Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas

July 2, 2008

An article in today’s New York Times describes a “medical spa” in Manhattan described as the first facility “dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area.”

The facility’s own website refers to its services as addressing “feminine fitness.” The physician running the “spa” stated, “If you can vote and you have a vagina, you should do these. It’s the dental floss of feminine fitness.”

To be clear, “feminine fitness” is a made-up phrase with no standard medical meaning, and the definition of physical fitness in general can be variable and subjective. Never mind that, though – I’m still hung up on “if you can vote and you have a vagina.”

Dr. Romanzi, the founder of the facility, was no doubt trying to suggest that regular pelvic exercises (such as Kegels) served a preventive, health-preserving purpose, although this may not actually be the case. I did a quick search of the medical literature for any evidence of long-term benefits or protective effects of pelvic floor muscle training, and did not turn up any relevant studies of the topic. There does seem to be some support for pelvic floor muscle training related in improving symptoms of urinary incontinence, but as one physician interviewed for the article stated, “If this is being recommended to women who have no symptoms, then there are no medical organizations or literature that support that that is necessary.”

Indeed, the “spa” also offers other services such as labiaplasty and “wrinkle reduction” – referring to them as “rejuvenation” – that have little to do with actual health. Perhaps appropriately, the article was published in the “Fashion” section of the paper’s website, rather than in “Health.”

This one little facility in the big city probably shouldn’t garner so much attention, but the unsupported selling to women of this as a “health” issue – not to mention the implications about what is acceptable for women’s bodies – really bothers me. The Times reporter seems to get the issue just right – “The advent of the pelvic spa, however, takes body fixation to a new level, furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned.”

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