I have never liked video games. Even as a child, I would roll my eyes when the other kids pushed and shoved for their turn at Super Mario. Maybe it's because my parents wouldn't let us have game consoles. Maybe that's also why I sucked at them. And probably why I didn't care.
However, when I was introduced to a new pelvic muscle exercise device called Elvie, I was curious. The little oval-shaped silicone ball is inserted into your vagina, and it connects via Bluetooth to an app on your phone, which instructs you through a series of games and exercises.
Standing naked in the bathroom, I inserted the soft, buttonless device and opened the app. Like most apps geared towards women's health, Elvie's user interface is peppered with gentle language, like a digital fairy godmother guiding you by the vulva into stronger, healthier pelvic muscles.
The app leads you through three exercises: LVs (which stands for "levator scores"), lifts, and pulses. I followed the simple instructions on the app (while, ironically, the Joe Rogan Experience podcast blasted through my stereo). To the soundtrack of two men talking about men's current issues, I worked on my Kegels. If the Elvie is Call of Duty for your pelvis, then the pebble-shaped device itself is the controller, and the app is your TV screen: a digital video game you control from inside your pussy.
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I watched the little ball bounce across the app as it instructed me to contract and release in a series of Kegel jumps fast enough to hit a series of little round markers. I sucked at it, only hitting two of the five targets my first try. Then, I moved onto lifts and dominated, squeezing my pelvic region with the strength I developed as a child being forced to hold my bladder on all those family road trips when my father refused to stop the car. I hit 99 percent of my markers during the second round. Last came the pulse game, where you follow the floating ball on screen, pulling in your muscles tight to keep the ball bobbing like a buoy over water. I repeated the workout again and again, moving up to the higher levels and ending the whole thing with a very dorky, very naked victory dance.
The Elvie was created by London-based women's health professional Tania Boler. "I had a baby four years ago and had no idea how much change our bodies go through," Boler explains. "My husband is French, and in France the motto is 'Happy woman, happy baby.' Women take more care and attention in healing themselves after birth [there]."
Boler, who is 39 years old, has been devoted to women's health for her entire life. After getting her masters in psychology from Oxford, she moved to Stanford University to study international education policy. She eventually migrated back to her home country of England to finish her doctorate in teenage pregnancy and HIV prevention. However, it was the cluelessness she felt about her own post-pregnancy body and strength that inspired her to develop Elvie.
Knowing how important Kegel exercises were to preventing uterine prolapse, Boler tried to stay on top of them after her child was born, but as she awkwardly clenched and squeezed her pelvic floor, she never knew if she was actually doing anything right. Was all this work even making a difference, or was she just going to accidentally pee her pants? In France, Boler found it was totally run-of-the-mill for new mothers to enroll in pelvic floor exercise classes, whereas in the UK and America, doctors barely encourage it (or if they do, it's because a woman is already experiencing a severe problem).
"I started to research [Kegel exercise toys] and realized that there hasn't been much innovation at all," Boler says. "Women were mostly buying electrical stimulation products or vaginal cones, but there is little evidence that these are effective. The one thing shown to work is giving women real-time biofeedback, but this technology has only existed in hospitals." Devoted to bringing that technology home, Boler hooked up with Alexander Asseily, the founder of Jawbone (one of the leading companies building wearable devices and software programs powered by data science), and together they began to develop Elvie. Employing Jawbone's innovative sports technology, like activity trackers and sensors, Boler focused on creating an exercise toy that could be used anytime—not every woman has the luxury of an extra hour for Kegel class. (The name "Elvie" comes from the scientific word for pelvic floor muscles—"levator" muscles—and refers to their lifting function.)
I never cared about my pelvic health until I started researching uterine prolapses a few months ago for my column. Uterine prolapse (although varying in degrees of severity) is much more common than I ever knew: 50 percent will experience some kind of prolapse after giving birth and 11 percent will require surgery. I was always stuck on the idea of being a cool aunt and not a mother myself. That is, until I met my husband, and a litter of brats became something I was seriously interested in. Carrying around a baby for nine months is bound to weaken your pelvic muscles. My husband was the size of a turkey when he was born, and I'm sure this charming curse will be passed onto any children I may have to squeeze out. And regardless of the future one may have carved out for her uterus, pelvic strength helps with overall bladder and bowel control—it also reportedly improves orgasms. Kegel exercises have also been reported to help with lower back pain.
I recently started working with a personal trainer and have been activating muscles I never even knew existed. Although coming home to play my Kegel video game after an hour and a half of being tortured at the gym may feel like a breeze, working this muscle actually matters, and it doesn't involve an ounce of vanity.
"Most people think that this is a health issue or a sex issue," Boler says. "Yes, it is both, but fundamentally this is a woman's issue, because women don't know much about the importance of looking after this part of their bodies. Too many [of us] suffer from the physical problems and too often think [that suffering] is just part of being a woman." If avoiding suffering for my uterus means doing ten minutes of Kegels every day, I guess I can get behind video games when they're played by my pussy.