It can be awkward to talk about your vagina, but Kim Vopni wants to help. Known as the Vagina Doctor, she’s literally written several books on the topic. We sat down to talk to her about what happens as we age, what to do if you pee a little when you laugh, and what she wishes every woman knew about their vagina.
Name, Age, Where do you live?
Kim Vopni, 50, Port Moody BC (basically Vancouver)
Give us an overview of your career.
It started accidentally on purpose. I used a product in my pregnancy that I had a great experience with. I contacted the company and asked to be a distributor. That led to me being the Canadian /importer/distributor for 14 years with an ecommerce store selling the product and other pelvic health products. This product introduced me to pelvic health professionals. I recognized a void in the fitness industry with regards to pelvic health and decided to fill it. I started my business as a side hustle in 2004 and it became my main gig in 2009. In 2011 I formed a second business with 2 other women and ran both businesses until that 2nd business was sold in 2020. I now have online programs and coaching as well as an app to support women through all life stages as it pertains to pelvic health.
Tell us a little bit about what you are doing now.
I feel fortunate to have a fully digital business that allows me to support women across the globe. I do online coaching through zoom for those who want individualized help. I have self-directed online programs for people who can take the information and exercise and apply it to their lives. In Dec 2021 I launched my app which is really exciting because so many people were asking for it! The Buff Muff App is free to download and has a ton of free information and exercise to help women get the help and direction they need. There is also a paid monthly membership people can choose to join if they want access to it all – nutrition guidance, workouts with me, expert interviews with docs and nurse continence advisors, my fave resources and more.
I launched a book titled Your Pelvic Floor in March of 2021 and have been promoting that. I typically do a lot of public speaking and while that came to a halt over the pandemic, I enjoyed joining people on their podcasts. I look forward to when the world opens up again and I can return to in person events. This year I will be going to Burges to speak in April and to India in the fall which I am excited about.
How did you start your educational journey towards becoming the Vagina Coach?
I became a personal trainer in 1996. I specialized in pre/postnatal fitness in 2009 while also seeking out training with anyone who was talking about the pelvic floor. There were not that many people teaching about this in 2009 so I bought every book I could find about female pelvic health. That laid the foundation and then when twitter came on the scene it opened up an opportunity to connect with others around the world. I was fortunate to meet a UroGyn Dr Bruce Crawford who taught me so much! I ended up teaching his course with him for a few years which gave me such valuable education. I am a huge fan of online networking and research and followed whoever I could find who was talking about my area of interest. I still do the same now although the number of people doing it has grown substantially – which is a good thing!
What does your work as the Vagina Coach entail?
I do a lot of online consultations with women who have so many questions and have either been dismissed by a care provider, are dealing with long wait times or have just learned that help for pelvic floor challenges even exists. Many of these initial consultation calls become coaching clients or people who move to one of my programs or app. I use fitness and lifestyle education to help women prevent and overcome challenges like incontinence, organ prolapse, pain with sex and vaginal dryness. I have experienced incontinence and organ prolapse myself and many people choose to work with me because they know I understand their situation first hand and have overcome it.
When I am not coaching, I manage the backend admin stuff, post on social media, film workouts for my app and am now focused on growing my YouTube channel.
What do you want to teach every woman with a vagina to know?
I want all vagina owners to know that having a vagina is amazing and it deserves some extra care and attention. As women and vagina owners, we go through a lot of hormone fluctuations with menstruation and menopause. We also have the amazing super power of being able to grow and birth babies. All of these things directly influence the pelvic floor and can create challenges for some. Media tells us that light bladder leakage is ‘just part of being a woman’ or that pads are just something we need to accept because we are ‘getting older’ or because we have had babies. I call BS! Pelvic floor challenges are common but definitely not something we need to accept as normal.
We deserve education from a young age about our amazing vagina, how we can keep the muscles of the pelvic floor strong and supple and that pelvic health physical therapy would be beneficial on an annual basis once we become sexually active.
I view pelvic health like oral health. We have been told from a young age to brush our teeth twice a day, floss and go see the dentist once or twice a year…even if we have not toothache. It is preventive health at its best! I believe we should adopt the same practices for our pelvic health. Be told about the pelvic floor when we learn about our bodies in school. Be taught how to do pelvic floor exercise. Be given guidance on signs and symptoms or problems and be advised to see a pelvic health physical therapist once a year.
This might sound silly, but what exactly is a pelvic floor, and how does it affect our body everyday?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that close of the base of the pelvis. There are 3 layers. The first 2 layers are primarily responsible for closing openings (think pee, poo and fart). The third layer is primarily responsible for organ support (bladder, uterus, rectum). The pelvic floor is also responsible for our sexual respone and our core stability. When the pelvic floor is working optimally, we don’t even think about it. When it is not working as well as it could it often becomes one of the only things we think about because it plays a role in so many aspects of our lives.
Common challenges that are directly tied to the pelvic floor are incontinence (both stress incontinence and urge incontinence), pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain, pain with sex, low back pain, unsatisfying sex, vaginal dryness, and even constipation.
Is incontinence normal as you age?
It is very common but I do not believe it is normal. I do believe that if women were educated from a young age, did pelvic floor exercises regularly and understood how to exercise in accordance with our menstrual cycle, we would see less incontinence and other issues. I also believe that if women were educated prior to birth about how to prepare the pelvic floor, how to recover function postpartum and how to gradually return to exercise, we would see less incontinence and other issues.
The vagina, like every other part of our body, changes as we age. Incontinence is a more obvious change, but what are some that are harder to notice that we should be aware of?
The muscles of the pelvic floor are like muscles elsewhere in the body. They benefit from movement that is balanced between effort and ease. The tissues in the vagina are influenced by hormones and as we age we have less and less circulating estrogen. The vagina loves estrogen and whe it is no longer produced (when we reach menopause), the tissues in the vagina can become thin and the walls of the vagina can narrow. This can create discomfort and pain with sex. Over 80% of women will experience vagina dryness and it does not get better with time like other midlife symptoms do.
Pelvic organ prolapse is actually more common than incontinence and early stages of it can often be asymptomatic. Prolapse occurs when the bladder, uterus and/or rectum shift out of their optimal alignment and bulge into or descend into the vagina. It can happen suddenly or can take years to slowly develop. It carries a heavy mental burden for many who feel broken, ashamed and afraid to move.
Low back pain is very closely tied to pelvic floor dysfunction. One study showed that over 95% of women with low back pain had some form of pelvic floor dysfunction.
Constipation is very common and while it can absolutely be diet related, it can often be tied to the pelvic floor as well. When the pelvic floor muscles do not relax appropriately (as needed for a bowel movement) it can contribute to straining, constipation and incomplete emptying.
How can a stronger pelvic floor improve our sex lives?
When the pelvic floor muscles have appropriate tone – strong yet supple – it can heighten orgasms. Many think that they need to ‘tighten’ their vagina for sex but often sex is more pleasurable when some of the tension is released. Many people actually hold on to a lot of tension in their pelvic floor (which can contribute to incontinence, prolapse and pain) and this can inhibit blood flow and circulation which is important for lubrication and the ability to achieve an orgasm.
It is also important to note that many people who are experiencing prolapse or incontinence, do not feel sexy or are not present when having sex. They are distracted and thinking ‘will I leak?’ ‘will my partner see it or feel it?’
If we’re experiencing pelvic pain, what’s normal and what’s not?
Pain is not normal. If you have pain in your tailbone, your pubic joint, your vulva, your vagina, pain with sex, irritation with certan clothing – anything…. you are not alone and there is help. Seek the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Exercise is an important part of keeping a body healthy. When it comes to our vaginas, everyone says you can do kegels, but are there other easy at-home exercises we should be doing?
Kegels are a form of pelvic floor exercise and we have loads of evidence to support their efficacy. The challenge is that rarely are people taught how to do kegels and we have research to show that the majority of people do them incorrectly…and then think they don’t work. Kegels work when done correctly, consistently and coordinated with movement. The movement part is not common but is essential in my opinion. We need the pelvic floor to respond to things like lifting and jumping so we need to train it with movement. I teach something called The Core Breath and then have people add that to exercises like bridges, squats, push ups, bird dogs and more. I believe pelvic floor exercise requires a whole body approach.
Is there a kind of exercise class (cycling, yoga, pilates, etc) that also strengthens our pelvic floor?
Movement in general is beneficial to the pelvic floor. It isn’t so much about good and bad exercises but rather about how each individual performs an exercise. What is helpful for one person may not be helpful for another. I also encourage people to do that they love. What kind of exercise brings you joy? If you feel symptomatic with that exercise, let’s determine how we can change it to make it more effective for you. I am a fan of varied movement. I also believe that women benefit from resistance training 2-3 times a week, walking 4-5 times a week and yoga 3-5 times a week.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. How do you want to change the conversation around aging?
Aging is a privilege in many ways and I feel so grateful for each day. I would say that I feel better than ever too! I think because I recognize that health is my most important asset and it is what I prioritize. I have always been interested in health and wellness but feel I took it for granted in my late 30’s. I wound up with an auto immune condition and while it was difficult going through it, I am grateful for it because it showed me a path to even better health. All the things I have done to put my auto-immune condition into remission has set me up for great health and an easy transition into menopause. I am 4 months away from the official day of menopause and I have none of the common symptoms associated with it. I did experience some hot flashes about a year ago but as I continued to optimize my hormones, those have gone away.
What’s one product you would add to our list of Groove-Approved items?
My fave pelvic floor device is called the VFit. It uses red light therapy, infrared heat and vibration to help with incontinence, vaginal dryness and laxity.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
Fiction – Where The Crawdads Sing – such a beautiful book!
Non-Fiction – Fiber Fuelled – all about gut health!
What’s your favorite hostess gift to give, and the best hostess gift you’ve ever received?
I like to give a candle or a beautiful bar of soap. The best gift I have ever received was a beautiful handmade scarf.
How do you treat yourself?
Facials. I am obsessed with healthy skin and I love treating myself to a facial or some type of treatment like BBL or microneedling.
What would your superpower be?
Kegels of course! I am also an exceptional procrastinator!
What is your go-to outfit?
jeans and a comfy sweater or sweatshirt
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
Warning – known to squeal with delight at the sight of farmhouse antiques and chippy paint items. Often has the same reaction to succulents.