I saw an ad for Perifit on one of my social media games and I thought it must be a parody ad because no one in their right mind would create a videogame you control with your vagina—at least not for something like Kegels! Yet, Perifit is a very real device/game designed to do just that. I was and continue to be both horrified and fascinated by the idea of the Perifit. It feels simultaneously feminist and misogynist, and all together uncanny.
In the feminist camp, we’re all about women taking control of their health and enjoying themselves while doing so. Why not make Kegels fun? And in a way, the vaginal controller brings us one step closer to being Donna Haraway’s feminist cyborgs. However, the promotion of the device/ap is at best overly gendered and at worst outright misogynistic.
In the above clip we see an official ad for the Perifit.1The ad uses a (girl) baby to deliver its initial message as Kegels are often recommended to new moms. The rhetoric of the ad features overly gendered (and overly motherly) components like the baby, all of the pink, the lullaby, etc. As if only new moms could or would want to use this device.2Further, the use of the baby and visual euphemism in the ad are ways to desexualize it, to try to make the viewer forget that the controller is going into your vagina (and that Kegels also help with sexual satisfaction of male partners, which is often one of the reasons women begin them).
Which brings us to the February 2017 The Doctors segment featuring the device which has the opposite problem, making the device more sexual than necessary.
In this clip we see Dr. Nita Landry with regular co-hosts Drs. Travis Lane Stork, Andrew P. Orden, and host Jim Sears. The segment starts with Dr. Landry commenting that the device looks like a sex toy and she was initially skeptical that she would enjoy using it. As she explains how the Perifit works and showing the game footage, several suggestive comments are made by the men around the table. Initially the comments start out relatively benign with Dr. Lane Stork’s enthusiastic “Awesome!” and then questions about how long and often one should play. However, Dr. Orden quickly makes a gamification remark by Landry into a sexual one mimicking her bouncing up and down, rolling her eyes back into her head would be her picture for “personal best.” Either Landry doesn’t get the innuendo (as she’s facing the audience) or is ignoring it, saying that she has a “high score.” What isn’t in this description is that Dr. Landry is a black woman, and the rest of these doctors are white men. The sexual politics are not neutral here, and it is telling that the segment’s one reaction shot to the audience happens after this line and is of a very confused and concerned black woman, who clearly sees the disrespect and sexualization of Dr. Landry in the segment by her co-hosts.
Ultimately, the Perifit could be a great application of gamification for health, but the company must curate the rhetoric around the product both in terms of advertisement messages and in terms of promotion. Had the male doctors been better educated or better yet had ceded seats to women doctors for the segment, perhaps the Perifit could have avoided this situation.
2) Despite that 10% to 34% of the US population (depending on age) coping with incontinence, according to the World Health Organization. Not to mention that men can and do use Kegels as well as women. (Though for Perifit to work for men the device would have to be inserted anally.)