A pounding beat and alternating “xo” emojis are the only call to action needed for those familiar with GripTok. “Hey ladies, you already know what to do,” the caption might read. And increasingly, we do.
Welcome to GripTok, a TikTok challenge in which those with vaginas are encouraged to clench and release their pelvic floor to the beat of the song playing in the background of the video.
The exercise, commonly known as a kegel or kegel squeeze, was first introduced by GPs in the 1940s as a way for predominantly older women to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles after they’d had a baby. Over recent years, specialised tech and yoni eggs emerged to facilitate the practice, which can help manage or prevent incontinence and increase sexual health and pleasure. But, as is frequently the case with women’s health, kegels have mostly remained shrouded in a degree of privacy and shame.
As one of the latest viral TikTok challenges, corresponding hashtags have racked up over 60 million views and feature songs of alternating speeds and difficulty. A number of accounts, like @dailyreminderladies, have emerged to encourage users – some as young as 14 years old – to practice their daily reps.
“My friends and I were having a conversation about self-care down there and I was told that doing kegels is a healthy, once a day exercise,” 20-year-old US-based user Lacey tells me.
“We actually started the conversation because I saw a kegel video on TikTok and was curious to know more,” she continued. “After that conversation, we all made a pact to do them and treat ‘down there’ better.”
Multiple users told me that getting served these videos on their For You pages was the first time they had heard about kegels. Partaking in the challenge has, they said, helped them feel more informed and empowered about their own bodies and created a community with its own inside joke.
Many tell me they’ve reaped rewards from the exercise, from reduced cramping while on their periods, a sense of being more in control of the muscles in their pelvic floor and increased sexual pleasure.
But while several gynaecologists have taken to the platform to support the challenge, others discourage users from doing kegels in the way promoted. “The challenge encourages a series of pelvic floor muscle contractions in a quick amount of time, which doesn’t allow the muscle to fully relax in between contractions,” says Bethany Clark, a physical therapist and TikToker with a passion for pelvic health. “[This] can lead the muscle to stay contracted, which could begin to cause pain or dysfunction such as incontinence and decreased sexual satisfaction.”
This information is readily available on the platform, however, and some tell me they have since taken the guidance on board. “I came across a few videos that said holding kegels is more effective than doing them fast, so I started doing that instead,” says Minnesota-based 14-year-old Libbie Heyer. “Again, I’m loving learning about female health on social media!”
In truth, while women’s health and pleasure are becoming increasingly more mainstream, the stigma remains. Teenage girls tell me that none of this is information they would have picked up elsewhere; not at home, in conversations with parents, or even in sex education at school, where shame still shrouds much of the conversation around women’s so-called “private parts.” For many, GripTok is a safe space to learn, explore and ask questions they are not able to elsewhere.
“I think female sexuality genuinely scares people sometimes and I don’t think vaginal health is commonly discussed enough,” says 17-year-old Ellie Dawson-Moore. “I shouldn’t have had to find out how to do something that helps my body from TikTok. That should be in health class.”
Sharing reps publicly is a funny and light-hearted way to show the world that we don’t need to be nervous to talk about our vaginas with each other. “We can’t just neglect the subject for years and hope that one day speaking about vaginal health will be normalised,” says Lacey, adding that this is a small step towards accomplishing shamelessness.
Scrolling through what are often thousands of comments under users’ videos is in itself enlightening, entertaining and heart-warming. As a user commented on a GripTok video posted by @temi.olushola: “I’ve ascended to a completely different level of women’s empowerment TikTok.”
“It brings all of us ladies together and helps us not feel so alone,” explains Lacey. “I’ve read so many comments from people that say something like ‘I thought I was the only one that dealt with xyz but now I know it’s normal!’ Reading comments like that make me really happy because it has helped other people, and even me, feel less insecure about my vagina and understand that we are all made differently but can relate as well.”
While GripTok is aimed towards women, men should engage and learn about vaginal health too, Lacey argues. “When it comes time for people to vote for senators or congresswomen that have control over women’s health, we will need everyone to be educated about it,” she explains.
As a millennial who has worked hard to unlearn this ingrained shame, I’m grateful for their efforts. As a teenager, I would have loved to have had this information, and this shamelessness, a mere scroll away. For now, I’m catching up on years of missed kegels. Taking on board expert advice, of course.