If the first time you heard about Kegels wasn’t in the episode of Sex and the City when Samantha reads about vaginal weights in a magazine (from which comes one of the best lines in Samantha history: “Honey, my vagina ‘weights’ for no man!”), you probably don’t have a solid foundation of what it is and why the heck women put little balls inside them for fun.
Although it seems weird, kegels are a great tool to help your pelvic floor health as well as improve your sexual wellness and libido. But who exactly are they for? And why are they effective? We spoke with Dr. Rachel Gelman, a pelvic floor specialist in San Francisco, to get the scoop on if Kegels are actually worth it (and what they are!).
So, what are they?
According to Dr. Gelman, Kegels are an exercise in which you contract and release the pelvic floor muscles. “The pelvic floor is a muscular bowl in the pelvis which supports the pelvic organs (bladder, colon, uterus or prostate),” Dr. Gelman said. Just like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be strengthened through exercise.
What are the benefits of Kegels?
On the contrary to what most people think, Kegels aren’t only for sex. Dr. Gelman explained that Kegels are typically prescribed to people with incontinence; however, there’s a laundry list of various benefits of doing kegel exercises. Kegels help you relax and contract your pelvic floor muscles, improve the blood circulation to your vagina (helping with arousal), and can improve sexual appreciation (because you have more control over those muscles).
How do you identify your kegel muscles?
Dr. Gelman believes that many women aren’t able to do Kegels correctly just by hearing the instructions. Therefore, she states that anyone who has signs and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction with incontinence or weakened pelvic floor muscles should consult a physical therapist to come up with a treatment plan. “Many people, including those with incontinence, actually present with overactive pelvic floor muscles and need to work on relaxing the muscles versus strengthening them. If the muscles are in a guarded or hypertonic state, they are already at their end range of motion and won’t be able to contract further when they need to, such as when a person needs to stop urine from coming out,” Gelman said.
If you want to try kegel exercises at home before getting in touch with a physical therapist, the easiest way to do so is by contracting your pelvic muscles and releasing them back. It’s the same motion as when you hold a stream of urine; however, don’t try it while you’re actually trying to pee because it can disrupt the pathway between the brain and bladder, leading to people struggling to start and stop urination. Kegels can be done basically anywhere — try them right now!
Pay attention to the muscles you’re using to contract. Don’t use your abdomen, buttock, or leg muscles to help you contract your pelvic floor — that won’t help you activate the right muscles.
If you notice that you’re not getting the results you want or want a more in-depth discussion about your pelvic floor (especially if you’ve recently had a baby!), book an appointment with your PT.
Who should be doing kegels?
Anyone can do kegel exercises to boost their sexual and reproductive health and wellness; however, if you suffer from incontinence or have pelvic pain or any other signs of dysfunction, you should see a doctor about a treatment plan that might include kegel exercises. Dr. Gelman said that meeting with a doctor is the best way to approach treatment because “some people may need to work on strength while others may need to work on endurance and others may need to work on coordination of the muscles, which would require different types of kegels.”
Bottom line? “See a specialist to determine if kegels are appropriate and to see what types one should be doing,” Dr. Gelman said.