Ohnut – The special donut
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as many as 75% of women will experience pain during sex some time in their lives. For most, it’s unclear why it happens or even what to do about it.
“As women, we have been culturally conditioned to suppress pain”, says Emily Sauer, zippy founder and CEO of Ohnut, a wearable that customizes penetration depth. After being dismissed by multiple gynecologists, Emily ultimately stayed silent about her experience of dyspareunia (painful intercourse) for over a decade.
While she was able to work around the discomfort for years it finally worsened during a particularly stressful relationship. Truth be told, stress can lead to phiosological changes that make sex painful. At this time, Emily grew deeply judgmental and critical of herself until she reached a breaking point.
I could not do nothing anymore
The frustration pushed her over the edge and she “couldn’t do nothing anymore.” Emily had no training in product design, pelvic health, or any medical degree. She only knew her discomfort, the emotional repercussions, and sought to change it. So, Emily started developing a product in her kitchen. She used her naturally inquisitive and curious mind to model a device loosely inspired by the shape of a donut.
And perhaps that was all which was required; necessity is the mother of invention.
Emily made many trips to her local art store for ingredients and DIY silicone kits. She ordered 3D casts and poured her own silicone, determined to find a way for pain-free sex.
Eight months and three design changes later, she settled on a final prototype and the version of Ohnut we see today – four interlocking rings that are squishy, stretchy, and strong – that fit on the base of a penetrating partner (they work like a bumper).
A patient-controlled tool kit
Once she was confident enough about her prototype, Emily went to the largest medical conference in the US as an attendee and started talking to clinicians. She discovered that doctors lacked a tool kit for dyspareunia that is non-invasive, non-hormonal, and patient-controlled. Ultimately, doctors were eager to help Emily with early product development because a tool like Ohnut allows patients to discover a sense of agency and reconnect with their partner, which can make a significant difference in health outcomes.
Painful sex is greatly impacted by mental health. Oftentimes a blaming spiral among partners may make it worse. Often the receiving partner internalizes the discomfort, which creates stress and could increase the pain.
Sometimes one person may blame the partner for causing the pain, which doesn’t help either. One result is that the issue spreads into other aspects of the relationship, and gets buried under arguments about the dirty dishes.
Ohnut is a partners product
Emily says, “Ohnut is first and foremost a partner product. There is a misunderstanding that painful sex is a woman’s problem, a receiving partner’s problem.” I had never thought about that.
She continues to say that it is most often up to the receiving partner to solve the problem, to dilate, to go to physical therapy or the doctor – alone.
Here is where Ohnut comes in. For the first time, there is a friendly product that allows partners to open a new conversation where they both feel a sense of collaboration and exploration.
When she started Ohnut, Emily realised she had no understanding of anyone else’s sexual experience other than her own. She also didn’t have a diagnosis, and now knows there are many contributing factors to dyspareunia such as endometriosis, vaginal dryness, and psychological trauma among others.
“When sex is anything less than pleasurable, we tend to not talk about it.” Emily says. To challenge the narrative around what is sexual wellbeing and female wellness, she started Lady Bits League with a friend, a meeting to share such experiences. They expected five people to show up for the inaugural session, and 35 people attended. Lady Bits League soon turned into a by-invite-only monthly roundtable for people to share conversations on sex and relationships.
Pandora’s Box opened. Emily saw that people needed and wanted an advocate for dyspareunia and pelvic health. The Ohnut team developed the Pain Perception Project , a set of tools created by patients, for patients, with a board of medical professionals, to empower patients to articulate symptoms they are feeling. Apart from raising awareness, this also helps patients explain faster and more accurately their condition to doctors in the compressed time most visits entail.
I've spent a lifetime creating catalysts that spark human connection
Emily always knew that she could corral people around a shared belief. She told me that she really enjoys creating movements that bring people closer together and has spent her lifetime creating catalysts that spark human connection.
She reads out a couple of user reviews. Testimonials speak of Ohnut as a saviour in their relationships, something that works when nothing else has.
“Ohnut brings us closer together,” she says, referring to creating catalysts of change.
With expansion and another company on the way (Pelvic Gym), I think Emily is well on her way to seeing that, when equipped with the right tools and knowledge, suppression is not the way to deal with an unseen pain.
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