Women focus quite a bit of attention on improving muscle tone in the arms, legs, glutes, and abs, yet many neglect an equally important but invisible area—the pelvic floor. These vital muscles sit under the uterus, bladder, and large intestine (bowel), and help with urine and bowel control. They’re also the muscles that contract during orgasm.
When the pelvic floor muscles become weakened, urine leakage and reduced control over the bowels can occur. This is why pelvic floor muscle training is so important, especially for women after childbirth.
In addition to improved bladder and bowel control, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can lead to increased sexual sensation and orgasm potential. We’ll explore this and other benefits of improved pelvic floor muscle strength ahead. First, let’s review common signs of a pelvic floor problem. Later on we’ll provide a step-by-step pelvic floor exercise guide and uncover some common myths and misconceptions surrounding the pelvic floor muscles.
Signs of a Pelvic Floor Problem
Some common signs of problems with the pelvic floor muscles include:
- Accidentally leaking urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, jump, or run.
- Sudden feeling of urgency to get to the toilet, or not making it in time.
- Pain in your pelvic area.
- Painful sex.
- A prolapse: in women this is often felt as a feeling of discomfort, heaviness, pulling, or dropping in the vagina.
Pelvic floor problems can occur when the muscles become stretched or weakened. They can also occur when muscles are too tight. Some women have tight pelvic floor muscles from a young age and may have difficulty relaxing the muscles—these individuals should pay special attention to relaxation of the muscles as part of pelvic floor training.
Pelvic floor muscles can be affected by pregnancy and childbirth, over or under-working the muscles, chronic constipation that results in straining, being overweight, heavy lifting, and chronic coughing (from asthma or hay fever, etc.). The good news is the pelvic floor muscles can be consciously controlled, allowing you to improve their strength with exercises and assistance from devices like the PeriCoach System.
Pelvic Floor Muscle Strength and Sexual Satisfaction
There is evidence to suggest that improving pelvic floor muscle strength can lead to greater sexual function, and thus sexual experience in both women and men (our focus here is on women).
The pelvic floor (pubococcygeus) muscles run along the pelvic floor and surround the entire vagina. These muscles contract during orgasm, so it’s not surprising that improving the strength of these muscles could improve the intensity of orgasm. Exercising the pelvic floor muscles leads to greater vascularity and increased blood flow in the pelvic region, which may increase awareness of the clitoral and vaginal sensations that lead to orgasm. Stronger muscles may naturally lead to stronger orgasms.
Kegel exercises may lead to enhanced sexual sensation by:
- Relaxing the vaginal muscles, allowing the vagina to be more open; women who experience pain during sex or pelvic exams will be pleased to learn that Kegels can help with muscle relaxation.
- Improving vaginal tone.
- Improving blood circulation, which is key to:
- Increasing sexual arousal, which can, in turn, improve lubrication.
- Improving a woman’s ability to reach orgasm.
Psychological and Physiological Factors
Sexual satisfaction and function are inextricably linked to a person’s psychological state. Relationship troubles or discomfort with one’s body can make sexual arousal difficult or impossible. Kegel exercises are not a panacea when it comes to improving sexual satisfaction, but improved muscle tone may enhance sexual experience in women and men who are healthy overall.
Hormones are another important factor in terms of sexual arousal, function, and pleasure. Hormonal changes during menopause can affect a woman’s lubrication and thin the walls of the vagina, affecting arousal and sexual response. Hormone therapy is effective for many women in reducing post-menopausal conditions.
Step-by-Step Pelvic Floor Exercise Guide
- Lie down on the floor (if you’re able) on your back with your knees bent. If you’re unable to lie on the floor, lie down on a bed, or sit upright. Lying down has the advantage of taking weight off of your pelvic floor.
- If you choose to use an assistive device such as a pelvic floor exerciser, have it ready to use, along with a water-based lubricant. Note: Some Kegel trainers, such as the PeriCoach system, utilize a smartphone app that can be paired with the device to record your progress.
- Insert the Kegel exerciser) into the vagina.
- Alternatively, you may find using the first two inches of your finger(s) helpful, or you may prefer to use nothing at all.
- If you choose not to use a pelvic floor exerciser, you may find that placing your hand on your perineum (the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus) helpful, as this will allow you to feel your muscles contract from outside your body.
- With assistive device or fingers placed inside the vagina (if using them) you’re now ready to contract your pelvic floor muscles, which is done by contracting the muscles as if you’re stopping the flow of urine. Contraction of these muscles will feel as if you’re pulling up and in toward your belly button. You will feel the Kegel device rise upward a bit, or a tightening sensation around your fingers.
- Hold for a count of 5 (one-one-thousand, two-one thousand, etc.) and release. Remember to breathe throughout the exercises, and try to keep your legs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles relaxed.
- Take a deep breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly to relax your pelvis completely; this will help relax involuntary muscles that are not under your conscious control.
Kegels Can Help with Urinary Incontinence
An important benefit of Kegel exercises is reducing urinary incontinence (UI), also referred to as stress incontinence. Any woman who has experienced urine leakage after coughing, laughing, or jumping knows how embarrassing and uncomfortable it can be.
Urinary incontinence is by no means a rare phenomenon—an estimated 23 to 63 percent of women experience it during pregnancy, while an estimated 6 to 29 percent experience UI after childbirth.1
Bladder control exercises with or without a Kegel exercise device can be tremendously helpful in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
We hope we’ve illuminated the advantages of strengthening the oft-ignored pelvic floor muscles. From reducing the likelihood of urinary incontinence to strengthening the muscles that can lead to enhanced sexual sensation and satisfaction, adding these exercises to your daily routine is easy and worthwhile.