Your pelvic floor muscles, known anatomically as the pubococcygeal (PC) muscles and colloquially as Kegels, can make a big contribution to overall physical wellness. They are a hammock-like set of muscles that hold in your lower organs, from the uterus to the bowels. The PCs are “very important for our motility, posture, strength, ambulation, and organ protection,” Felice Gersh, M.D., an OB/GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, in California, tells TheBody. Gersh is also the author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.
Having strong PCs can help with everything from avoiding a sneeze ‘n’ pee situation to erectile dysfunction, to stronger orgasms. This set of muscles doesn’t get enough air time—and that needs to change.
Where a lot of people get it wrong is messaging. Strengthening the pelvic floor is often equated with “tightness” for people with vaginas. The idea that a vagina needs to be tightened is a damaging, heteronormative idea that is perpetuated by purity culture. A baby can blast through the cervix and the vaginal canal, and the canal returns to its pre-baby strength on its own. PCs can assist in healing, but the vagina is capable of doing this all on its own. Needless to say, it doesn’t matter how many size-queen-level dildos or penises you shove up there, you will not wind up with a “looser” vagina.
It’s not just people with vulvas who should be aware of the pelvic floor—it’s everyone. In a recent interview with TheBody, Patrick Wenning, M.P.T., CIMT, a physical therapist in the Washington, D.C. metro area, laid out the pelvic floor and what transgender people should know about it. Building on that, we’ve decided to lay out these same facts with more of a focus on how your pelvic floor can impact your sex life.
This is important stuff, regardless of the genitals you own. Additionally, we’ll walk you through a few easy steps on how to properly exercise your pelvic floor.
How Kegels Can Help Improve Sex, No Matter Who You Are
Whether you have a vagina or a penis, you have a pelvic floor. All humans do. Meaning, no matter what sexual organs you have, you should be considering your PCs and doing all you can to maintain their health.
A healthy pelvic floor is key to a good sex life. “Doing Kegels can help increase orgasmic response for anybody, as well as improving posture, increasing circulation of blood flow to the genitals, experiencing a stronger erection—and [it can] even help with orgasm and ejaculation control,” Kristine D’Angelo, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist, tells TheBody.
What’s more, pelvic floor workouts can help to relieve post-surgery and/or chronic pelvic pain. “By strengthening the pelvic floor and reducing or eliminating pelvic pain, sexual function should improve, along with better erections and overall heightened pleasure responses,” Gersh says. It’s important to note that those with chronic pain conditions (and those post-pelvic surgery of any kind) are not advised to engage in pelvic floor exercises without the proper supervision of a qualified pelvic-floor physical therapist.
How to Exercise Your Kegels (the Right Way)
Before you do anything, you should consider your individual circumstances and health. If you’re concerned about whether or not Kegels are a good idea for you, speak to your doctor or a pelvic-floor physical therapist.
To locate the Kegels, try stopping the flow of urine while you’re peeing. The muscles that stop the urine are the Kegels. It’s as easy as that! If you have them, just contract what feels like your vulva/vagina muscles. Squeeze in. You can even insert a finger and contract around it to make sure you’ve got it.
Breathe in and, at the same time, contract. Pull your belly in like you’re pulling it to the tippy top of your beautiful head. Hold for five breaths. Release. Do this about 10 to 20 times a day. Work your way up to 50 reps, twice a day. Do this every single day (or every other day) and your pelvic floor should be in pretty solid shape.
For people with vaginas, Kegel balls can assist by giving your muscles extra weight to pull against, making them work harder. Some are heavy enough that you can just pop them in and forget they’re there. These balls are not a critical part of this work. Some might even argue that Kegel balls have been commercialized to make you buy stuff you don’t need. If you ask me, an expert in the sexual health field, as long as your balls are made from metal or body-safe silicone, you’re probably alright.
Kegels (and Other Strengthening Techniques) Are Not Right for Everyone
While Kegels can have many positive impacts, they aren’t for everyone. “Some people’s pelvic floor is already too tight, so doing Kegels can exacerbate any pre-existing conditions in the pelvic floor,” D’Angelo says. Promoting the idea that all people, everywhere, should be doing Kegels can be a dangerous one. We risk focusing too much on the positives and forget that strengthening exercises like Kegels aren’t universally positive. Some people with certain medical conditions like endometriosis and vaginismus can do more harm than good if they go squeezing away down there.
“Most people can benefit from properly performed Kegels, but if done improperly, exacerbation of pelvic pain can occur,” Gersh tells us. “Muscle spasms are known to occur when Kegels are done improperly, stressing the surrounding tissues.”
As we mentioned above, be sure to speak to a doctor before going buck wild with Kegels. If you’ve given them a try and have been experiencing pain during sex, stop what you’re doing and see your doctor—even a virtual visit can give you insight into what you may be doing incorrectly.