So, you’ve heard about the pelvic floor before: you tried kegels a few times but weren’t sure if you were doing them right… you heard how giving birth can damage your pelvic floor muscles and afterwards you might pee when you sneeze… your friend has maybe told you about their jade egg… or you might’ve read about other kegel toys on O.school. But, when you get down to it, what’s the deal with the pelvic floor?
Well, this group of muscles may just be the unsung hero of your body. The pelvic floor plays a critical role in bladder control, bowel function, childbirth, orgasms, ejaculation, erections, and more, so having a healthy pelvic floor is a pretty big deal for your health and your sex life. When the pelvic floor is healthy, these processes go smoothly, but when the pelvic floor is not healthy, there can be issues.
What Is Your Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles in the pelvis that sits like a sling between the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis and the tailbone at the back. The muscles support the organs inside the pelvis, including the bladder and bowel, as well as the uterus (for people who have one).
In case you need to know for a trivia quiz in future: levator ani, ischiocavernosus, bulbospongiosus, and coccygeus are the names of the muscles that comprise the pelvic floor. They sit at the base of the pelvis under all the pelvic organs, and wrap around the urethra, anus, and vagina, controlling the opening and closing of these passages.
Everyone has a pelvic floor—regardless of gender, age, body type, or any other kind of difference. So, pelvic floor health is not just about vaginas. We can all benefit from maintaining a healthy pelvic floor.
What Does Your Pelvic Floor Do?
Firstly, the pelvic floor keeps your organs inside your body, so gravity doesn’t let them fall out when you’re standing upright and walking around. Yikes. Ok, it’s not a very sexy thing to think about, but it is kind of an important job.
Secondly, the pelvic floor muscles squeeze closed and relax open to allow the passage of waste (both kinds) and, when relevant, babies. Being able to squeeze and relax the muscles is also essential for arousal, orgasm, erections, ejaculation, and pain-free sex.
Why Should You Care About Your Pelvic Floor?
Did you not read when I said “pain-free sex”? But for real, having a healthy pelvic floor is important because it controls so many important bodily functions. Peeing when you want to, and not when you don’t? Thank your pelvic floor. Same with poop control—thanks, pelvic floor! Being able to achieve orgasm? You can thank your pelvic floor for that too. Having sex without pain? Yup, I mentioned that one already. See what I mean about it being the unsung hero?
On the other hand, if you’re having any of these problems, an overly weak or overly tight pelvic floor might be the culprit:
- Accidentally peeing or having trouble getting all your pee out
- Accidentally pooping or often getting constipated
- Pain in your back, abdomen, pelvis, or genital areas
- Difficulty achieving orgasm
- Pain during sex (especially painful penetration)
- Difficulty inserting anything into the vagina
- Penis problems like erectile dysfunction and rapid ejaculation
How To Care For Your Pelvic Floor
Let’s get one thing straight first, being “tight” down there is not actually a good thing. Sure, you want those muscles to be strong, and to be able to clench when you want them to, but you also need to be able to relax them too. An overly tight pelvic floor can cause as many problems as a weak one.
The right balance of strength exercises, like Kegels, and relaxing exercises, like stretching, keep the pelvic floor in tip-top shape. According to pelvic floor physical therapist Dr. Uchenna Ossai, “If you don’t strengthen your pelvic floor, if you don’t work on relaxing your pelvic floor, if you don’t work on lengthening your pelvic floor, it’s not going to be functioning the way you need it to”. So how do you exercise your pelvic floor? Here’s how.
How To Do Kegel Exercises
Doing Kegels is basically like going to the gym, but for your pelvic floor. And on the bright side, it takes way less effort than the gym, and you probably won’t break a sweat doing it. But before you dive into Kegels, it’s important to know that they’re not suitable for everyone. If you have a healthy or weak pelvic floor, then go for it. On the other hand, if you have an overly tight pelvic floor, Kegels can make things worse. Seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist will help you work out the state of your pelvic floor and which exercises are best for you. Below is a step-by-step guide to Kegels for people with vaginas.
Step 1: Isolate The Correct Muscles
You’ll want to be in a neutral spine position, that means you aren’t too arched and you’re not too flexed. Find somewhere in the middle where everything feels natural and comfortable. You can isolate different parts of your pelvic floor by focusing only on the anus, vagina, and urethra! But for general purposes, focus on engaging the entire muscle group.
For more info on how to isolate the correct muscles click here.
Step 2: Squeeze AND Lift Your Pelvic Muscles
Think about picking up a Kleenex with your pelvic muscles. Imagine squeezing your urethra, anus, and vagina to pick up a Kleenex and pull it up towards the ceiling.
Step 3: Keep Breathing Throughout Your Kegels
Breathe normally while you do your Kegel exercises. Don’t hold your breath, pull your belly in, tighten your inner thighs, or arch your back. You are just trying to work those specific pelvic floor muscles and keep everything else relaxed.
Step 4: Release The Muscles
After a few seconds, release the muscles. Imagine you are letting go of the Kleenex and let it float down to the floor. You should completely relax the muscles at this stage. But don’t push down with your muscles when releasing. Remember, the goal is to have good pelvic floor tone, which means muscles that are able to relax as well as squeeze.
Step 5: Repeat
Before you decide on how many reps you need to do, you first need to figure out where you stand. Start with a 10 rep max; lay down and repeat the above instructions for a max of 10 reps. If you get tired after four reps (it will feel like you cannot find your muscles), then that is your starting point. Begin with two to three sets of four reps, once a day for general maintenance and then build yourself up to two sets of 10 reps.
You also might want to work on your endurance, which means you should practice holding the contraction for a few seconds, and then release and relax the muscles.
Some Final Notes
Many people think “tight is right,” but that’s not always the goal. Your pelvic floor needs to have rhythm—it needs to be able to tighten when you need it to tighten and relax when you need it to relax. Having good muscle awareness and coordination are key ingredients to a healthy pelvic floor.
If you want to delve deeper to work on your own muscle awareness and coordination, Dr. Uchenna Ossai suggests talking with a health care provider that can do a pelvic floor assessment and help you come up with a program that is right for you.
Images: Openstax, Rice University; video courtesy of O.school