3 things you should definitely know about your pelvic floor

By Maya Khamala

There are over 650 muscles in the human body, but none are as apparently enigmatic as the pelvic floor. Most people are unaware that it even exists. Although Kegel exercises aimed at helping women achieve “tighter” vaginas have become all the rage in recent times, there is oh-so-much-more to your pelvic floor than better sex. Not that a healthy sex life isn’t reason enough all on its own (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise)!

Really though, a healthy, toned pelvic floor supports your urethra and bladder, colon, vagina, uterus, cervix, and rectum, and helps stabilize the pelvic bones. Though often overlooked, it is a vital part of your body’s muscular core that starts to lose strength if you don’t give it the attention it deserves. Yet in spite of the fact that the pelvic floor keeps all that is dear to us in life from collapsing, you’ll almost never hear it from your gynecologist because the pelvic floor is scarcely on their radar. Seriously though—who among us wants to end up wearing incontinence pads or needing surgery? 

Here are 3 things you should know about your pelvic floor muscles:

1. They can be too tight 

When I had all the symptoms of recurrent/constant yeast and bladder infections but the doctors couldn’t find any infections—bless their souls—I started to panic, thinking I’d never have sex again. Finally, with the help of a pelvic floor therapist, I discovered that my issue was not so much an infection as a mechanical issue: I had tightened my pelvic floor muscles too much—largely due to stress and anxiety—which was causing my muscles to mimic the symptoms of infection. With the help of a dilator, I am now able to ward off symptoms as needed by stretching and toning my pelvic floor. True story, and apparently a common one.

Anna Kirby, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in female pelvic health, often sees young women suffering from a pelvic floor that is too tight. They’ve either overtrained their muscles (common, since mainstream porn culture is constantly teaching us we need to be “tighter”), or they hold stress there—or both. The issue can also be a result of sexual trauma or abuse. Pelvic muscles that are too tight can cause pelvic or tailbone pain, hip, bowel or bladder problems, or a range of sexual dysfunctions which doctors typically know little or nothing about, often characterizing them broadly as vulvodynia

2. …or too loose 

If your pelvic floor gets too weak to adequately support your pelvic organs, they can shift, bulge, or push outward, leading to less control. In other words, if you sometimes pee a little when you cough, sneeze, or laugh, this is known as stress incontinence, and it’s the result of overextended pelvic floor muscles. If you sometimes poo a little without deciding to, same thing. Since your pelvic floor muscles work in cahoots with your back and abdominal muscles, a loose pelvic floor disrupts this harmony, and can cause severe lower back pain. It can also cause you to have trouble orgasming, or lessen the intensity of your orgasms. What causes pelvic floor weakness? Pregnancy might, as can being overweight, lack of exercise, and aging, straight up. But pelvic floor training can go a long way toward pelvic muscle mobility and stability.

3. Kegels may or may not be part of the solution

The aforementioned Kegel exercise was developed in the 1940s specifically for women coping with stress incontinence or sexual dysfunction post childbirth. It’s that thing where you contract your pelvic floor muscles by squeezing as if you’re trying to stop the flow of pee and then releasing ‘em again. If you’re doing Kegels, it’s a really good idea to review your protocol with a pelvic floor therapist, however, at least once, since many women have trouble figuring out if they’re contracting the right muscles or not, and if you’re taking the time, you wanna be doing it justice! Or you could watch this video for some helpful pointers. Important note, though: if your pelvic floor is too tight, Kegels could be quite counterproductive, and even a bad idea.

Bottom line: there are many places in the world (more notably in Europe), where it’s just as normal and expected to visit a pelvic floor therapist as it is to see a gynecologist. Why? Because if you ain’t convinced of the absolute efficacy of that core group of muscles, you should be, and this is growing knowledge. If you can take control of your muscles—pelvic and otherwise, but especially pelvic—you can pretty much do anything. You heard it here first. 

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