I often post on my Instagram stories attempting positivity and reminding my followers to stay hydrated, wear their SPF, treat themselves well and to do their Kegels. But last week a close friend messaged me to ask, “uh Lex, what are Kegels?” and I realised that perhaps this term wasn’t as well known as I had assumed. Anyone who has given birth will likely have been reminded of their importance by midwives and healthcare staff, but if you haven’t been, let me fill you in on all things pelvic floor exercises.
NB pleaaaaaase: I’m not a healthcare professional and it’s up to you to make your own informed decisions when it comes to your body and health. The NHS website has info on pelvic floor exercises but if in doubt, see your GP or midwife to discuss what they’d recommend for you.
“Kegels” is the most common nickname for pelvic floor exercises; named after the first gynaecologist to define them, Arnold Henry Kegel. And while many of us may be quick to point out that Arnold is quite clearly a man’s name, it’s worth noting: kegels have their benefits for all genders and anyone with a pelvic floor (ie. all of us, no matter what we have between our legs) can benefit from them.
What are pelvic floor muscles?
The accurate name for pelvic floor muscles is pubococcygeal muscles… but let’s be honest, no one can actually pronounce that, so they’re usually known as the PC muscles. Everyone has PC muscles; they support the pelvic organs such as the bladder, bowel and urethra and hold them all in place, through daily toilet functions and sexual function. The strength of these muscles can help dictate bladder and bowel control and sexual performance – so working to keep them healthy and taut benefits these functions.
Do pelvic floor muscles loosen when you give birth?
As with all muscles, pelvic floor muscles build up through childhood and adolescence to reach their peak tautness and strength before weakening naturally as you age. Pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, varying medical procedures, and bowel or bladder problems can also impact the muscles, loosening or weakening them. It’s a fairly common misconception that having a c-section will avoid the pelvic floor muscles weakening but this is incorrect. Carrying a baby can be enough to help impact on your pelvic floor muscles… as anyone who’s been heavily pregnant and needed a wee in a hurry will tell you!
Pelvic floor exercises form part of the NHS’ recommended exercise in pregnancy.
Why should I bother exercising my pelvic floor?
As with every muscle in your body, it’s better to use it than lose it. A strong and healthy pelvic floor helps provide good bladder control, treat pelvic organ prolapse, treat erectile dysfunction, and even increase the sensation of orgasms – so if you ever pee or shag, you stand to benefit from doing some kegels.
The old wives tale of a vagina feeling ‘looser’ post-birth during heterosexual sex can also be resolved with some kegels; as once the pelvic floor is strong enough, the individual can ‘grip’ the area during the sex and increase sensation, for them and their partner.
It’s not uncommon for those who have given birth to experience incontinence afterward due to damage to the pelvic floor muscles, in which case kegel exercises will often be recommended. There is also evidence to suggest that if you are trying to get pregnant, regular exercising of the pelvic floor muscles can help lower the risk of post-pregnancy toilet troubles later on. Your vagina doesn’t actually change shape once you’ve given birth unless there’s been some trauma to it on onward injury, but hey, a quick kegel shouldn’t hurt (and if it does, don’t do it again). There’s also some evidence to suggest it results in better orgasms, no matter the biology you’ve got between your legs, and I’m sure we can all agree that’s a positive.
How do I do a Kegel and how do I know if I’m doing it right?
Unless you’re already well familiar with your pelvic floor, chances are you don’t know what to grip or flex. The easiest way to identify the relevant muscles is to, next time you’re peeing, tense to stop. Don’t do it for long, or often – this ISN’T what Kegels are! – but the muscles you’re tensing to do this are the pelvic floor muscles.
When you’re off the loo and not desperate to empty your bladder, try tensing these muscles for a second or two, and then release. Repeat. These are pelvic floor exercises.
Be sure while you’re doing it that you’re not holding your breath or accidentally tensing your stomach, thighs or bum at the same time. It can be tricky, but once you’ve mastered it, shouldn’t take too much consideration.
To do pelvic floor exercises regularly, you should tense and un-tense the pelvic floor muscles 10-15 times in a row. And that’s it! Try and do it every day but avoid anything that hurts or feels too much. And dooooon’t try and halt your peeing with Kegels, it won’t reap any tangible benefits and could result in a UTI.
You can also strengthen your pelvic floor through squats, but of course, these exercises aren’t just focused on that one area and so the benefits are not as focused.
Where else can I get info on Kegels?
If you have any reason to suspect that you might have a medical issue or concern with your pelvic floor, speak to your GP or midwife before trying Kegels.
For more info, check out a website with specific and genuine healthcare credentials and sources – such as the NHS’ own resources, Healthline or Medical News Today. I probably shouldn’t dismiss my own contribution (duh, you’ve just read it) but never follow blindly the advice or guidance of anyone who isn’t a healthcare professional.
I find Dr Woke Ass Pussy, a clinician on TikTok, really helpful – she posts songs with pelvic floor exercises timed to them and they’re fun and easy.
Now…. CLENCH! 😉
The header image at the top of this blog was taken by Otto Norin, for Unsplash.