Strengthening your Pelvic Floor – Julia Rose, founder of VaGenie

Two out of three women suffer from a weak pelvic floor- unfortunately a very common but oftentimes difficult condition for women that can lead to issues such as incontinence, lower back pain, and decreased sexual response. We interviewed CEO and Founder of Vagenie, an innovative kegel brand that offers engaging and guided pelvic floor training to learn more about pelvic floor strength and her product. Read the full interview below:

Tell us about your work and your inspiration to create Vagenie.

I am very passionate about getting education out about our bodies as women. Lack of knowledge or understanding while we are experiencing certain situations or health issues sometimes leads to anxious situations, so I am happy we are normalizing these conversations.

Vagenie addresses pelvic muscle health, although many women’s health issues are intertwined. After giving birth in France, I learned that in France women undergo a pelvic floor strengthening program postpartum. This program helps rehabilitate and strengthen your pelvic floor; I thought it was so incredible. After my second childbirth in California, I did not have access to the program and I thought it was crazy- so I decided to create Vagenie to provide fun at home kegel exercises.

Is that postpartum program common in other countries?

Unfortunately it is not yet in the U.S.. and France is one of the few countries that has it covered by their national health care plan. There are other countries that offer other forms of postpartum recovery, but overall it’s a pretty novel concept. It’s really essential regardless if you did C-section or vaginal birth; the pelvic muscles have fatigue and you can have all sorts of problems. 

The pelvic floor muscles are essentially a basket of muscles that sit in the pelvic area and are essentially connected to your core muscles to your lower back and in women support the bladder uterus and your rectum. Because of pregnancy and also because of surgery, weight gain, hormonal changes, high impact athletes can weaken your atrophy and they can’t perform their function. As they weaken they bend and the organs can fall out of place and cause pain, embarrassment, sexual dysfunction. 

There are a lot of taboos surrounding conversations about pelvic floor strength – what kind of taboos have you encountered?

I believe this is one of the biggest factors of why we are having so many problems- it is typically  difficult and embarrassing to talk about. I work with a professional who asks her patients if they are experiencing incontinence or leaking and she tells me her patients visibly look nervous and embarrassed to talk about it even in a clinical environment.

We chose the name Vagenie very purposefully to help reduce taboo- it has been very empowering to see more conversations around women’s health in the recent years. 

It has been encouraging that we’re normalizing these conversations more.

Women are taking the lead on this- there’s no reason not to talk about things that affect all of us and to get rid of that shame.

What are those key factors that affect our pelvic floor?

Just like any muscle, the more you exercise it the healthier and stronger it is. They are more consistent the better- its very difficult to know if we are engaging it (not like a bicep).

The exercises are not complicated to perform, what is difficult is doing them in a way that is effective and correct. Vagenie helps you see if you are doing the exercises correctly. Once you start engaging the muscle correctly, it’s not difficult to gain strength once you are engaging the muscles. Once these muscles are engaged we can focus on lower back pain, increasing sexual response, etc.

What are some of the key pieces of information or feelings that women should know about when it comes to pelvic floor strength?

The more engaged the muscles the better the blood flow. When we orgasm, it’s the pelvic floor that is engaged- if we have a good blood flow, we have a healthy ecosystem and we are able to feel things more. Alignment is also deeply connected to our lower back- we can have a shoulder pain that is caused by some misalignment somewhere lower. I also believe our pelvic floor health is very connected to our emotional well being- that area is for many women a place where they identify within their physical anatomy or through an emotional relationship with someone and so it is important to be in tune with our pelvic floor. 

We also believe that many of our issues are very much linked to emotional conflict- could you tell us more about that or any cases you have seen/?

There is definitely a mind body connection- I get tense shoulders when I get stressed. 

It is important to note, I have been using the word strengthening for pelvic floor strengthening- but it is not for every woman. Our uterus muscle is like our shoulder muscle- we want to have strong muscles but if we have very tense shoulders that can lead to a variety of problems like constricted blood flow, neck pain etc. so it is important for some women to just learn to relax muscles in that area. For some women the work they need is more centered around relaxing and allowing the emotions flow.

Can you tell us about the science behind the kegels?

It’s kind of interesting, I was talking about this with an advisor who is an OBGYN and we’re  a little frustrated it’s called kegel; knowledge about pelvic health has been around for thousands of years. Awareness is ancient; however, at some point in the 40s some doctor developed some exercises that were very similar

There are 2 steps: the initial is contraction and the second one is holding the contraction and pulling it upwards towards your ribcage (similar to a straw). Then we hold it there which activates the PC muscle (which does the heavy lifting of your organs) and slowly release and relax. 

Tell us more about Vagenie.

We are not in the market yet- sometimes when creating womens health products its a long and arduous road but every step of the way we are learning and helping raise more awareness of this. 

Our prototype consists of the device that goes into the vagina while the antenna part of the device remains outside to be connected to the app via Bluetooth. You do your exercises while playing video games so it’s very fun and engaging. The goal is to raise awareness of these muscles and engagement and to make it as normal as brushing your teeth, putting on night cream etc.

We track the progress- every time we check in you can see how well you’re doing and your progress. However simple the exercise is, it is very effective but the hardest part if just getting yourself to actually do it. Even doing it three times a week you’ll start seeing a difference in a few weeks. 

Our goal is to help you not be bored of it after a few weeks so we try to make it very fun.

How long does it take to see a difference?

Everybody is different and every woman’s muscles and body are unique- on average, if a woman is doing a regular workout (4 times a week for 5-10 minutes) they can expect results from 2-6 weeks. Many women have reported reduced leakage, increased sexual response etc. in studies. 

Vagenie is beneficial for any woman- regardless of whether they have had children or don’t experience leakage. Having a strong muscle is good for anyone. Vagenie is preventative in that it helps increase muscle strength and prevent further health issues. 

Currently, one out of five women are getting surgery in their lifetime for pelvic floor disorder and 30% of those are going back for further treatment. That is a really high number- that’s mainly because of taboo, lack of awareness and because doctors may wait until the issue is severe to propose surgery. 

Give us some success stories you’ve heard or seen with Vagnie users. 

One woman started doing her exercises with our product (the prototype) who was experiencing pelvic floor pain and never addressed it with her doctor before. Because of her experience with Vagenie she brought it up with her doctor and they began working on developing a plan for her to help with the pain. 

It is just so important to tune into your body and to know you have the right to not suffer- were told that things like PMS, incontinence or other health conditions are normal. They’re not normal- they’re common, but they are not normal. 

I had one woman reach out to me and she told me she never made the connection that having prolapse affected my marriage life, my social life, my sex life and the way I play with my children. She said, ‘I made the connection that they were all tied and that I needed to take care of myself because these are all connected’.