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 signs we as women have learned to expect. And there’s no shortage of discussions about how to combat these signs, and of course the products that might 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 procedures. 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 procedure is 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 your 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.”
What are the best alternatives to vaginal rejuvenation?
With all the questions surrounding safety and regulations, you may be wondering if there is a safe and effective alternative to vaginal rejuvenation. The answer is yes. Because the pelvic floor is the larger structure that supports the vagina, let’s take a look at how to achieve a healthy pelvic floor.
What is the pelvic floor and how does it affect my vagina?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that supports the vagina, bladder (including the urethra), and rectum. These muscles and connective tissues hold your female organs in place, but childbirth and age can stretch the pelvic floor, resulting in vaginal laxity (a “loose” vagina) and/or stress urinary incontinence. However, because the bulk of the pelvic floor is muscle, you can tighten it up with safe exercises. And just like with regular exercise for the rest of your body, consistency and form are key in getting your pelvic floor back in shape. The result can be a tighter vagina because the supporting muscles are stronger and not slack.
How do I tighten my pelvic floor?
Most women have heard of, if not practiced, Kegel exercises. Practitioners recommend Kegels after childbirth and as women age to help strengthen the pelvic floor. Toned and strong pelvic floor muscles help with stress urinary incontinence and can enhance sexual intercourse.
However, knowing if you’re doing Kegels effectively can be a bit of a mystery. That’s where over-the-counter Kegel exercisers come in handy. The cheaper ones simply tell you if you are contracting the correct muscles. Others deliver a safe, painless electronic stimulus (E-stim) that contracts your pelvic floor muscles for you.
- Vaginal E-stim devices ($300-1200). These probes look similar to vibrators and are inserted vaginally. The probe emits an electrical current that automatically contracts the pelvic floor muscles. Although effective, this type of device requires privacy and dedicated time, plus there’s a risk of infection because it’s inserted into the vagina. Women have to commit to inserting the device multiple times per week.
- Surface E-stim devices. The first FDA-approved surface E-stim device is ELITONE ($399), which is noninvasive and is proven to treat stress urinary incontinence. ELITONE exercises your pelvic floor while you’re on the go. The device delivers gentle electrical pulses that trigger muscle contractions while discreetly worn under clothing. It uses clean, disposable gel pads (similar to a maxi pad). In 20 minutes, ELITONE does 100 contractions, longer and stronger than you could on your own. Also used multiple times a week, it doesn’t take time as it is wearable under clothes as you walk around.
For today’s active woman, surface E-stim devices like ELITONE deliver a practical solution for tightening the pelvic floor. Because it’s noninvasive, women can use the device while at work, traveling, or at home, triggering strong and consistent Kegel contractions. So if you’re seeking to cure those annoying leaks or just looking for a better sexual experience, both are possible with ELITONE.