Perhaps hipster marketing and sex toy aesthetics can finally update the infamous gynecological torture device: the speculum.
The speculum design hasn’t changed in its 150 year history: a crank opens a steel duckbill inside the vaginal canal to widen it. It was designed by a 19th century racist gyno mastermind, Dr. J. Marion Sims. Dubbed the “father of modern gynecology,” Sims tested the speculum and other medical devices on slave women without providing anesthesia. So that’s not great.
Even if we separate the invention from the inventor, the device is awful. It’s cold, it pinches and it looks like something from Dexter. Women hate it so much that in 2014, the American College of Physicians recommended against pelvic examinations in asymptomatic, non-pregnant women. Literally because speculums suck.
Updating the device is long overdue. It’s utterly absurd that we’ve developed amazing technology—virtual reality, self-driving cars, sex-bots—and yet this small, stupidly simple device remains almost the same as it was a century ago. There is no reason why women’s health is not paid the same respect as men’s need to fuck a hot robot.
A team of female designers and engineers at San Francisco design firm Frog Design are working on a prototype called the Yona, updating both the functionality and the look of the device. And it shares more than a few similarities with sex toys. It’s made of medical silicone, the same material as your vibrator. And fun fact: sleek sex toy company Lelo dubs its products things like “Sona,” “Ina” and “Mona.” This speculum promises to not only ease any gynophobia you’ve developed, it’ll make the visit fun and whimsical.
Frog Design markets the Yona like other hip lady products: lots of millennial pink, tags like “vaginas are amazing,” an app that greets you with “Hey Jamie, nice to meet you! And we care about your vagina.” Their adorable feminist marketing mixes “empowerment” with “treat yourself.” They’re redesigning not just the device but the attitude around women’s bodies in general and genitalia in particular.
Emphasizing comfort, the Yona’s three-leaf design lessens the feeling of your vagina being pried open by an alien probe. It also has a wider handle angle than the traditional 90 degrees. That angle is why your gyno always asks you to slide down until your buttcheeks are basically hanging over the edge of the table. The Yona’s 100 degree angle puts more distance between your ladybits and the doctor’s hand. Because we really don’t need more unwanted hands around our bits.
Frog Design is also developing an app, since nothing is hipper than an app. It facilitates patient-doctor interaction, so they already know your medical history before you walk in the door. So you don’t have to tell them to their face about the time you thought you had a yeast infection that turned out to be chlamydia.
Yona is so hip, it even comes with a “Treat Yourself” kit. It contains soothing items like stress balls and socks for when you put your feet in those goddamn stirrups. “Surely I can just bring my own socks?” Sure but these are so much kewler. Frog Design also has a kit for the doctor’s office, including a hanger for your clothes and a “cheekily printed sheet on the table” that tells you precisely where your butt goes, “eliminating that awkward scootching moment.”
It’s a good idea. Yona isn’t the first attempt to rethink the device. In 2005, another San Francisco start-up tried and failed with what was essentially an inflatable tampon. But poor marketing meant doctors just didn’t know it existed and were already reluctant to invest in a new device. Frog Design’s focus on post-Pinterest marketing is a smart move.
Speculum phobia goes beyond the cold design or the pinching. Women’s health care is so dismissed, conversation surrounding it so misogynistic, women’s sexualities so demonized, that ob-gyn visits can feel invasive simply on principle. It feels gross to have a device rooted in such racism and misogyny shoved into your vagina. It’s hard to sit on the examination table and spread your legs for a foreign object, no matter how cute it is. So it’s not the speculum we need to change so much as, well, the entire patriarchy.
But this is a good start.