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The First Gyno Spa Opens In New York

July 8, 2008 |

Today the New York Times reports on a jaw-dropping addition to the medical spa trend.

Now comes the first medi spa in Manhattan wholly dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area. Phit — short for pelvic health integrated techniques — is to open this month on East 58th Street.

Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a gynecologist who performs pelvic reconstruction surgery, said she came up with the idea for the spa one day while walking by an outlet of BriteSmile, the tooth-whitening chain. She liked that the stores cater to people with healthy teeth.

The spa is essentially a gussied-up examination room down the hall from Dr. Romanzi’s medical practice. At the spa, the signature treatment will be a $150 gynecological exam — in which a client contracts her pelvic muscles around Dr. Romanzi’s fingers — to determine by feel whether muscle tone is weak, moderate or strong.

Dr. Romanzi likes to call the vaginal workouts she prescribes “personal training.” Clients could also use an in-office electrostimulation machine to improve pelvic muscle tone or buy a device for home use. Dr. Romanzi said that such treatments are intended to improve bladder control; she said pelvic training may also lead to more intense orgasms.

Welcome to the era of the gyno spa.

“The idea is to make it very easy for women to come in and know their pelvic fitness,” said Dr. Romanzi, who is a clinical associate professor of gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital.

Such a clinic may appeal to women hoping for better sex lives or new mothers with reduced bladder control.

But some doctors scoff at the notion of pelvic fitness, which is not a medical term.

There are no medical standards for determining what constitutes normal “fitness” or how to evaluate it, said Dr. Abbey B. Berenson, a gynecologist who directs the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

“If this is being recommended to women who have no symptoms, then there are no medical organizations or literature that support that that is necessary,” Dr. Berenson said.

With the ubiquity of pornography, the pelvis had already become a marketable area for modification, ranging from the Brazilian bikini wax to genital surgery referred to as vaginal “rejuvenation.” Doctors have even coined a term for such genital “beautification”: cosmetogynecology or cosmogynecology.

The advent of the pelvic spa, however, takes body fixation to a new level, furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned.

“Whether the marketing is pushing the women or women are pushing the marketing, I don’t think anybody knows,” Dr. Berenson said.

Dr. Romanzi said her goal was to teach women how to properly perform Kegel exercises, intended to strengthen the sling-shaped muscle that supports the bladder, vagina and rectum. Gynecologists sometimes suggest such pelvic physiotherapy for minor vaginal laxity after childbirth or for mild urinary incontinence.

But Dr. Romanzi believes all women might benefit from such exercises.

“If you can vote and you have a vagina, you should do these,” she said. “It’s the dental floss of feminine fitness.”

There is medical evidence that Kegel exercises can improve mild bladder problems. But some doctors dismissed the exercises’ value as preventative health care or as a sexual aid.

“There is good data to suggest if you floss regularly, it reduces gingivitis down the road,” said Dr. Erin E. Tracy, a gynecologist who is an assistant professor in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at the Harvard Medical School. But there is no evidence to suggest that a young woman who starts doing Kegel exercises will decrease her chances of pelvic problems later in life, she said.

Dr. Romanzi said the pelvic fitness concept is based more on her clinical experience than on rigorous medical evidence. The spa will also offer cosmetic laser treatments intended to tighten the skin of the vulva in post-menopausal women.

“The outer layer can become almost scrotal, very wrinkly and lax,” Dr. Romanzi said.

She treats pelvic skin using a combined laser and radio frequency device that is designed for facial skin and has not been studied for safety and efficacy when used on the vulva, she said. But she said the laser does not penetrate deeply enough to affect internal organs like ovaries.

But Dr. Tracy warned against such untested procedures. And Dr. Berenson questioned whether healthy women need any kind of pelvic strengthening or cosmetic procedure.

“The common practice in gynecology is we treat where there is a problem,” Dr. Berenson said. “It’ll be interesting to see if there are people who actually request these services.”

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