What’s the difference and which is right for me?
Vaginal rejuvenation and vaginal tightening aren’t the first things that come to mind when fighting the signs of aging. There’s no denying that childbirth and age change a woman’s body. Fluctuating hormones, wrinkling skin, and sagging body parts are some of the expected signs. And there’s no shortage of discussions about how to combat these signs, along with products claiming to help us maintain a youthful look. Miracle skin serums, facial injections, and countless diet routines are some of the marketing campaigns clamoring for our attention.
But a less common discussion is how age and childbirth impact sexual intimacy, specifically the vagina. Here’s where vaginal rejuvenation and vaginal tightening come up. And just like tackling wrinkles, hormones, and aging bodies, women are looking for ways to roll back the clock. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “40% of women have psychological distress from female sexual dysfunction, but only 14% consult a physician about sex during their lifetime.” That’s a lot of worrying and not a lot of solutions. But the tide is turning.
Women are not only speaking up about their intimate experiences, but studies show they’re also taking action to improve sex. As far back as 2006, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons concluded there was a 30% increase from the previous year in the rate of vaginal rejuvenation procedures. And these rates continue to climb as new treatments emerge.
What do vaginal tightening and vaginal rejuvenation mean?
When women inquire about vaginal rejuvenation, they’re typically looking for one of two types of outcomes. One is an external, cosmetic procedure that alters the appearance of the vaginal area, usually involving plastic surgery on the skin folds that surround the vagina. The second is they want to tighten the vagina for the feel, often an internal alteration that results in “tightening” of the vaginal canal. Here’s a crash course in the terminology.
What is vaginal rejuvenation?
The term “vaginal rejuvenation” can refer to a broad spectrum of procedures, but in general, the term is used to describe procedures that change the anatomy of the vagina, either externally or internally. The goal of vaginal rejuvenation can be to restore the vagina to its youthful feel and appearance, and/or to improve support for the female organs.
What is vaginal tightening?
Vaginal tightening can be part of a vaginal rejuvenation procedure, but it is specifically targeted at the vaginal canal. Women seeking this treatment want to tighten a “loose” or “stretched” vagina. This condition is called vaginal laxity. Because this condition is often underreported and is subjective, there is little information on how many women have vaginal laxity; however, one study suggests at least 38% of women experience vaginal laxity, leading to reduced vaginal sensation, stress urinary incontinence, and decreased sexual pleasure.
What are the treatments for vaginal rejuvenation?
- Pills and creams for vaginal tightening. Do a quick internet search for vaginal tightening and you’ll likely see several creams and pills claiming to “tighten” the vagina. Prices range from $20–$50. An oral or topical option may seem like the easiest and quickest option to remedy a “loose” vagina. Oral pills are taken daily and sold in the form of health supplements, so these are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Creams and gels, inserted into the vagina with their astringent ingredients, create friction on the vaginal walls, aiming to produce a tighter feel. Although there are many claims for enhanced sexual experience and increased libido, a Yale professor warns there is no medically proven pill or cream that shrinks or tightens the vagina.
- Kegel weights and balls. Gynecologists and obstetricians agree that strengthening the pelvic floor muscles is a proven step to a healthy vagina. Anyone who’s had a child remembers practicing their Kegel exercises to get their uterus back into shape. Kegel exercises are tricky because they’re internal exercises, so practitioners can’t see if you’re doing them correctly. One common training method is Kegel exercise weights ($15–$50). Women insert these silicone balls into the vagina, provoking a clenching motion that specifically targets pelvic floor muscles. Tightening the pelvic floor muscles can increase sexual satisfaction, as well as curb stress incontinence. However, to achieve better pelvic muscle tone, you must do these exercises correctly and consistently. Another obstacle is that some women don’t like the required privacy and invasiveness of Kegel weights.
There are a couple of surgical options, depending on your goal and specific physical challenges.
- Vaginoplasty. Generally speaking, vaginoplasty is a reconstruction of the vagina. Women often undergo this procedure when there’s been a prolapse or failure in the pelvic floor. The surgery is minor and uses an incision and sutures under local or general anesthesia to repair the prolapse. Concerning vaginal rejuvenation, the term vaginoplasty involves removing some skin from the vaginal wall and tightening it with stitches. Recovery time is 3–4 weeks for a return to light activity, longer for more strenuous exercise. Because there are different types of vaginoplasty, the cost varies.
- Labiaplasty. This is a cosmetic surgery that trims or reshapes the folds of skin (or vaginal lips) surrounding the vagina, called the labia minora. Childbirth and age can stretch these skin folds so they stick out or hang below the labia majora. This procedure takes an hour with local anesthetic and has an average cost of about $2,700. The popularity of this procedure increased 217.3% over five years between 2012 and 2017, with 55% of patients falling between ages 19 and 34, and 34% between 35 and 50 years old.
In between Kegel weights and surgery are energy-based devices. These wand-like probes are inserted into the vagina and deliver energy via either laser light pulses or electromagnetic waves. The idea is to heat and ultimately damage surface vaginal tissue, initiating a healing process that ideally reveals firmer tissue. There is little to no downtime, other than the office visit, but sticker shock is real at about $1,000 per visit, with an average of three visits.
Is vaginal rejuvenation safe?
Surgical procedures and treatments delivered through energy-based devices have a significant list of side effects. Additionally, the FDA sternly warned several companies about misrepresenting treatments labeled as “vaginal rejuvenation.”
Side effects and complications
Here are some of the possible side effects and complications from both surgery and energy-based treatments:
- Vaginal burns
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Recurring/chronic pain
- Altered sensation
FDA and ACOG warnings
Although the FDA has approved certain lasers and energy-based devices to treat issues including facial wrinkles and precancerous tissue, the agency has not approved these same devices for vaginal rejuvenation. In 2018, the FDA warned several companies to stop making unfounded claims regarding their devices, specifically questioning the “safety and effectiveness of energy-based devices for treatment” of vaginal rejuvenation, urinary incontinence, or sexual function. The warning letters asked the companies to either submit proof for their published claims or stop deceptive marketing.
As recently as January 2020, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists chimed in, saying there is not enough reliable evidence to support the claims of vaginal rejuvenation procedures, specifically surgery. The group warns of side effects and that, “’Rebranding’ existing surgical procedures…and marketing them as new cosmetic vaginal procedures is misleading.”