10
Mar

Dr Orgasm will see you now: is the O-Shot what women need for better sex?

Dr Charles Runels continues to be known as magic-worker through the women whose clitorises he’s injected using their own bloodstream. However, many doctors believe the results are merely placebo and question Runels methods

Seven years back, Dr Charles Runels lover surprised him at his office, demanding he inject bloodstream into her clitoris like a Love Day present. She hiked up her dress, jumped to the exam table and motioned for Runels to use his headlamp. She described that shed looked at him inject their own penis with bloodstream for around annually, which while his bigger and more powerful erections have been fun, shed grown fed up with the main one-sided sexual enhancement. It had been her turn. So Runels bowed between her legs, numbed her clitoris with a piece of ice and shot her up.

I do not understand how graphic you may be with this particular factor, he stated over the telephone, pausing mid-story to inquire about me concerning the Guardians policy on discussing orgasms. However the next mid-day, she found see me, and her orgasms came more rapidly quite strong, ejaculatory orgasms. The fervour, the thunder, the sounds that they was making

He sighed in the memory.

Thats after i thought: I ought to do this on my small patients.

Just like that, the O-Shot was created.

The non-surgical procedure that aims to facilitate and improve orgasms in females, which Runels trademarked this year, are only able to be achieved by him or one of the most than 500 certified practitioners hes trained through the years. It’s two steps: first, he extracts PRP, or platelet-wealthy plasma, from the womans bloodstream (usually obtained from her arm). Then he re-inserts it in to the clitoris and also the ceiling of her vagina having a syringe. The infusion of white-colored bloodstream cells, based on Runels, increases lube and sensitivity, allowing the individual to achieve climax easily.

Today, greater than 20,000 ladies have had the process done, and Runels estimates an 85% rate of success. Within the mainstream medical community, however, the O-Shot is questionable its findings are thought to be inadequately tested (it is not Food and drug administration approved) and a few wonder if its effects boil lower to simply placebo.

But Runels insists the process changes lives. Also, he claims it may cure incontinence and discomfort during intercourse brought on by anything varying from scarring after giving birth, to publish-radiation dryness as well as female genital mutilation (FGM). For Runels, the opportunity to have good orgasms empowers assault victims and it is necessary to a womans overall wellbeing.

In other people words, this can be a man obsessive about making women come.

When I took in to him describe the process and the philosophy, I wondered: who had been this man whod dedicated a lot of his existence to helping women orgasm? That which was behind Runels fixation? Was he a feminist revolutionary? Or perhaps a total creep?

I booked a flight ticket to Alabama to discover.

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Dr Charles Runels does an O-Shot procedure on a patient inside his clinic in Fairhope, Alabama, with help from staff member Danielle Gautier. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

Fairhope, Alabama (population 5,326) is an unlikely place to find a man trying to revolutionize womens sexual health. Runels admits that living in the buckle of the Bible belt where vibrators are literally illegal, thanks to the states Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act poses certain drawbacks.

But as long as youre not too open about it, you can find the free-thinking people, he said.

Still, peddling clit injections seemed like a hard sell.

Runels office isnt anything like the sterile exam rooms most women associate with gynecological exams. Its intimate, personal and cozy because in addition to treating thousands of patients there over the years, he also lives there. The small entryway opens on to a living room dominated by gym equipment. In the bathroom, I found a functioning shower and shelves filled with employees toiletries. The only examination table was separated from the kitchen by a curtain.

Pamela, Julie and Vivienne the three women on Runels four-person staff greeted me with open arms. In order to better understand what they promoted, Pamela and Vivienne told me theyd both had O-Shots administered by Runels. (Mark, the sole male employee, opted for the male version, a P-Shot.)

When I asked whether it was weird for any of them that their employer had seen their genitals, they laughed: Of course not! Pamela had never felt better; she said she enjoyed multiple orgasms now. She called Runels work a miracle the intersection between God and science.

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Dr Charles Runels (center) and his team. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

As we awaited the arrival of my first interview subject, Lacey, Runels suggested that I might want to try the O-Shot for myself. Youll love it, Vivienne said. She told me that doctors regularly flew in from all over the world to be trained in the procedure, and that initially they reacted to offers of free O-Shots just as I had with a mix of embarrassment and surprise. But by the end, she said, everyone wanted one.

She and Runels laughed, recalling how the last class had run until three in the morning, just to accommodate demand. Its like a Baptist revival, except youre injecting each others genitals, he said.

I assured them I wasnt interested. Runels looked at me and said: Dont be surprised if you change your mind.

Throughout this piece, Ive changed O-Shot recipients names including those of Runels employees in order to protect their identities. Many live in the small, Christian community of Fairhope and fear ostracism. Others have suffered sexual trauma, and fear being the targets of further abuse.

Lacey, an athletic, 40-year-old businesswoman, told no one when she was raped for the first time at age 13. But soon her father noticed something different about her and started calling her a whore and a lesbian. Physical abuse followed when Laceys next rapist, her husband, found himself unable to climax unless Lacey was in excruciating pain. He raped her throughout their 10-year relationship, and left her with herpes, incontinence and vaginal scarring.

At 29 years old, she wet the bed, had never had an orgasm and thought her vagina was deformed. Doctors responded to her concerns by suggesting lube and psychotherapy.

At 30, Lacey never expected to experience sexual pleasure again. She tried using a back massager for stimulus, but it left a painful callous on her clitoris. Later she met Runels at the bank where she worked. After learning what he did, she confided in him, and Runels said he knew of something that might help or, at the very least, something that would not hurt her.

Lacey got the O-Shot on her lunch break, and immediately felt alive down there. Over the next few weeks the callous slowly disappeared, revealing healthy, circulated tissue. Her incontinence went away.

But more than anything, Lacey felt healed by her newfound ability to orgasm; before the shot, climaxing, if it happened at all, had taken about half an hour of jackhammering friction. After the shot, she switched to a gentle (and illegal remember, this is Alabama) finger vibrator, and came within seconds. She told me that better orgasms improved her mood, her self-image, her career and her dating life.

Having pleasure, especially predictable pleasure, is empowering as a woman, she said.

Like Runels employees, and most of the other patients I spoke to, Lacey described herself as church-going. She said that as a Christian it felt uncomfortable to talk about sex, much less orgasms, but that shed never have learned to love herself if she hadnt been able to climax, and she wanted women to know that there were non-invasive medical procedures available that could help them with what most doctors might dismiss as purely mental.

Over the next few days, I would speak at length with Runels staff and patients, as well as with O-Shot practitioners and recipients from around the globe, all of whom said the O-Shot cured incontinence, reduced vaginal scarring, and improved sensation, lubrication and quality of life.

One Brooklyn-based gynecologist, Dr Sophia Lubin, who worked with Somalian refugees, said that, unfortunately, misapprehensions about the procedure produced huge barriers to entry People dont want further trauma, and, even if it doesnt hurt, the needle in the vagina is a scary thing, especially for people whove been raped or harmed but suggested that based on her experience with other patients, the O-Shot posed enormously positive implications for victims of FGM.

Had all these people really been swayed by placebo?

In general, O-Shot providers I spoke with estimated an 85% success rate for their patients. But on Lacey, it worked dramatically, Runels said, and even if thats one in 100, its worth pursuing. He desperately needed me to understand the importance of her turnaround. Thats my revenge [against rapists] to say Eff you and give women their flower back.

I spoke to his patients, employees and former lovers, many of whom also happened to be targets of sexual assault. I couldnt help thinking Runels seemed to gravitate toward victims of trauma. I dont really know why Im surrounded by people who have pain, he admitted. I do, absolutely, make a conscious effort [to find them]. I think my real usefulness evolves out of its not even compassion, its more like obsession.

When I asked him whether he thought he might have some kind of savior complex, he grew quiet, anxiously massaging the skin where his eyebrows should have been. Runels is bald, with zero eyebrows. Initially, I read his hairlessness as a possible extension of his sexual persona like, maybe he shaved his entire body.

But the true story behind his baldness proved much more complicated, and started with every teenagers worst nightmare: severe cystic acne. He did not have pimples; he had oozing, volcanic skin that piled up on itself. Individual features disappeared. He forgot what his nose looked like. If you could make me attractive, he prayed into the mirror, I will find something good to do with it.

Heaven sort of answered when dermatologists offered to treat his skin with X-rays. The cystic acne popped, scabbed and fell away. But there were consequences.

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Runels lack of hair on his head and face started with every teenagers worst nightmare: severe cystic acne. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

By the time I showed up in Alabama, hed undergone three months of semi-successful chemotherapy treatments for melanomas that had cropped up from the radiation. The worst one, which Id initially mistaken for a beauty mark, had gotten smaller, but he still might need his upper lip removed.

I cant really promote [the cosmetic side of my practice] if I look like a monster, he conceded.

He confessed that his work in womens sexual health was probably tied to his personal experience with enduring a condition that made others uncomfortable that pain of what I call the hidden population.

Only 14% of women in their whole lifetime will ever have a conversation with their doctor about sex, he said, and if she brings up the subject, most times the doctor will change the subject after the first question. Its time for us to quit avoiding the subject of a womans sexual function, and actually start thinking about how the system of her sexuality might work.

Wasnt it strange, he wondered, that when it came to a womans health, we talked about her body only in terms of a reproductive system?

He gestured to the plastic female pelvis on his bookshelf. What about an orgasm system? he said.

As someone who enjoys orgasms, I agree with Runels that theyre important, but Im not a scientist. So I set out to fact-check his claim that orgasms help women feel better (and the implied reverse claim: that the absence of orgasms counts as sexual dysfunction) against what we already know.

But it turns that we dont know very much.

I mined academic periodicals for information on the interplay between orgasms and health. But as far as I could tell, such studies tended to center on male sexual dysfunction in the wake of prostate cancer. It seemed like scientists were eager to investigate the devastating effects of surgery on a mans inability to ejaculate, while a female cancer survivors sexuality only mattered in terms of whether she could still have children.

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Diagrams and models of male and female reproductive systems sit next to incense and a photo of Dr Runels parents. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

Disgruntled by the academic definition of womens health as cancer or babies, I extended my search to female orgasms in general, and I found that research devoted to the subject often revolved around questions such as and Im paraphrasing here Is female ejaculation a real thing? or Why does the female orgasm even exist?

As for how orgasms (or the lack thereof) might relate to a womans health or happiness? Academics arent interested.

Many in the mainstream medical community see the O-Shot as little more than a placebo.

When I asked Dr Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN who writes frequently about female sexuality, what she thought about Runels and his techniques, she screamed.

You dont do procedures on partners! I want to vomit, she said. Youre not supposed to practice medicine on your family and friends oh my God. Talk about a power differential.

Though some hail the O-Shot as a much-needed advancement in womens sexual health, many doctors are skeptical of Runels and his methods. Gunter told me that Runels close relationships with some O-Shot recipients enhanced the likelihood of placebo that, whether or not they knew it, these women wanted Runels to feel good about himself.

She explained that in order to take the O-Shot seriously, shed first want to see somebody do a study on 10 rat vaginas. She pointed out that Runels procedure had not yet been approved by the FDA, and compared the potential unknown side-effects to those that might be associated with the unregulated use of a vaginal mesh.

She laughed. To get something approved by the FDA is a very low bar. You basically have to prove you didnt kill 20 people I mean, I dont know what it was, exactly. [But] the body can do really weird crazy things. You cant predict.

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Dr Charles Runels works on his website for the doctors in his network to track info about patients that have received the O-Shot. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

When I explained that Runels had actually spent about a year injecting his own penis with blood before shooting up his first clitoris, Gunter laughed. If people want to do whatever with their own body, have at it. But an untested procedure on your sexual partners?

As as I could tell, the word untested seemed up for debate according to Runels, it had been tested; using funds from his medical group, Runels had recently financed a $95,000 study to test the effect of the O-Shot on vulvar lichen sclerosus, a dermatological, eczema-like condition which produces cracking and bleeding around the vagina, led by George Washington University faculty member and lichen sclerosus expert Dr Andrew Goldstein.

According to Runels, the results of the study suggest that PRP injections decrease inflammation in women with vulvar lichen sclerosus. (This paper has since been published in the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease.)

Gunter, who specialized in lichen sclerosus and had previously warred with Runels on Twitter, said shed seen the paper but couldnt take it seriously, since it only involved nine participants Its a case series, not a study not to mention that the overall absence of a placebo group ruined its findings. When I asked Gunter what she thought about the participants feedback, which was apparently positive, she explained to me the difference between actual evidence (numbers) and anecdotal evidence (human testimony).

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Dr Charles Runels shows the PRP (platelet-rich plasma) to a patient, which comes from the blood of the patient themselves and is the secret behind the O-Shot. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

I had trouble with the idea that a womans feedback was purely anecdotal. Didnt dismissing a womans sexuality as a psychological issue implicitly throw into question her ability to describe what was happening to her body?

Gunter countered that the dermatological issues associated with lichen sclerosus were categorically separate from sexual function. She had patients in their 50s, 60s with lichen sclerosus who didnt even care about sex because their husbands were impotent.

I flinched at this. Wasnt it sort of a double standard to say that if man cant get erection, hes impotent in other words: he has sexual dysfunction whether he wants it or not, but a woman only has it if it bothers her?

Why did diagnoses of sexual dysfunction appear to be split along gender lines, considered either physical or psychosomatic depending on the presence or absence of an erection?

Gunter sighed. Apparently I was conflating two separate fields. She urged me to run some of the scenarios Id mentioned (injecting lovers, injecting employees) by a bioethics expert.

So I contacted Tim Caulfield, a professor at the University of Albertas school of law and school of public health.

Caulfield told me that PRP first became sexy in 2013, when NBA players such as Kobe Bryant started getting the injections to heal athletic injuries. That same year, blood injections rocketed into the world of trendy cosmetics when doctors in Miami gave Kim Kardashian a vampire facelift (another of Runels trademarked PRP procedures, it turns out, where blood is dripped all over the T-zone while attacking the area with needles).

Afterward, Kardashian posted a selfie of her blood-soaked face (when the photo went viral, her doctor received an official cease and desist call from Runels, who explained he owned the trademark). But despite its popularity in mainstream media, Caulfield said that the actual science behind PRP was iffy at best.

Like Gunter, he brought up the placebo effect and, in particular, placebo theater. He explained that white coats, medical lingo and especially the presence of needles combine to heighten a patients anticipation that a treatment will work.

The O-Shot ranged in price from $1,200-$1,500, and controlled studies have shown that more costly treatments increased the placebo effect an effect that is so strong, it has been shown to actually create physical improvement in Parkinsons symptoms.

Was my kneejerk reaction to stand up for Runels predicated on subconscious insecurity? As a journalist, did I need to believe so badly that Id come to Fairhope for a reason that Id not been lured in by a campaign for snake oil that I was refusing to entertain reason?

Later during my visit to Runels clinic, I was sitting down for lunch idly asking him why hed trademarked the name of his procedures when suddenly he stabbed a giant needle through the lid of my sushi container.

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Runels uses the skull during his doctor training sessions to help illustrate where to inject when doing the vampire facelift procedure. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

That, he said, gesturing theatrically at my impaled take-out box, is why I trademark my ideas. He explained that an individual claiming to administer the O-Shot had once stuck a mixing needle which is about the size of a cocktail spear, and should only be used to pierce rubber into a womans clitoris, endangering her physical safety.

Owning the O-Shot name enabled Runels to mine the term online, ensuring that practitioners who offered it had trained with him. Runels paid his lawyer $30,000-$50,000 a month just to track down and send cease-and-desist letters to anyone who advertised the O-Shot without having trained with Runels or someone in his medical group.

Two of Runels assistants, Pamela and Julie, entered to tell me Julie would be getting the O-Shot right then so I could witness how painless it was. Julie explained that this wasnt just for my benefit that she was 50 years old, had suffered incontinence since having kids and was hoping the O-Shot would help. So I put away my sushi and followed her through the curtain. Moments later, in an awkward attempt to make conversation while I sat between her legs, I said: Your vagina looks like my vagina.

Oh, good, Julie said, sounding relieved as she glanced down at her lap. She lay back, clutching Pamelas hand, explaining that shed always secretly thought that she might be deformed down there.

Everyone comes here thinking that, Pamela reassured her.

Runels hummed his way into the room and after drawing blood from Julies arm, he loaded it into the centrifuge and left us alone so that Pamela could lather on the numbing cream. She used her fingers to spread Julies labia, gently coaxed the clitoris from its hood and applied the ointment. After giving it time to kick in, Runels returned to inject the lidocaine into the top crest of Julies labia minora at the point just before it branched into the base of the clitoris.

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Runels performing an O-Shot procedure on a patient. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

I waited for Julie to cry out in pain. But instead she just kept talking to Pamela about church. Runels explained to me that this area of the labia wasnt sensitive (it was built to rip during childbirth) and that bloodflow would naturally take the lidocaine from the labia minora into the clitoris, making a direct injection unnecessary. We made small talk for a few minutes until she she was fully numb. Then Runels plucked the vial of her blood from the centrifuge, preparing for the final injection a direct hit to the clit. The PRP floated on top, yellow and opaque, like dehydrated urine.

While Runels flicked the needle, I ignored the taste of metal in my mouth, squeezed my thighs together and pretended everything was normal. But apparently my secondhand discomfort was unfounded; not only was the whole thing over in seconds, but afterward Julie said: Is it happening yet? because the O-Shot felt like nothing.

How long will this last? she asked Runels.

Conservatively speaking, around nine months, he answered. He added that, in Laceys case, results had persisted for nearly six years.

Julie beamed at me, and I smiled back, saying I was happy for her but the truth was, I couldnt get Dr Gunters and Dr Caulfields voices out of my head. Two smart and accomplished medical experts had insisted to me that satisfied O-Shot customers were dupes.

As a layperson, I couldnt help but respect their authority. But as a human being, it was hard for me to discredit so many womens stories. When they said the O-Shot worked, I believed them.

On my last day in Alabama, imaginary feuds between feminists and doctors and ethicists and patients ricocheted around my brain. Id talked to so many people, read too many papers, and still had no clue what to think about the O-Shot.

So I asked Runels to inject my clitoris.

This is insane, a girlfriend texted me. You dont even have sexual dysfunction!

I responded with some defiant emojis. It wasnt orgasms I was struggling with it was the conclusion to my article. So I stepped out of my jeans and held Pamelas hand while Runels tugged on the headlamp. Is it happening? I said but it was over. The procedure was brief and painless, and within hours I was boarding my flight home, eager to put the O-Shot to the test.

Unfortunately, results proved vague.

Every time I had sex I would ask myself: does this feel better than it did before my clitoris was injected with blood?

Even more mood-killing were the other questions pulsing through my mind: does having an orgasm as a result of this procedure make me a good or bad feminist? Have I taken a daring move by putting my clitoris first? Or have I sold out a century of progress by obeying Runels, a member of the patriarchy, who deluded me into thinking I needed him to fix me?

These questions made sex worse. So I decided to depoliticize my body to take psychology and medicine and feminism out of the equation, and forget Id ever met him.

That did the trick. And it felt great.

Find out more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/sep/15/dr-charles-runels-o-shot-women-orgasm-sexual-cure

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