No vagina ever needs to be “rejuvenated”—and the increasingly popular procedure known as “vaginal rejuvenation” can even be a dangerous.
On Monday (July 30) the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to seven companies that advertise the procedures, which claim to do things like tighten vaginal walls, alleviate pain during sex or urination, increase sexual pleasure, or eliminate dryness.
Often these procedures involve using either a laser or a radio frequency in the vagina, according to the release from the FDA. These devices have technically been approved for clearing pre-cancerous cells or genital warts as a result of a sexually transmitted infection. They have not been cleared for “rejuvenation”—because, again, that is not a real thing—and the procedures have left some women with burns, scars, and chronic pain.
The FDA sent warning letters to seven different companies that have promised women that these treatment will give them “a better feminine life,” or will “bring your sexy body back,” with “no downtime…[and] minimal risk,” per NBC. Some of these procedures have been touted by celebrities like Khloe Kardashian (who has said she and her sisters have used it to “tighten”), and Jada Pinkett-Smith (who says she originally was seeking help for bladder issue but then told a magazine, “my yoni is like a 16-year-old… It looks like a little beautiful peach”).
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated for more than 10 years that these procedures have not undergone rigorous clinical trials and are potentially dangerous. The FDA is asking women to report adverse effects from these procedures to MedWatch, its online consumer report database.
Underlying the very idea of “vaginal rejuvenation” is the long-held notion that women’s vaginas are undesirable, and need to be aggressively cleaned and repaired. Douching, or the act of squirting a liquid into the vagina, has been touted as necessary for cleanliness—and even erroneously promoted as a form of contraception and STI prevention—since the 1800s. The disinfectant spray Lysol was at one point advertised as a douching solution that prevented pregnancy, according to Smithsonian Magazine, despite the fact that early formulas caused at least five deaths and several complaints of vaginal blisters—and obviously didn’t protect against pregnancy or infection. Even after effective STI prevention and contraceptions became available to women, douching was heavily marketed as a way to keep vaginas “fresh” and “clean.” Yet barring any actual medical condition, vaginas keep clean with normal washing.
The aspirational idea of improving a vagina’s appearance and tone merely repackages these regressive and dangerous ideas—and it suggests that there is one ideal vagina that all women should aspire to, despite the fact that healthy ones come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s easy to dismiss as just another expensive bogus wellness (paywall) procedure. But unlike “penis facials” or “aura photograpy,” vaginal rejuvenation can cause life-long injury.