The thought was delivered just after my newborn's placenta: A sneaking suspicion that things were not quite the same down there, and they might never be again. I was reminded of the kGoal, a device that claimed it could tone my ladyparts back into pre-baby shape. Once my daughter had finished using my vagina as a giant elastic waterslide, I knew I had to try it.
The concept of vaginal improvement is definitely having a moment. Billboards for vaginal rejuvenation tower over freeways. Vaginal steaming is a dinner-table topic thanks to Gwyneth and her Goop. The kGoal is just the latest new-fangled device riding a wave of heightened cultural awareness around overall vaginal health. But it's the one I decided to use.
For your information, Kegels -- what the kGoal is based on, which explains the punny name -- are about as low-tech, old-school vajazzlin' as you can get. They're exercises which require contracting key muscles in the pelvic floor (a nice way of saying perineum and anus), they have been around since the 1950s, and they can benefit men and women. For the ladies, they are said to help strengthen key muscles during pregnancy, make childbirth easier, and can lead to better orgasms. All of these benefits are debated, of course.
But I was more interested in another benefit, one that everyone pretty much agrees on: The same muscles can help remedy one of the most frequent side effects of childbirth, stress incontinence. Also known as peeing when you sneeze.
A Bowflex for my vagina
Kegels focus pretty much exactly on the muscles you use to stop the stream of urine -- in fact, that's how doctors explain to women how to flex the right ones. And that's also the beauty of kegels: You can do them anywhere, without any special equipment. In fact, I'm doing them right now, as I type this sentence, no gadget in my crotch. So why a woman would need a special device that costs $US150 to do exercises that we've done for decades without any help?
Each kGoal comes with a USB charging cord and a grey cloth pouch for storing the device when not inside your vagina
Dr Sarah Katel, my ob-gyn here in LA, saw a potential benefit. After chuckling at the kGoal's packaging when I showed it to her, she pointed out how it might make sense. "I think that probably a good number of women are concerned about pelvic floor control but are too embarrassed to ask about it," she said. "This product would probably be good for a woman who wanted to perform pelvic floor exercises but has trouble figuring out what muscles to use -- or they're so weak that the feedback from having the product in the vagina is useful."
That's actually the benefit promoted by kGoal's manufacturer Minna Life as well, pointing to their study that half of women who do Kegels might be doing them wrong. "Many women perform pelvic floor exercises incorrectly, either bearing down or overusing the glut muscles instead of actually squeezing their pelvic floor," says Liz Miracle, a physical therapist who consulted on the kGoal's development. "In fact, we did a survey of 300 women from 18 to over 60 years old that showed that less than 50 per cent of women actually feel that they know how to do a contraction correctly."
The kGoal's cushion provides enough resistance to give your vagina something to squeeze against (vagina not shown)
OK, that made sense to me: The kGoal is simply a machine that can guide my movements to achieve whatever the pelvic floor equivalent of a six-pack is. A Bowflex for my vagina.
After being cleared to use the kGoal during my six-week postpartum visit, I went straight home and, after pondering what exactly to wear while exercising one's vagina, put on my workout gear from the waist up.
My main squeeze
The first thing you do when you unbox a smart pelvic floor exerciser is ponder the existence of a smart pelvic floor exerciser. Housed in a cylindrical cardboard package, the kGoal felt no different than any other peripheral I might use with my phone. Blue and squishy, it's about the same size and weight of a computer mouse -- a mouse that I would soon insert into my vagina.
The kGoal (left) and my Magic Mouse, which I have never attempted to insert into my vagina
There are at least two other similar products hitting the market soon, neither of which were available for review when my kGoal arrived. So there's really nothing else to compare it to out there. But the one thing I can compare it to is a dildo. After all, Minna Life makes sex toys -- really good ones. With its colourful silicone skin, the kGoal looks and feels a lot like Minna's Limon, which has the same haptic technology (the harder you squeeze it, the harder it vibrates). With its two parts, the cushion and the handle, the kGoal also looks a lot like a grenade, which is fortunate or unfortunate, depending on how you see it.
The instructions suggest reclining slightly for comfort, but I was able to do the whole thing standing up. I slid the "squeeze pillow" inside -- lubricant is recommended; a tiny pouch came with my device but you'll need to buy more -- and left the handle out facing the front, where I pressed the on-off button that illuminated the on-off light (at the very tip there's a splash-proof port to charge the kGoal via USB cable).
Holding in the brushed aluminium disc deflates the pillow so it can be inserted, then resized once inside my vagina
The only part that tripped me up was the button that inflates or deflates the pillow enough to fit comfortably without sliding out -- a tiny brushed aluminium disc at the top of the device. Eventually I figured out that my finger was too big to press it; I had to tap my fingernail on the disc to get it to resize properly. With the cushion inside and properly inflated, I squeezed, and the kGoal vibrated.
It didn't hurt at all, unlike what Arielle Duhaime-Ross experienced over at The Verge. But then again, she probably hadn't just pushed the equivalent of a medium-sized coconut out of the very same space.
A strongwoman app
Since I spent a month with the device, I also got to review the kGoal app, which was not ready during the first wave of hands-on testing. For each session, I would pair my phone with the device via Bluetooth and navigate over to workout mode. Instead of the device simply vibrating with feedback when you squeeze the pillow, the interface leads you thru a five-minute workout.
At the beginning of each workout, the app instructs me to squeeze as hard as I possibly can. My squeezes are measured vertically, like one of those strongman games at a carnival where you swing a mallet and try to ring the bell. This first squeeze creates a kind of benchmark against which the rest of your workout is measured. There are three exercises: squeeze hard and hold it for five seconds, squeeze a bunch of times quickly, or squeeze slow and very deliberately.
Between the interface and the vibrations guiding me from the inside, it was very easy to see just how much harder I needed to squeeze. Which was almost always a lot harder. I felt like I was back in junior high trying to do a pull-up.
The app's dashboard with recent activity and a 30-day history; the "strongman" interface during the workout; the screen you get upon finishing a workout, showing your strength, control and endurance
I grunted and strained, pressing my legs and buttocks together for added oomph (which doesn't make any difference to my squeeze strength but it feels like it does). After five minutes, I was exhausted, yet I hadn't even cracked 5 on my workout score of 1 to 10. The second day I boosted my score over the 5 hump. By the fourth day, I was up to 6.7, and eventually was able to clear 8 and then 9. My scores stayed above 6 after the first few days but they weren't consistently higher and higher.
I expected to be awed by the power of my pelvic floor, motivated to squeeze my way to a 10 and the eventual ability to crush full beer cans with my vagina alone. But as I attempted to carve out time to do my workouts -- remember, I was at the mercy of my infrequently napping newborn -- I increasingly kept finding myself asking why I was really doing this.
Admittedly, it wasn't a huge timesink, but it was a process. Five minutes to undress and lube up, five minutes for the workout, five more minutes to wash the thing off and put it away when I was done. Plus there is absolutely no way to multitask while you're doing it. The kGoal doesn't hurt, but it's just uncomfortable enough that you can't really leave it in under your clothing while you go off and do other things. So was I really going to spend all this time and effort -- and $US150, if I had paid -- just to have better control of my urine and possibly, slightly better sex?
If I were to disappear into the bathroom for fifteen minutes with a tube of lubricant and a Bluetooth-enabled device for my privates, why wouldn't I just spend the same amount of time masturbating? I thought about this many times while shoving the blue bulb up my hoohah.
At the end of a month, I think I can say that my ability to halt the stream of urine from my bladder has improved... somewhat, maybe, a little? Like my kGoal scores, my ability to control my urine stream still has good days and bad days, perhaps related to how much liquid I consume. And how much of that is just the natural post-pregnancy healing process and how much of it was from my workouts, I don't really know. Even though the app provided feedback that I was getting stronger, my body didn't necessarily register that feedback. Exercising your pelvic floor doesn't make you feel sore for hours afterwards (thank goodness), and unlike a real six-pack, you can't see your vagina six-pack in the mirror (I tried).
Maybe the kGoal could add some more motivational messages to its app, like the ones I used to get back when I wore a FuelBand, to help me keep my eye on the prize. Mama's got a squeezebox! A perfect 10! Perhaps women could engage in pelvic floor strength battles with each other, much like the Fitbit challenges I see my friends lay down online. What is the equivalent of my vagina taking 10,000 daily steps, anyway?
kGoal could benefit from targeted motivational messages, the ability to issue challenges to friends, or the opportunity to earn badges (Va-Va-Vagina?)
These things might be in the works. Users will soon be able to monitor their progress across individual metrics like strength, endurance and control, in addition to the overall workout score, Minna Life's Brian Krieger told me. They're also looking to add another workout with "more of a game-like interaction." I think both of these things could help a lot.
Perhaps someday we'll speak excitedly to our girlfriends about our toned pelvic floor, compare our high-9 squeeze scores on our Apple Watches, and head to the special corner of the local 24 Hour Fitness for group vaginal strength training classes.
But if I was going to spend $US150 on a vibrating Kegel exerciser today, I would hope that it might also double as a decent vibrator in a pinch. And the answer to that is yes, yes it does indeed. Maybe Minna Life should advertise the kGoal as a tool for pleasure, which allows you to squeeze in a little exercise on the side.