Every time she told her ob-gyn that sex hurt, Emily Sauer says the doctor responded: “Just drink a glass of wine and relax.”
And, sure, it would be nice if pain-free sex were a sip of merlot away. But that wasn’t the case for Sauer, nor is it for nearly 75 percent of women who, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, experience pain during intercourse—called dyspareunia. For some, it’s a twinge felt with certain positions or partners. Others can’t engage in vaginal intercourse of any kind without it feeling excruciating.
That’s what led Sauer to the idea for Ohnut, which she describes as “an intimate wearable that allows you to customize the depth of penetration.” There’s a reason the name rhymes with doughnut: It was loosely inspired by the confection and kind of looks like one. More accurately, the stretchy silicone product resembles several petite doughnuts, tightly stacked upon the base of the penis, like the world’s most sensuous (and, um, hard) game of ring toss.
Sauer, 33, says she started hacking together her own prototypes in her kitchen in Brooklyn early last year, ordering 3-D casts and pouring her own silicone. In September 2017, after some bedroom beta-testing, she landed on the current version, composed of four separate interlocking rings that fit on at the base of the shaft and feature pleasure-creating comfort ridges on both sides (also designed to keep a condom in place).
Emily applied for a patent (now pending), performed clinical testing, and recruited a board of medical advisers. Now she’s launching a Kickstarter campaign, with a goal of $50,000 to begin production in August and ship her first run of wearables in October.
Female sexual medicine specialist Susan Kellogg-Spadt, Ph.D., CRNP, is one of the doctors on Ohnut’s advisory board vouching for the clever device. “One of the largest cadres of patients I see are women who experience pain with either penetration, thrusting, or both,” says Kellogg-Spadt. “And up until now, we’ve had limited resources for them.” Physical therapy to rehab and train the muscles of the pelvic floor, she says, is the most effective treatment option currently available.
I didn’t realize just how much I was suppressing, and how much I was missing, until that pain was gone.
But pelvic floor therapy doesn’t always help with deep dyspareunia, also aptly (and cringingly) termed collision dyspareunia, referring to “the colliding of the thrusting object with the back muscles of the pelvic floor or the back wall of the vagina or both,” Kellogg-Spadt explains. “What the Ohnut does is limit the depth of penetration of an in-dwelling something—whether that’s a penis or a dildo or a vibrator—such that it doesn’t cause that collision dyspareunia.” The less “something” you are ready to have inside you, the more rings you add, up to four.
This kind of deep pain can be connected to a range of physiological issues in the pelvic area (and apologies to all your ex-boyfriends, but a too-large penis is rarely it). According to the Mayo Clinic, it can be caused by inflammation and scar tissue due to pregnancy, pelvic surgery (like a hysterectomy), ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, cancer treatment, and pelvic inflammatory disease, among others. It happens to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, in other words.
“We think pain during sex is normal, and it’s not a big deal, and it’s not a problem. But it [often] is,” Sauer says. “The first time I used [Ohnut], I felt free. I didn’t realize just how much I was suppressing, and how much I was missing, until that pain was gone.” So if sex makes you say “ouch,” then this gizmo may be a good fit—but, of course, talk to your ob-gyn first. And if they tell you to have a glass of wine and relax? Sure, you can do that, right after you find a new doctor.