Plus what you can do if you have a weak pelvic floor.
This was originally posted on The Huffington Post Australia, and is chock full of great info.
It has to be said, Sex And The City taught us a decent amount about the intimate lives of women. Without it how would be know about ugly sex, teeth placement and Kegel exercises? (We’ll leave you to Google the first two.)
Kegel exercises, AKA strengthening the pelvic floor, is something Samantha kindly educated Charlotte on. But what exactly is it? And is it important?
“The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles which rest at the base of the pelvis,” Kathryn Warr, Principal Physiotherapist and Founder of IvoryRose Physiotherapy for Her told The Huffington Post Australia.
“These muscles stretch like a bit of a trampoline, running from the pubic bone to the tailbone and are made up of two distinct layers — a superficial layer and a deep layer.”
Cool, a mini trampoline somewhere near the vagina. And it’s there to make sex feel good, right? Not quite.
“There are multiple purposes of the pelvic floor muscles as a unit, such as lower back support, sexual function, bladder and bowel control and pelvic organ support. Basically, if we didn’t have these muscles at the base of our pelvis, all of our pelvic organs would fall out,” Warr said.
So it’s not just about sex, though it’s important to understand its purpose during the act as it can increase sensation.
“It is time to drop the taboo culture and start talking. There is a sense of normalizing the whole thing which I understand can make people feel better. However, just because something is common does not make it normal. Confidence is empowering, it is hard to be confident when you are wetting your pants!”
“Sexual response is incredibly multifactorial however, one component can be the influence of the pelvic floor,” Warr said.
“It has been suggested that learning to squeeze the pelvic floor during sex may contribute to sensation. If you think about it, the more ‘in touch’ you can get with these muscles, i.e. how they work, how to squeeze them and how to relax them, the more sensation you may be able to experience. I’ve had some women tell me that after paying more attention to the control and coordination of their pelvic floor muscles, they have found new heights to their sensation and awareness during sex.”
Sex aside, it’s a fact of life that a woman will likely experience a weakened pelvic floor later in life, particularly if she’s a mum.
“Females can experience pelvic floor weakness for a number of reasons, such as things like trauma during childbirth where the pelvic floor muscles may be torn or injured. If this was to happen it normally takes place during the second stage of labour when mum is pushing and is much more common with assisted deliveries where things like forceps are used. With that said, even just carrying a pregnancy can weaken these muscles so it is not all about the birth as such,” Warr said.
“Also, it’s really important to understand that it is not just women who are having babies that are at risk. Other things such as constipation, years of straining on the loo, and poor technique during heavy weight lifting can also lead to pelvic floor weakness. This is because there can be a great deal of pressure inside the abdomen during these activities which can lead to weakening of the muscles over time.”
Warr emphasis that it’s important to get confirmation if you think you may have a weak pelvic floor.
“I say this because there are a number of women that we see whom are convinced they have weakness, when in fact their muscles are actually too tight (leading to shortening of the fibers). If any muscle in the body is too tight and unable to lengthen, we know that this can effectively render that muscle useless. In the case of pelvic floor, these women can have symptoms of ‘weakness’ such as leaking and can also experience pain with things like sex,” Warr said.
“Here is where I would say that a physiotherapist who has a special interest and experience in this area is invaluable. They will be able to assess the muscles properly and guide the woman through a strength and coordination program. If required, women can also be shown how to use of things like vaginal weights and other pelvic floor specific feedback tools. These tools are great to help to monitor their progress.”
Research shows there are a number of women out there trying to do their pelvic floor exercises by reading a pamphlet.
“As you can imagine, this has limited feedback. As a result, unfortunately many are getting the technique completely wrong. Understanding your anatomy and getting feedback is key,” Warr said.
Signs that you may have a weak pelvic floor (or in fact, the muscles may be too tight) include bladder control issues, accidentally passing wind, pain in the pelvis and painful sex.
“This topic has been viewed as taboo for many decades despite women all around the world experiencing a variety of pelvic floor symptoms. Whether that is the woman who runs to the bathroom in the middle of a gym class versus the other end of the spectrum, the woman who is biting the pillow during sex because she is in so much pain,” Warr said.
“It is time to drop the taboo culture and start talking. I see these ‘band aid’ products such as advertisements for pads, guiding a thought process of “OK this is now my lot in life”, and we can become impartial to it. There is a sense of normalizing the whole thing which I understand can make people feel better. However, just because something is common does not make it normal. Nor is it something that can’t be helped. Confidence is empowering, it is hard to be confident when you are wetting your pants!”
Hear hear! The take home advice? Do something now! Go see your doctor, seek out a specialist, or simply try some at-home Kegel training routines.