Quantcast

Most Vagina Tightening Products Are Bullshit

These products run the gamut from home-brewed concoctions—some including powdered rocks, detergents, and even straight-up bleach.

ByMark Hayillustrated byLia Kantrowitz

This spring, the mass media finally caught on to a disturbing trend in the world of DIY women's health: the powder of ground-up oak galls (tree growths that develop around wasp larvae laid in their branches) were being stuck in vaginas as a tightening agent. Thankfully, critical minds quickly condemned this trend and debunked its apparent effectiveness, noting that while galls were historically used in parts of the world to treat vaginal infections and may have legitimate antibacterial properties, there's no traditional or medical basis for use of them in this way. Because, of course.

When it comes to products promising to tighten up vaginas, sadly, oak galls are just the tip of the iceberg. "There are countless agents available over the counter and by special order," explains gynecologist Michael Krychman. And, he says, they're all dangerous bunk.

These products run the gamut from home-brewed concoctions of almost any plant—from mint to (ouch) citrus—to atrociously branded gels and sticks like "18 Again" and "China Shrink Cream," which mix anything from herbs to soaps to mystery chemicals. Some include powdered rocks, detergents, and even straight-up bleach. Some are cheap and promise only limited tightening. Others are pricey and make ridiculously impossible claims. The world of vaginal tighteners is so bizarre it's like, as Sara Chodash of PopSci wrote of oak galls this June, "vaginas are walls at which to throw medicinal spaghetti."

It should go without saying that people shouldn't shove anything inside themselves if they aren't sure it's safe—especially in something as sensitive as a vagina. "Anytime you're inserting things or changing the ecosystem, the pH, of your vagina," says women's health and sexuality expert and co-host of The Doctors, Dr. Jennifer Berman, "it's putting you at risk." Still, Krychman notes, the market for these products is sadly broad and enduring.

They exist to help diminish "vaginal laxity," the clinical term for looseness. Some women do experience real issues with temporary or permanent laxity, according to both Berman and Krychman. Often this stems from major life events like childbirth or menopause, health issues like connective tissue disorders, or just aging. As a result, some can experience changes in sexual self-esteem, sexual arousal, orgasm, urinary incontinence, and prolapse, says Krychman.

But in many others, concerns about laxity are mostly (if not fully) in their heads. According to Dr. Berman, these ideas can be brought on in part due to misunderstandings of one's anatomy and sensation, ignorant jokes or digs from partners, or general social osmosis of the idea, oft repeated and disproven, that frequent sex can irreparably stretch a vagina. Though around for some time, solutions to this imagined problem have seemingly become more ubiquitous in recent years, thanks to the rise of candid sexual conversations and the echo chambers of digital culture, which amplify and reinforce anxieties of all stripes. Vaginal tighteners are more than happy to market their product to this self-consciousness, and their prevalence and visibility may just amplify the issue further. We're at the point where concerns about laxity are, according to Dr. Berman, "right up there along with liposuction and breast augmentation."

There are a number of accepted treatments for women interested in improving vaginal laxity. Kegel exercises, which strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, can help. However these exercises have limited potential for women with severe laxity, often caused by an underlying disorder.

In those cases, doctors offer a series of more invasive treatments, like repeated electrical, electromagnetic, radio frequency, or laser stimulation sessions meant to bolster muscles or firm up tissue. In extreme cases, professionals will offer tightening surgeries, although they can have negative consequences, including possibly making penetration or sex painful. "One must individualize the treatment for the symptomatology and the effects on the woman," stressed Krychman.

Sometimes women with real issues pertaining to laxity, says Krychman, can feel too embarrassed to seek professional help. Vaginal tightening creams, gels, and powders—marketed as simple, affordable, and less invasive natural solutions to a common problem—fill the gap between home exercises and surgery.

Some concoctions, notes Krychman, have actually been used in many cultures for generations, so they at times have the dubious but effective sheen of traditional wisdom on their side. Women who just worry about being too loose fail to seek medical advice as well, and some who do air their concerns to a doctor may still want a quick fix to what they see as a major issue even if they're told not to worry. Others receive countless negative reviews from women who say they didn't work, or even created new health issues. The products' promoters brush this off, using the reality that all vaginas are different to claim that what they're selling will work for some but not all women.

Some, using vasodilators to open up blood vessels, causing engorgement, may "work" temporarily. Many, though, are just an astringent irritant that dry out the vagina. Vendors at times sell this as a plus, and consumers sometimes seek it, ("dry sex" means more friction). But this dryness drastically increases a woman's risk of suffering abrasions—tiny cuts inside the vagina—that can make sex painful and increase the risk of infections and STD transmission. As Dr. Berman said, sticking anything into the sensitive microbial environment of a vagina can unbalance it. This can cause infections and other issues as well.

You can find a few gynecologists and wider women's health experts who'll say it's OK to use vaginal tightening products, so long as one considers the risks and approaches them with caution. But given this too-large market is built on a combo of mumbo-jumbo, body shaming, and the sometimes outright unfounded Krychman advises all doctors "strictly counsel against these products." Always.

Finally, Berman suggests, if you're worried about vaginal laxity, consider why. Is it about enhancing your own pleasure or meeting some vague standard? Is it catering to perceived or explicit male desires? If, after giving it some serious thought, doubts persist, she suggests talking to a doctor.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.