Last week, in the first-ever sex issue of her newsletter, Gwyneth Paltrow shared her list of must-have items for optimal sexual fulfillment. Paltrow is known for selling $1,295 pinky rings on Goop, her e-commerce site, and including things such as solid-gold dumbbells on her holiday gift guide, so it came as no surprise that some of her recommendations this time around were absurdly opulent. Goop‘s recommendations included a $15,000 24-karat gold dildo, a $535 Agent Provocateur cat whip, and a $395 Kiki de Montparnasse necklace that doubles as a nipple clamp.
These luxury items are easy to scoff at–and Paltrow has made an art of turning the public’s mockery of her into a business opportunity, as we have reported elsewhere on Fast Company–but she also peppered the sex issue with more reasonably priced, practical product suggestions. The Elvie, for instance, is a $199 device that helps you do your Kegels.
Kegels are exercises that doctors recommend to help women strengthen the muscles at the base of the abdomen that support the uterus, bladder, and small intestine. With childbirth, pregnancy, and age, these muscles become looser. “The effect of weakening the pelvic floor results in your pelvic organs dropping and creating a bulge into your vagina (that causes) uncomfortable pelvic pressure, leakage of urine, and problems having a bowel movement,” explains Sherry Ross, an OBGYN and women’s health advocate. “Loss of urine with coughing, sneezing, or laughing is common even after having one vaginal birth.” (Paltrow also points out in her newsletter that doing your Kegels can also help you have more intense orgasms.)
A video that HelloFlo released last week put a funny spin on the horror of living with incontinence, which affects one in four women over the age of 18.
Given that Kegels are exercises you can do for free by simply clenching and contracting your pelvic floor muscles, the Elvie feels like a luxury product, befitting Paltrow’s fabulous life but perhaps it’s not for everyone. But as a new mom who struggles to exercise my pelvic floor, I was intrigued. Kegels are mind-numbingly boring to do, and most of the time it’s unclear whether you are doing them right. A device that would make it fun and easy to work out my pelvic floor seemed like an interesting notion, and the price point did not seem totally outlandish, particularly if it could prevent the many scary symptoms that might emerge down the road.
The Elvie, which first came out last October, has all the elegance of an Apple product. It is a pebble-shaped device made of silicone that you insert into your vagina as you are doing your Kegels. It comes in a small oblong case, is chargable, and can be paired with a smartphone app. The app allows you to track if you’re doing the exercises correctly, then challenge yourself so that you keep strengthening your muscles. The interface feels a lot like a video game: As you do your Kegels, you can watch a little diamond bounce up and down on the screen, depending on the strength or frequency of your clenching motion. It was actually pretty entertaining, and I ended my five-minute session wanting to improve on my performance next time.
Chiaro, the company that produces the Elvie, was founded by Alexander Asseily, a head Dyson engineer and cofounder of Jawbone. The other cofounder is Tania Boler, a women’s health advocate who received a PhD on the subject of teenage pregnancy and HIV in South Africa. She says they spoke to 40 physiotherapists and 150 women as they were designing the Elvie. “The key issues are that even though women know they have to do these exercises, they don’t know if they’re doing them right and they get bored, so they just stop,” she says. The device has won a range of awards including best R&D at the Design Museum Awards and best design at the Red Dot Awards.
Boler recognizes that at its price, it isn’t going to be a mass market product any time soon. “It’s a premium lifestyle product, for now,” she says. It’s clearly tailored to women who have enough disposable income to invest in a pretty toy that will help them take care of themselves. In other words, her target market dovetails with Goop’s, which is why she was so thrilled that Paltrow started selling the Elvie on her website last week. “It sold out within hours,” Boler says.
The company has already made a million dollars in revenue and is currently looking for Series A funding so that it can make the Elvie available at more retail outlets and reach women who need it most, such as ladies who are pregnant or have just given birth. “The area of new mom’s wellness is really beginning to take off,” Boler says. “It’s part of the larger trend of women feeling more confident about their bodies and being able to talk about it.”
I asked Ross, the OBGYN, if there were any potential dangers in using the Elvie. “If the Elvie were to malfunction, it may not give you accurate or reliable results, but it doesn’t seem to be harmful,” she says. “With that said, I believe learning how to do your Kegel exercises properly will give you the same results without all the bells and whistles, and will cost you nothing!”