What are Kegel exercises and what sexual health benefits might they have?
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support pelvic organs including the bladder, vagina, and rectum and play a significant role in the functioning of these organs.
Pelvic floor muscles can weaken for a variety of reasons:
- Prostate or gynecologic surgery
- Weight gain
- Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes
- Overactive bladder
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
People with weakened pelvic floor muscles may have trouble with incontinence (leaking urine or fecal matter) and sexual function. Kegel exercises are an easy way to tone these muscles and keep them strong.
Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles helps urine stay in the bladder, which may ease incontinence symptoms. Both men and women can benefit from Kegel exercises.
Kegel exercises can have sexual benefits as well. Some men find that their erectile function improves after doing Kegel exercises for some time, as strengthening can improve erections. They may have more intense orgasms. Relaxation may improve control for premature ejaculation, too.
For women, Kegel exercises help relax the vagina, making penetration more comfortable. They might also improve vaginal lubrication, allow more blood to flow into the genitals, increase sexual arousal, and make it easier to reach orgasm.
Kegel exercises are easy to do. The first step is finding the correct muscles. This can be done while urinating:
- Temporarily stop the flow of urine.
- Notice which muscles are tightened. Women should feel this in the vagina; men in the anus.
- Be sure to not tighten muscles in the abdomen, chest, thighs, and buttocks.
Another way to locate the muscles is to place a finger in vagina (or rectum for males) and pretend like you are trying not to pass gas. You will feel pelvic floor muscles tightening around your finger. These are the correct muscles.
From there, Kegel exercises are fairly straightforward:
- Contract or “squeeze” the pelvic floor muscles for 10 seconds.
- Release and relax the muscles for 10 seconds.
- Repeat at least 5 to 10 times, three times a day.
During Kegel exercises, breathe as you normally do. Don’t hold your breath. Take care not to contract the muscles in the stomach, abdomen, thighs, or buttocks.
Some people find it helpful to “schedule” their Kegel exercises when they do a routine activity, like brushing their teeth in the morning or watching TV at night. In this way, the exercises become a habit.
If you have questions about Kegel exercises – especially if you are unsure about finding your pelvic floor muscles – ask your health care professional or pelvic floor therapist to help with locating them.