Bizarre vagina treatment women swear by
IT'S being hailed as miraculous by some women, but it's controversial with others. It's a laser treatment that claims to be able to turn back the clock - on vaginas.
This is welcome news for the one in three women who experience urinary incontinence after giving birth severe enough to impact physical activity. Other women feel their sex life after giving birth will never be the same.
According to The Continence Foundation of Australia, vaginal birth can cause not just "leakage" but "weakness around the vagina, or lack of sensation".
But the Viveve system, known more commonly as a vagina laser, claims to restore the vagina to a "pre-birth" state.
The non-surgical device, which is roughly the size of a tampon, is inserted into the vagina in a clinic by a doctor or registered nurse.
It remains in the woman's body for 30 minutes, and using what's known as a "cryogen-cooled, mono-polar radio frequency", it renews the tissue in the lower vaginal canal, maximising blood flow, tightening laxity, and rebuilding collagen for 90 days afterwards.
Kate*, 46, said it was nothing short of miraculous.
"I haven't enjoyed sex in 18 years, to be honest, because I couldn't feel anything, so my mind would just drift off.
"I wasn't present. It's that mind-body separation you experience during birth, because it's so traumatic, and afterwards I just never felt completely in my body, because the damage was so severe."
The former midwife, from Queensland, added: "For years, I was basically doing it to please my husband, but not getting anything out of it.
"I'd given up exercising because of leakage. It was just something I lived with, so I put on weight, and my self-esteem really took a hit.
"I couldn't jump, I couldn't sneeze, I couldn't cough, or I'd pee."
Asked if she tried pelvic floor exercises, Kate replied: "I couldn't even do kegels - there was no muscle there to properly contract.
"For the first time last week, I had proper, good sex with my husband. I went out and bought sexy lingerie!"
While some women are reporting good results with the treatment, doctors remain cautious.
Dr Stephen Robson, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZGOG), said while the lasers were generating a lot of buzz, there was not a lot known at this stage.
"There's a lot of talk about these lasers at the moment among my colleagues. Its primary use is for a group for women who have marked vaginal atrophy - for them it appears to work quite well," he said.
"It's something that is definitely evolving, and though there are something like 40 (product) trials out at the moment, the evidence is still quite scanty that it can cure incontinence.
"But I think in a few years it will be a viable option for women who don't want surgery."
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved the Viveve device for use in Australia, but other brands of lasers remain under review.
It has also been approved in the US, but the FDA has warned women to choose their lasers wisely, or risk injury or burns.
"Our laser device was one of the few brands not mentioned by the FDA because it's completely safe", said Viveve device consultant Judith Booker. "Our system uses a completely different type of laser, so there's no risk of burning or injury."
Keith Sullivan, brand manager for Viveve Australasia explained, "The cryogen cools and protects the surface layer of the vaginal tissue allowing energy to be delivered into the supportive tissue where it will stimulate collagen production.
"This also ensures that the patient will not experience any discomfort."
But the treatment isn't cheap. It costs $2500, and postmenopausal women might need more than one treatment, although the company believes most premenopausal women will need one treatment only as a preventive measure, before symptoms worsen.
"Our target market is really premenopausal women who may be suffering from vaginal dryness and laxity, leakage and pain during sex," said Ms Booker, who recommended that women waited for 48 hours before having sex, though the results were often immediate.
"For women who are postmenopausal, we recommend getting the laser once every year or so." Ms Booker said she had only received positive feedback about the revolutionary device.
"I had one elderly woman who used to wear a maxi incontinence pad 24/7 and since having just one treatment, she's experienced an 80 per cent reduction in leakage," Ms Booker said. "It's literally life-changing for women like her."
One client in her 50s, Jodi* said: "I would say that it saved my marriage. My husband and I had stopped having sex, because there was just no point. I was planning to leave him before this."
Kate added: "It's funny. So many older women spend money on their faces, but they ignore their vaginas."
* Names have been changed