Are Sound Waves the Key to Better Orgasms?

BY Dahlia Singer, Glamour

Cliovana, a new, noninvasive treatment, promises to increase arousal and orgasm intensity—but so far, there are no published findings to back up those claims. I tried it anyway.

I haven’t been paying enough attention to my clitoris. That’s the first thought that floated into my brain as Briana Oster, M.D., a former pediatrician who now works at Revitalize Laser Care’s Denver office, talked me through a diagram of the female sexual organ as I prepared for a noninvasive med spa treatment that promised to improve my orgasms through the use of sound waves. “We’ve been focused on the top part”—the small, external bulb at the top of the vulva—she explained, pointing to an illustration. “But there’s a lot more going on.” Which brought me to my second disconcerting revelation: Have I been having sex all wrong?

Thankfully, I haven’t, you’ll be happy to know, but there’s always room for improvement. Enter Cliovana, a painless, noninvasive treatment which aims to increase arousal levels, orgasm frequency, and orgasm intensity by stimulating the clitoris via sound waves. I had to know: Was this the future of better orgasms?

Biohacking Your Orgasm

As shocking as it may sound, the full clitoral anatomy wasn’t really known until the 1990s, and we’re still learning about it: It wasn’t until 2009 that the first 3D image of a clitoris was created. Why’s that important? Because what many of us have long thought of as the clitoris—that external almond-size nib Oster was talking about—is just the tip, as a fellow writer put it, of the clitoral iceberg. In fact the clitoris extends much farther, surrounding the vulva on either side like a wishbone. Meaning there are a whole bunch more nerve endings that can be aroused to stimulate orgasm than we previously thought.

Lucky for me, orgasming isn’t a routine problem—unless I’m stressed, which, I’ll admit, has been a near-constant state recently. Many women are having a different experience: A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2014 found that just 62.9% of women experienced an orgasm with a familiar partner, compared to 85.1% of men. Researchers have dubbed this the orgasm gap.

At 31 years old, however, I have noticed a reduction in lubrication and that it takes longer to get aroused than it once did. When I heard that Revitalize Denver would be the first clinic in the country to offer Cliovana, I decided to give it a try. If it worked, it’d be a fun, and hopefully stimulating, early wedding present for myself and my fiancé.

At my first appointment I settled onto the exam table, pants- and underwear-less, with a paper sheet covering my bare lower half. (A preappointment email recommended I “trim [my] pubic hair to facilitate better results.”) Oster had already walked me through the basics: Cliovana uses sound waves to promote the creation of new blood vessels and increase nerve sensitivity—in other words, to make your whole clitoris more responsive. Patients receive the $2,000 treatment four times over a two-week period, with each appointment lasting about 10 minutes. (Full disclosure: Revitalize offered me the procedure free of charge.)

Unlike FDA-approved medications or the O-Shot, Cliovana is performed externally, and it’s solely designed to enhance female sexual satisfaction. (While the sound wave device Cliovana uses is FDA-approved, the procedure itself is what’s known as off-label.) “We don’t treat a condition,” said Keri Hall, Cliovana’s executive vice president of business development. “It’s for any woman who wants improved sexual satisfaction, orgasm intensity, frequency, and increased arousal levels and lubrication. It’s for any woman who feels as though she’s not completely satisfied.”

The sound wave technology behind Cliovana is relatively well-supported by science for a variety of other uses. It’s been used by urologists to break up kidney stones since the 1970s, and more recently the energy has been directed toward the penis as a potential aid for men dealing with erectile dysfunction. (So far, the clinical trials are promising.) But Cliovana’s technique is the first time this sound wave technology has been applied to women’s sexual organs. That may explain why I felt a bit like a lab rat as Oster placed a bell-shaped plastic cup over my clitoral hood—the part we all know about; for about three minutes, a gentle tapping ensued, meant to bring blood flow to the surface and prep the area for treatment. It was an odd sensation, but not painful or uncomfortable.

When she held up a gray rod for the next part of the treatment, I laughed. This penis-shaped, vibrator-looking thing was supposed to be the magic wand: It sounded like a jackhammer—those would be the sound waves—and I felt tiny pricks as Oster moved the wand around the top of my vulva, then along either side, hitting all parts of the clitoris. (For anyone who’s experienced laser hair removal, this was way mellower.)

Finally, she handed me a small device and told me to run it along the areas she’d worked on, and left the room. It vibrated alongside the sound waves, calming the entire vaginal area after all that stimulation. There’s a reason why you do this part of the treatment solo: The short process can induce orgasm. (It did.)

Having an orgasm in a clinical setting is definitely not something I’m used to, but all in all, the quick appointment was less awkward than my annual Pap smear. And let’s be honest, far more pleasurable. I went through the rest of my workday feeling mildly aroused—there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

So Did It Work?

Of the three sexual health experts I spoke to across the country, none had heard of Cliovana. The procedure has only recently expanded to more locations, including New York City, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, and Beverly Hills. All my experts immediately asked to see the data behind it.

The problem: That data doesn’t exist—at least not publicly. Cliovana has completed a clinical trial, according to Hall, but it has yet to be published, so she couldn’t share any of the data. “We know that it works based on this research,” she said. “This [sound wave technology] works in the male genitalia by increasing blood flow. The female genitalia has thousands more nerve endings than the male.”

We also know that what works for men rarely works for women—particularly without modifications. “We don’t just assume that something that’s good for men or effective for men will be equally effective for women when we know there are marked sex and gender differences in response to physical treatment,” said Helen L. Coons, Ph.D., associate professor and clinical director for women’s behavioral health and wellness services in the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “I’d sure like to see a randomized clinical trial on Cliovana’s efficacy compared with other available treatments. Because it’s so expensive, it’d better be really highly effective [comparatively].”

Without data, Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and sexuality educator, wasn’t able to comment specifically on Cliovana. But she is supportive of a wider range of solutions for women struggling with sexual satisfaction. “If we’re going to take care of people’s penises and the erectile function of them, then taking care of the erectile function of the clitoris is definitely important too,” she said. “Typically, there’s not one easy fix,” she added. “For any holistic approach to female sexual health, medical intervention and treatment could certainly be a part of it, but there’s also some education and self-awareness and reflection that needs to take place.”

Unlike women who can’t experience orgasm or who struggle with medical issues like pain during sex, I tried Cliovana as an experiment. So far—two weeks out from my final appointment—I haven’t noticed any changes. Sex with my fiancé is as fun and tender as always, but my orgasms, when I have them, feel the same. Oster said it can take about three months to start feeling the impacts of Cliovana, and the results can last for a year or more. She suggests a yearly maintenance appointment ($500) to keep any heightened feelings of arousal, well, heightened.

Yes, the price is steep for an unproven procedure, but perhaps having another tool in our “sexual health and function tool kit,” as Levkoff puts it, is worth it, especially since there are no known side effects. For now, as I wait to hit that three-month mark, I’ll just enjoy conducting my own research. At home. In bed.

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