Cover Story

High-tech intimacy: the devices tackling female sexual dysfunction

Sally Turner reviews the latest advancements in high-tech devices aimed at addressing and treating FSD.

Credit: Shutterstock/AlexLMX

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is a multifaceted issue that affects millions of women worldwide. It includes multiple conditions that impact sexual function and has various causes: hormonal imbalances, psychological and relationship issues, and medical conditions including vulvodynia, vaginismus, and pelvic floor dysfunction. The impact on women’s health and wellbeing can be devastating, but recent innovations in medical technologies are having positive results.  

Twenty years of tech

For decades, the leading devices in the treatment of FSD were clitoral vibrators and vaginal dilators, and the use of intra-vaginal probes and biofeedback to measure pelvic floor muscle function. These and more recent innovations continue to be used in conjunction with medication and psychosexual therapy.

Over the years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various medical devices to help with male sexual dysfunction, but little innovation for women.

It wasn’t until 2000 that the FDA finally approved Eros for clinical use – a ground-breaking new device for women, developed by U.S company NuGyn. The small, hand-held product is placed over the clitoris to create a gentle vacuum which leads to greater genital sensitivity. Studies have shown this can increase vaginal lubrication, the ability to orgasm, and overall improvement in sexual satisfaction, with no reported side effects. Twenty years later, Eros and other vacuum devices for clitoral stimulation continue to be useful tools for clinicians treating arousal and orgasmic dysfunction.

A 2022 study demonstrated that clitoral stimulation devices may be useful in treating FSD in women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), which affects millions of women, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Latest innovations

An abstract published in 2023, The sextech industry and innovative devices for treating sexual dysfunction, conducted a narrative review of the existing scientific research on technological and smart sexual devices. The review’s lead author is Shelly Varod, a certified sexual therapist and psycho-sexologist, and lecturer and coordinator of the sexuality programme at Tel Aviv University in Israel. 

“In the realm of smart devices that enhance women's sexual health, two products stand out in my opinion,” she says. "The Lioness Vibrator 2.0 and the Elvie Trainer due to their technological innovation and the insights they offer into the body's responses.” 

Smart vibrators

U.S. “femtech” start-up, The Lioness, is using AI-assisted guidance based on data from more than 30,000 reported orgasms. According to the company, it is the first and only smart vibrator that uses biofeedback, and precision sensors. 

“The Lioness Vibrator 2.0 is a sophisticated biofeedback device equipped with sensors and connected to a mobile app via Bluetooth,” Varod explains. “This technology enables women to gain insights into their physiological reactions of arousal and orgasm."

The Lioness tracks and visualises data such as pelvic floor muscle contractions, allowing women to explore and understand their sexual response and arousal levels. It can identify distinct orgasm patterns and offers an innovative approach to understanding the complexity of female orgasms and pelvic floor response.  

“I believe that this deeper understanding can be empowering and educational, aiding women in enhancing their sexual experiences,” adds Varod.  

One common concern she encounters in her clinic involves women who are uncertain about their orgasmic experiences.  

“They often have expectations of a profound physical sensation and feel doubtful if their experience doesn't align with these expectations,” she explains.

“Devices with smart biofeedback capabilities are revolutionary in this context. They allow women to visually understand their sexual responses through graphs, clearly indicating whether they have experienced an orgasm.” 

Pelvic-floor biofeedback

The Elvie Trainer by UK-based Chiaro Technology Ltd is also revolutionising pelvic floor health, says Varod. Designed as a smart, egg-shaped device made of medical-grade silicone (that is inserted into the vagina) it pairs with a mobile app to provide real-time biofeedback on pelvic floor muscle contractions. This feedback may be useful in helping women to improve their pelvic floor strength and resting muscle tone, which is integral to the healthy functioning of the vagina, bladder, and rectum. Until recently, this type of biofeedback monitoring has only been available in a clinical setting but now it can be purchased for home use. 

Similar products are available from other manufacturers including kGoal, and Classic (an intravaginal device), developed in Silicon Valley in the U.S. The Classic can detect pelvic floor ‘Kegel’ exercises in real time and connect with a smartphone app to provide visual feedback, and progress tracking.

Low-level shockwave therapy (LLSWT)

Low-level shockwave therapy (LLSWT) uses acoustic waves to stimulate blood vessel growth and promote tissue regeneration. In recent years it has been used to treat arousal disorder and other forms of female sexual dysfunction that may result from poor blood flow to the genitals. The therapy involves the application of low-intensity shockwaves to the targeted area, typically the clitoral and vaginal tissues.  

Lilycare is an LLSWT device for use in a clinical setting and was developed by U.S manufacturer Medispec, and Femiwave is a similar product. Evidence for the effectiveness of LLSWT is not yet robust, and research is ongoing into its safety and long-term effects. 

Laser therapy

Laser vaginal rejuvenation is being offered by some private clinics as a treatment for menopausal vaginal atrophy. The two types of laser therapy most commonly used are fractional CO2 and Erbium YAG. Laser energy is believed to promote collagen production and improve blood flow in the vaginal tissues, leading to increased elasticity and lubrication. However, more research is needed to substantiate these claims before the therapy becomes more widely available.

Other med tech advances for FSD

Other manufacturers are attempting to combine actions to create devices that deliver pain relief, improve arousal and/or to optimise pelvic floor function; vSculpt combines light therapy, gentle heat, and therapeutic vibration aimed at encouraging healthy pelvic floor functioning. It is the first product developed by Joylux, Inc., a health technology company creating innovative medical devices utilising light energy. 

Advanced imaging technologies are also providing insights into pelvic anatomy and blood flow, and precision medicine, digital therapeutics, and telemedicine are integral to the management of women’s health and FSD. 

Future outlook

Moving forward, greater investment in research and development will prove crucial in this developing area of women’s health. The industry needs to focus on devices that are not only technologically advanced but also user-friendly and accessible to a diverse range of women. It is vital that these innovations are backed with more robust scientific research to ensure their efficacy and safety.  

It is also essential for the industry to continue prioritising the voices and experiences of women in the development of these devices. By understanding the unique needs and concerns of women regarding sexual health or function, manufacturers can create more tailored and impactful solutions. 

Varod suggests that research indicates female sexual arousal is shaped by a blend of psychological, biological, and social elements, and that physical devices and med tech should be used within this context. 

“In my professional experience, combining medical and sex therapy is crucial in treating women's sexual dysfunction,” she adds. “Before recommending any device, it's essential to explore the roots of the sexual dysfunction in therapy, helping to understand any psychological, physical, or combined factors at play.” 

Caption: The US Pentagon is seeking to reduce carbon emissions through a range of programmes, but will it go far enough? Credit: US DoD

Australia could be one of the main beneficiaries of this dramatic increase in demand, where private companies and local governments alike are eager to expand the country’s nascent rare earths production. In 2021, Australia produced the fourth-most rare earths in the world. It’s total annual production of 19,958 tonnes remains significantly less than the mammoth 152,407 tonnes produced by China, but a dramatic improvement over the 1,995 tonnes produced domestically in 2011.

The dominance of China in the rare earths space has also encouraged other countries, notably the US, to look further afield for rare earth deposits to diversify their supply of the increasingly vital minerals. With the US eager to ringfence rare earth production within its allies as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, including potentially allowing the Department of Defense to invest in Australian rare earths, there could be an unexpected windfall for Australian rare earths producers.

The mine’s concentrator can produce around 240,000 tonnes of ore, including around 26,500 tonnes of rare earth oxides.

Gavin John Lockyer, CEO of Arafura Resources

Total annual production

$345m: Lynas Rare Earth's planned investment into Mount Weld.

Caption. Credit: 

Phillip Day. Credit: Scotgold Resources