On Looking at the Vagina through Labella

CHI, pp. 1810-1821, 2016.

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embodied interactionfeminist HCIwearablesintimate caresmartphone technologyMore(16+)
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We show how while awkwardness is entangled with selfknowing of intimate parts of the anatomy, harnessing such awkwardness can lead to funny and strange experiences that help to ease the burden of taboo

Abstract:

Women's understandings of their own intimate anatomy has been identified as critical to women's reproductive health and sexual wellbeing. However, talking about it, seeking medical help when necessary as well as examining oneself in order to 'know' oneself is complicated by social-cultural constructions of the vagina, i.e. it is something...More

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Introduction
  • Labella is an augmented wearable and smartphone system that uses non-traditional on-body interactions to enable discovery and learning about hidden parts of the body
  • It combines a pair of underwear for embodied intimate interaction, and a mobile phone as a tool for embodied discovery.
  • In addition mobile interfaces for women’s health and wellbeing have investigated the design of technologies with a focus on intimate care work in relation to hidden parts of the body [6] and involved in sexual functioning [7].
  • The authors argue that wearable and mobile technologies can support women’s bodily experiences in relation to the reproductive system, continence and sexual pleasure [14,26] by promoting literacy to enable self-care
Highlights
  • Labella is an augmented wearable and smartphone system that uses non-traditional on-body interactions to enable discovery and learning about hidden parts of the body
  • We show how designing for awkward learning experiences, onbody interactions and humour can break the taboo related to learning about hidden parts of the body, which in turn can enable better self-care or care of others
  • We address the design of wellness technologies that focus on intimate care by evoking learning with and through body-worn interactions
  • In what follows we show how Labella can act as a device for transforming learning on the body and awkward learning as a valuable tool to talk about the ‘unmentionable’ [12]
  • What if the user doesn’t know enough about their own anatomy to know that they could be healthier or fitter? In designing and deploying Labella we have identified opportunities for embodied interactions to enable and support body literacy, with the ultimate aim of empowering wellbeing through enhanced self-knowledge
  • We show how while awkwardness is entangled with selfknowing of intimate parts of the anatomy, harnessing such awkwardness can lead to funny and strange experiences that help to ease the burden of taboo
Methods
  • Participants A total of

    14 women participated in the study. All participants were recruited to elicit as great a variety of backgrounds as possible and included, among others, mothers, Yoga and Pilates instructors, an anthropologist, a dancer, women’s health physiotherapists, designers, and a marine biologist.
  • Elizabeth had further studied anatomy while attending University.
  • Participants such as Birgitte describe this previous learning as superficial and vague or, in the case of Camilla and Marie culturally constrained.
  • Louise and Sarah are women’s health physiotherapists and view knowledge about the female anatomy as fundamental.
  • They believe everyone is familiar with the “basics”.
  • The fitness of the pelvic floor muscles as a health practice was unfamiliar for five participants, and the pelvic floor was generally unknown to most in that it creates a support for external genitalia, or pertains to preventative care and is essential for the wellbeing of women
Results
  • The interview data were analysed using an inductive thematic analysis approach [11], with the coding of the entire dataset undertaken by one researcher.
  • Three researchers discussed the coded data set, and worked together to develop themes based on these codes
  • The authors' interest in this analysis was broad, to understand participants’ experiences of Labella.
  • In what follows the authors show how Labella can act as a device for transforming learning on the body and awkward learning as a valuable tool to talk about the ‘unmentionable’ [12]
  • As women talked, their experiences with Labella were naturally intertwined with their own personal histories.
  • In accordance with the consent given by the participants pseudonyms are used throughout
Conclusion
  • HCI research has recognized the intimate body and women’s health more broadly as areas that are important, yet avoided designing for [8,17,21].
  • With Labella, the authors bring these topics forward and explore how digital technologies can be harnessed in support of managing embarrassment and sexuality in self-care and care of others in these intimate spaces [25].
  • While looking away might contribute to prevent discomfort, looking back with Labella encourages accepting awkward as inevitable enabling the construction of self-knowledge.Technologies for intimate health and wellness often aim to remind and motivate the user to take action to improve their own fitness.
  • The authors show how while awkwardness is entangled with selfknowing of intimate parts of the anatomy, harnessing such awkwardness can lead to funny and strange experiences that help to ease the burden of taboo
Summary
  • Introduction:

    Labella is an augmented wearable and smartphone system that uses non-traditional on-body interactions to enable discovery and learning about hidden parts of the body
  • It combines a pair of underwear for embodied intimate interaction, and a mobile phone as a tool for embodied discovery.
  • In addition mobile interfaces for women’s health and wellbeing have investigated the design of technologies with a focus on intimate care work in relation to hidden parts of the body [6] and involved in sexual functioning [7].
  • The authors argue that wearable and mobile technologies can support women’s bodily experiences in relation to the reproductive system, continence and sexual pleasure [14,26] by promoting literacy to enable self-care
  • Methods:

    Participants A total of

    14 women participated in the study. All participants were recruited to elicit as great a variety of backgrounds as possible and included, among others, mothers, Yoga and Pilates instructors, an anthropologist, a dancer, women’s health physiotherapists, designers, and a marine biologist.
  • Elizabeth had further studied anatomy while attending University.
  • Participants such as Birgitte describe this previous learning as superficial and vague or, in the case of Camilla and Marie culturally constrained.
  • Louise and Sarah are women’s health physiotherapists and view knowledge about the female anatomy as fundamental.
  • They believe everyone is familiar with the “basics”.
  • The fitness of the pelvic floor muscles as a health practice was unfamiliar for five participants, and the pelvic floor was generally unknown to most in that it creates a support for external genitalia, or pertains to preventative care and is essential for the wellbeing of women
  • Results:

    The interview data were analysed using an inductive thematic analysis approach [11], with the coding of the entire dataset undertaken by one researcher.
  • Three researchers discussed the coded data set, and worked together to develop themes based on these codes
  • The authors' interest in this analysis was broad, to understand participants’ experiences of Labella.
  • In what follows the authors show how Labella can act as a device for transforming learning on the body and awkward learning as a valuable tool to talk about the ‘unmentionable’ [12]
  • As women talked, their experiences with Labella were naturally intertwined with their own personal histories.
  • In accordance with the consent given by the participants pseudonyms are used throughout
  • Conclusion:

    HCI research has recognized the intimate body and women’s health more broadly as areas that are important, yet avoided designing for [8,17,21].
  • With Labella, the authors bring these topics forward and explore how digital technologies can be harnessed in support of managing embarrassment and sexuality in self-care and care of others in these intimate spaces [25].
  • While looking away might contribute to prevent discomfort, looking back with Labella encourages accepting awkward as inevitable enabling the construction of self-knowledge.Technologies for intimate health and wellness often aim to remind and motivate the user to take action to improve their own fitness.
  • The authors show how while awkwardness is entangled with selfknowing of intimate parts of the anatomy, harnessing such awkwardness can lead to funny and strange experiences that help to ease the burden of taboo
Related work
  • The design of digital technologies for intimate care, pelvic floor fitness, and body knowledge falls at the interstices of research on issues such as health and wellbeing, body-worn technologies, and technologies for self-learning. Here, we explore the application of wearables designed for use in wellness; on-body technologies with a focus on learning and self-discovery; as well as the uses of augmented reality and the body as a space for embodied interaction; and lastly, we consider the expression of humour in design and health care.

    Wellness Awareness Through Wearable Interfaces On-body and worn mobile technologies for health and wellbeing have seen an exponential growth in the last few years. An increasing number of body-worn devices for selftracking, for example [41,42], collect data on bodily functions, such as heart rate, pulse or calories burned, and HCI research has already explored wearables toward promoting health and wellness, for example [3,4]. At the same time, a wide diversity of ‘smart’ objects, such as [14,26,43], have been made commercially available. Amidst such variety of digitized body data, a great number of these devices aim to promote health and fitness with the goal of empowering self-care among experts and nonexperts alike.
Funding
  • This work was funded in part by the DERC: Digital Economy Research Centre grant EP/M023001/1 and a UK AHRC KE Hub for the Creative Economy (ref: AH/J005150/1 Creative Exchange)
  • Data supporting this publication is openly available under an 'Open Data Commons Open Database License'
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