery. The reason for avoiding use during the first trimester, according to the company, is that placenta previa is not diagnosed until the second trimester and vaginal penetration is sometimes not recommended.
What it is: This licensed Health Canada medical device looks like a remote control with rounded ends that you insert into your vagina. Using LED technology, heat and sonic vibration, the vSculpt gives you a pelvic floor workout while you sit back and relax. Doing Kegels during the six- to 10-minute treatment sessions is optional.
“There are different light and laser therapies used in medical aesthetics clinics to address incontinence, vagina atrophy, dryness and other things. They don’t address the function of the muscles, though. Many of them are quite effective, but they are also quite pricey,” Vopni says. “The vSculpt is like a home-use version of the clinic-based therapies.”
The vSculpt, which retails for $495 is currently the only product in its class on the market, but Vopni says an Indiegogo campaign was recently completed for a competing device, and we can expect to see more options in the future.
How it works: Light, heat and vibration are a triple threat for tackling pelvic floor problems. According to Joylux, the company that makes the vSculpt, the light increases the natural production of collagen and elastin, helps repair nerve damage and improves muscle tone; the vibration relaxes the muscles, improves blood flow and facilitates the delivery of light energy to the mucosal tissue; and the heat increases blood flow to the muscles to promote tissue healing.
The handheld device has three light modes and six vibration modes, and the company recommends gradually increasing the treatment time over the course of three weeks, starting with six minutes three times a week and working up to 10 minutes three to four times a week, always with a day’s rest between sessions. Once you have achieved your desired results, a maintenance routine of two 10-minutes sessions a week is recommended to keep your vagina toned.
There’s a free app that allows you to track your treatment time, and you can purchase a hydrating gel that apparently “helps support and enhance photonic energy transfer.” Silicone-based lubricants should not be used.
What you need to know: In both an independent study and a clinical trial by Joylux, 90 percent of women experienced less bladder leakage after using the vSculpt. The vSculpt should not be used if you’re pregnant.
What it is: The Epi-No, which stands for “no episiotomy,” is a biofeedback childbirth preparation tool designed to reduce the likelihood of having an episiotomy, tearing or postpartum incontinence. It consists of a silicone balloon, a handheld pump and a pressure gauge. (There is also a model without the gauge.) The creation of the device was inspired by the African tradition of inserting gourds into the vagina to stretch the pelvic floor muscles and reduce the risk the perineal injury.
How it works: To use the Epi-No, insert it two-thirds of the way in, pump it up and start doing your Kegels, watching the gauge go up and down as you contract and relax. This can be done at any time during your pregnancy.
When you reach 37 weeks, you start stretching your perineum after your Kegel routine. To complete the stretching component, you inflate the balloon until it starts to feel uncomfortable but not painful and leave it there for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, you relax your pelvic floor muscles and allow the balloon to expel itself from the vagina.
After you’ve birthed your balloon, you can measure it against the template that comes with the Epi-No to see how close you can get to 10 centimeters, the average size of a baby’s head.
“When you’re giving birth, you need to surrender to the sensations and you need to let go of tension in the pelvic floor, so it’s really a great tool to help women train for what they need to do in labour and understand what they need to do in their body to find ease and release tension and yield in the presence of those uncomfortable sensations,” says Vopni, who used the Epi-No to prepare for both of her births and then started distributing the device in Canada until a new Health Canada certification procedure forced the company out of the country in 2018 due to the cost of certification. (This does not mean the Epi-No is unsafe.)
After childbirth, you can continue to use the Epi-No to do Kegels, but check with your healthcare provider about how long you should wait after delivery.
What you need to know: Since the Epi-No can no longer be purchased in Canada, you will have to get a friend in another country to order it for you. It could be worthwhile: Studies have found the Epi-No is associated with a reduced likelihood of episiotomy and perineal injuries during vaginal birth and a shorter second stage of labour. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety associated with giving birth.