MaryEllen Reider Wants You to Keep Up Those Kegels

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

MaryEllen Reider is the co-founder of Yarlap, which produces a tech tool helping users fight pelvic floor dysfunction. It’s a condition that’s surprisingly common yet underdiscussed, due to forces like shame, internet censorship, and the pervasive misconceptions that health and sexuality are separate spheres.

Podcast Transcript:

Transcript Mary Ellen Reider.wav

Aria Vega [00:00:00] [Voiceover] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host Aria Vega.

Aria Vega [00:00:17] MaryEllen Reider is the co-founder and marketing director at Yarlap, the maker of a pelvic floor strengthener small enough to fit in your pocket. Now, if you don't know much about the pelvic floor, you're definitely not alone. Our collective discomfort with our bodies below the belt means that for many, the pelvic floor falls into an educational abyss not covered during lessons on anatomy and physiology, or even during sex ed, if you're lucky enough to be offered a class. Let's have MaryEllen give us a little overview.

MaryEllen Reider [00:00:50] [Interview] The pelvic floor muscle is a group of muscles that zigzags from your pubic bone to your spine, and it creates a hammock, if you're a visual learner like I am. It's a hammock that holds all your visceral organs, your uterus, and your bladder into its natural position. So it's basically the foundation and the root of everything, to make sure that everything is held into where it should be to work properly. So you don't have accidental leaks, nothing's in it's wrong place, nothing has shifted, you don't have discomfort. You don't have prolapse and all those other different issues.

Aria Vega [00:01:28] [Voiceover] So what can cause those issues like bladder leaks, or even organ prolapse? The answer, I'm afraid, is life. Much like your other muscles, the pelvic floor can naturally weaken as you age. It's also uniquely prone to trauma.

MaryEllen Reider [00:01:47] [Interview] There are so many things that could cause it to weaken or give trauma to it: childbirth, pregnancy, repetitive motion like running. So athletes also have a high tendency of a weakened pelvic floor. Even though they are in phenomenal shape, they have a weakened pelvic floor because it's a muscle group that we don't see. Sometimes we don't even know it's there. And if we do know it's there and we do know that it needs to be toned, we don't tone it because we don't know how to do it. We cannot see it.

Aria Vega [00:02:15] [Voiceover] Now, the one thing we might know how to do is Kegel exercises, those invisible reps that magazines promise will make sex more satisfying. Kegel exercises tone the pelvic floor, which in fact are the same muscles involved in that euphoric spasm known as orgasm.

MaryEllen Reider [00:02:33] [Interview] So if you think back to the last time you had an orgasm — which is hopefully for all of us very recently! — but if you think about the last time you had an orgasm, you have this pulsating feeling. That's your pelvic floor muscle contracting. So when you are told to do a Kegel exercise, that is to tone your pelvic floor muscles ,because your clitoris runs right along your pelvic floor muscle. And your clitoris is actually pretty big, it's kind of like an iceberg. You see about 20 percent of it with the clitoral bulb if you have a vulva, you see that and it's little man in the canoe, and then the rest of it is inside. It can actually wrap around your thighs and around your anus, but it runs along your pelvic floor muscles. So when you are contracting doing a pelvic floor exercise, your muscle creates muscle memory, and it remembers how to do that and how to contract. So when you have an orgasm and your muscles are contracting, your body kicks in with muscle memory because, We know how to do this and we know how to do it really well, really strong. And so you have a better response to this orgasm.

Aria Vega [00:03:40] Mm-hmm, that makes perfect sense. And it also helps color in why it is that we collectively shy away from this aspect of health, because of it's not just this physical proximity, but it's also functional proximity in the body... You're saying that pelvic floor muscle contractions are essentially what an orgasm is, and so if it's difficult to talk about the pelvic floor without talking about sexual health, which we don't like to talk about in this country.

MaryEllen Reider [00:04:10] And there's so much research that still needs to be done on women's health, but also specifically about the orgasm as well, because there are a few different camps that people are within when it even relates to the pelvic floor and the orgasm. Some people believe that the orgasm is a pleasure response, purely. And some people believe that it is a procreation response. So when you have an orgasm and your muscles are contracting and they're pulling things in, some people believe that that is also pulling and trying to contract and pull in sperm for procreation purpose. And some people also believe that it is a maintenance purpose. So if you have these strong contractions during your orgasm, that's your body having a little workout in itself, as a little maintenance check up: Yep, everything's good, we know how to do this. We know how to do this exercise. We're doing it really strong. This is also just like a great workout. So there's a lot of research that still, I believe, needs to be done when it comes to the orgasm and we shouldn't shy away from it. I think that, like you said, there are so many people that freak out as soon as you start talking about the orgasm or about your pelvic floor muscles or about penises or vagina is or the vulvovaginal area, that it's really hard to break that barrier and take away that stigma that this isn't dirty, it's actually very important part of your health and your well-being. So don't shy away from it.

Aria Vega [00:05:41] [Voiceover] Taking care of your pelvic floor isn't just about safeguarding your physical health, it's about your mental health, too. Yarlap originated in part as a way for MaryEllen and her father, Brant Reider, a medical device designer and the company's co-founder, to assist a loved one whose pelvic floor dysfunction had harmed her far more than just physically.

MaryEllen Reider [00:06:02] [Interivew] We had a family friend here in the United States who had incontinence, involuntary leakage to the point where she refused to leave the house. She essentially became a hermit, because she knew she had 15 minutes before she had to go to the bathroom. That kind of became the drive to create the Yarlap so we could give that to her as a way to give her back her freedom and a quality of life. And it's just kind of just snowballed into basically everybody is now my cousin — Well she's not my cousin, but in the Midwestern sense, she's my cousin.

Aria Vega [00:06:40] [Voiceover] So in 2016, the Yarlap was born, a handheld device with an insertable wand that looks a bit to me like an MP3 player from 2005. It's FDA-approved, and it uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation to engage the pelvic floor.

MaryEllen Reider [00:06:56] [Interivew] It sends a signal directly into your pelvic floor muscles to do the exercise for you. So you're not doing anything, you're just sitting there and letting everything happen for you. 20 minutes, you're done. So I think it really depends on where you're going to start. So do you have control of your pelvic floor muscles? Do you know you have control of your pelvic floor muscles? How much control do you have? And then based on that, find appropriate resources or tools. Or if you're like, Well, I just want to have something done for you or I just want have it done for me, I don't want to even think about it. Yarlap might be a great tool for you to have.

Aria Vega [00:07:27] [Voiceover] MaryEllen was thrilled to see the Yarlap enter the market, knowing it could help some of the countless people like her cousin, whose lives were essentially put on hold because of pelvic floor dysfunction.

MaryEllen Reider [00:07:39] [Interivew] So it's a little bit heartbreaking when you read about the statistics of it all. Now we all know somebody who laughs, sneezes, coughs — pees themselves. We also know the universal joke of, Stop, don't make me laugh, you're going to make me pee! Nobody wants to be the butt of that joke. When you are that person who feels like you are the butt of the joke. There is this feeling of isolation that occurs, and you start to isolate yourself. You start doing things that help you feel better, not peeing. So either you stop going to workout classes, you stop going out with friends, you stop going out to different places because you don't know where the bathroom is, you haven't mapped out where the bathroom is. You stopped traveling because, you know that you can't make it in a plane, right, you know that car rides are going to be at least multiple hours longer because you have to stop to go to the bathroom all the time because you don't want to pee in your car. So you start modifying your life and your behavior because of this. And so there is a... I believe one of the last things that I read is that nine percent of the people who have urinary incontinence also have depression because of it as a direct link, because you think that you're alone and you think you're the only person who has this problem. And sometimes intimacy goes out the window, because you don't want to pee on your partner, you don't want to pee near them, and you cannot help it because you involuntarily leak during sex. So it's not just a behavioral thing, but it's also an intimacy thing as well, that a lot of people withdraw from sex because they don't want to pee accidentally during the performance.

Aria Vega [00:09:40] [Voiceover] According to UCLA Health, one in three women struggle with urinary incontinence due to pelvic floor dysfunction. One in three. That is a staggering amount of people possibly forgoing bonding rituals like sex and laughter because of a treatable health issue. MaryEllen is moved by that, too. That's why she's unafraid of taking bold approaches to spreading the word.

MaryEllen Reider [00:10:04] [Interview] I am now notorious at my friend's baby showers for having a pelvic floor PowerPoint presentation done at events. Because one of my best friends, at her baby shower... And she had a really intense, not fun pregnancy. I know pregnancy for most people that we see on social media and everything, it's beautiful, it's magical, it's wonderful. She had a really hard time. It was hard. She was sick. It was really hard for her. So I went in, and she was opening up these presents and I give everybody— I'm like Oprah over here, I'm like, You get a Yarlap! And you get [a Yarlap]! Everybody gets a Yarlap. So she got something, and she started laughing really hard. And there were two people in the back, I think they were her aunts, and one of them said, "Don't laugh too hard or you're going to pee yourself! But don't worry, that's just a badge of motherhood." Oh, no, you don't say that near me. So I whipped around, I was like, "Don't say that to her! It's not something that you deal with, or 'a badge of motherhood.' It's a muscle that needs to be toned. Please don't say that to her." And everything got really quiet, I made it really uncomfortable, and I said, "I have a PowerPoint if anybody wants to see it!" And she, bless her, she said "Yes, absolutely." So we took out her husband's computer, it had a little USB chip, put it in, brought this out. It was like animated pictures of vulvas, and we were just going through... It was like a 15-minute presentation where I was like, And then these are your G-spot, your A-spot, your Q-spot and all these other little different things. And I was like, This is your pelvic floor muscle, and why it's so important. It was just like animated pictures of vulvas everywhere that looked... The labias were all different, and all this other stuff. At the end, I'm not kidding you, three of the women were like, "We already bought them on Amazon. So this has been really fun!" Oh, and I was like, "Well, I didn't mean to turn this into a selling thing..." But like so many people who have kids don't even know that there's something out there to help them.

Aria Vega [00:12:18] And it's because of comments like the grandma made. It's a cultural thing. We entrench that further when we say things like "this is a badge of motherhood." We set up the expectation that this is normal, and that it just must be tolerated.

MaryEllen Reider [00:12:32] Right, and just because something is common, it's not normal. And so I think that... especially women are held to that so often, where our health concerns are like, Well, yeah, it's part of being a woman, have fun, bye. And it's like, No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is weird, I didn't do this before, help m!. And I think that that narrative of a cultural norm, like you said, makes it seem normal that you don't need to take... it's just a way of life. This is your new chapter. Have fun. Suck it up. And in reality, it's not. It is a muscle rehabilitation thing that you can fix.

Aria Vega [00:13:19] [Voiceover] Now, when it comes to rehabilitation, Kegel exercises are great, but they're not exactly a silver bullet. Kegels are meant to treat a weakened pelvic floor, but weakness is not the only type of dysfunction that exists. Sometimes the muscles are too tense, or overtoned.

MaryEllen Reider [00:13:39] [Interview] Doing Kegel exercises on a hyper-toned muscle, it's not going to do you any good. In fact, it might go in the opposite direction and be a hindrance. So we need to know if you're too toned and you need to do relaxation exercises, or if you are weakened and you need to do Kegel exercises or pelvic floor exercises to tone them back to strength. And it's really important on a muscle that we cannot see, that you get somebody who has a licensed health care professional to tell you where exactly you are. So you have a starting point on your map to recovery.

Aria Vega [00:14:14] [Voiceover] This inherent need for support is exactly why the Yarlap is intended to be used under the guidance of a specialist.

MaryEllen Reider [00:14:21] [Interview] So we actually work really closely with pelvic floor therapists because, for instance, if you've had children, or if you are a long-time runner or an athlete, and you work with a PT, they'll be able to know exactly what's going on with your muscle, they're a physical therapist. They will often tell you to do these exercises, either relaxation or toning, and then basically, you meet them once a week, sometimes it's less than that. Between appointments, it's really hard to figure out, How do I do these exercises properly? I don't know, and all I was given was a leaflet. So the Yarlap comes in to ensure that whatever your PT, whatever your licensed health care professional told you to do is being done properly and correctly every single time. So we are not a diagnostic tool. We are a rehabilitation tool, [for] once you've already been diagnosed.

Aria Vega [00:15:24] [Voiceover] When it came to bringing the Charlap to life, development and production were a breeze. It's the marketing that's been challenging.

MaryEllen Reider [00:15:32] [Interview] It's actually spreading awareness that we're running into issues. Today, actually, we had an issue with Facebook. We were like, You pee your pants, now what? And it was a woman in her full pajamas sitting on a bed, and they said that it was sexual in nature. And it's like, I don't know how you got that from from that image, but OK? We're not the only ones that have this issue, right? There are so many other tiny little companies that are trying to help women in this area, and there is this notion that area — your penis and your vagina — are only used for sex, they have absolutely no other purpose. And that's not true! I would really like to talk to the people who do the algorithms, because I'm pretty sure that they have no idea what they're talking about. Because it's not just sex. Also, why is sex completely different than health? It's intertwined. It goes hand in hand. So why are we constantly being censored when we're just trying to help people better their lives? And for us, a big thing was when we tried to push Kegel exercises. We were constantly pulled down to the point where we just stopped, because they said that Kegel exercises were purely for sex, they had no medical background to them, and that it was in violation of their policy to do that. So we actually ended up submitting multiple medical papers saying that Kegel exercises are not sex-related, they're actually a muscle exercise. You're not not flagging down the people who are doing like protein shakes or doing ab workouts or squats, but you're limiting and censoring Kegel exercises. Why? So that's actually been a very long and —currently still in it— discussion of, Why are you flagging down this particular thing? Because I genuinely don't think that they understand the health benefits behind it, I think that they purely see it as a sexual thing, which is part of the problem.

Aria Vega [00:17:55] And what's crazy is that even if it was a sexual thing, if it wasn't involving pornographic imagery or nudity or anything like that, we're now getting into the realm where even just talking about sex in a passive way is grounds for removal on some of these major major platforms. It's just it's an example of how our cultural biases are encoded into our digital platforms when the people who create them don't interrogate their ideas about these types of things.

MaryEllen Reider [00:18:27] I think it's also really difficult for us in that sense as well, because you can't boost, you can't do anything, really, necessarily. You have to very, very closely monitor what you try to get through because they will flag anything that they possibly can, so it has to be the most bland, vague kind of a situation, which I don't think helps women at all. So I think it's a disservice to health when you create a policy like that without having an understanding, or even a basic understanding of anatomy.

Aria Vega [00:19:08] [Voiceover] It's this recurring ideological conflict that seems to pit Big Tech against sex tech, the emerging industry comprised of innovations like the Yarlap, which aim to enhance sexual wellness, pleasure, or both. MaryEllen says it's not quite so simple.

MaryEllen Reider [00:19:27] [Interview] I don't necessarily think that it's just sex tech versus Big Tech. I think it's now also this coming of understanding that people my age, women who are now becoming moms and growing older, we don't have that quote, shame, about talking about our bodies. Not as much as our parents' generation beforehand, where it was just mum's the word and you don't talk about it and everything is peachy, everything is fine. I think this now growing need for knowledge of what's going on in your body, this massive boom in health tech and wellness knowledge. So I think that there is now the sex tech companies that are creating stuff because we know what we need, and we know that we have the ability to create these things. We have this slowly growing support of people like writers, who specifically solely talk about this [which is] is really, really big. I think that that's how you get Big Tech to listen, is when there are mass numbers and there are platforms like Women's Health or InStyle or stuff like that, and podcasts like yourself that solely talk about this, and talk about why it's important. You have audiences that listen and want to learn. That's how you get them to listen, that this kind of making you shut up and think that it's normal isn't the way to be. That's how you get them to change this policy.

Aria Vega [00:21:14] I mean, like you said, there's a hunger for this knowledge, and we have social media as this tool to connect about it. And we're not going to go back, we're not going to go back underground. We're not going to forget that we had this ability. And you know, I'm thinking now about the partnership between Sephora and think it's Dame and Maude, the two vibrator brands. And that's definitely the biggest... That's the biggest corporate approval I've ever seen of a sexuality-related item. And those are explicitly vibrators, and not even like health and wellness tools like the Yarlap. It is encouraging in terms of what it represents about public acceptance of sexuality and sexual health and sexual wellness as being part of just our life wellness and general and quality of life, which I feel like keeps coming up.

MaryEllen Reider [00:22:15] Yeah, I mean, it's really empowering when you're able to take control of your health, have a really phenomenal sex life, or really whatever kind of sex life you want to have — a lot of sex, no sex, it doesn't matter. But just being in tune and connected with your body is so empowering. That I think that there's going to be a big movement that Big Tech will understand slowly but surely... You know, It's probably not going to happen next year in the next five years, but probably in the next decade, I hope where it becomes the new norm that you don't feel shame or anything like that when you're trying to talk about your sexual wellness, that you don't have to hide behind something or withdraw yourself from your life. You can go out there and know that there are so many options for you to have.

Aria Vega [00:23:12] You know, I'm I'm still thinking about this baby shower that you described earlier, which is just incredible. What advice would you give to women, especially, but anybody who wants to have a baby shower moment in their own lives? How would you recommend that people start the conversation? You know, not necessarily bringing out a PowerPoint, but how can more of those moments happen organically?

MaryEllen Reider [00:23:35] I think that if you wanted to gently do it and not be combative like I was, women are really excited, and I think men do too, either for their own personal need or their partner's pleasure. Because we actually have a lot of men who call in to us or email us or something, because they know that their wives or their girlfriends are going through this and they want to help. It's cute! It's nice.

Aria Vega [00:24:04] Yeah, that's so encouraging and heartwarming!

MaryEllen Reider [00:24:05] My favorite is a man knew his wife had it, and he wanted to get one because she had withdrawn herself from everything. And he said, "I can see her fading. And I just need anything." And he's like, I don't care, just tell me what to do. Does this fix it? And he calls us about once a year now just to give us an update on his life. He's absolutely wonderful. So I think that men as well— it doesn't matter gender-wise. I think everybody plays a part in pelvic floor wellness because either you need it or you know somebody who does need it. So if you want to have this moment where you're like, Hey, let's talk, a great opener that I usually use with my friends is, "Has anybody peed lately when they laughed or coughed?" Because most people say, "I know somebody who does" or "Yeah I have, but it's not bladder leaks." And like, that's literally what it is, honey. That's exactly what that is. And you can talk about the pelvic floor muscles in that setting because there's nobody who's going to love you as much as your girlfriends or your family and or your guy friends. I don't know how men are, but one would assume that they have just as much of a support system that they're going to listen and they're going to be receptive, and you can joke and laugh about it while also instilling knowledge and giving them tools and resources to help them. Right? You can't diagnose them. You're not a — I'm not a licensed health care professional. I cannot diagnose, and probably your friends aren't either, but you can tell them what's going on with their body and guide them towards resources that can help them because it's not something that's going to go away. It's not something that's just going to vanish off the face of the Earth. It's something that needs to be confronted. And I think you could do that very lovingly. Maybe not where I told a great-aunt to "never say that to my friend," but you can do that kindly and you can say, you know, "This is something that affects one in three women in the United States, and this is something that affects runners, athletes. This is something that is super important, and we all need to know that this muscle exists. Because I think a lot of people don't even know that it exists."

Aria Vega [00:26:34] That's MaryEllen Reider, co-founder of Yarlap. You can see the product for yourself on Yarlap.com. That's y-a-r-l-a-p dot com. The company is on Twitter @yarlapotc, and on Instagram @yarlap_otc. Is there a sex tech tool that you're using that's totally changed the game for you in terms of health, wellness or pleasure? I'd love to shine my spotlight on some more exciting innovations. Shoot me an email at askaria@lustery.com, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. If you're into the show, please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Speak soon, lovers!