Dear Sexpert,

I’ve been hearing some of my friends talk about doing Kegel exercises, but I’m not exactly sure what they are talking about. What is a Kegel? And how do I do one?

--Kegel Kurious

Dear Kegel Kurious,

Information on Kegels have seemed to pop up on everyone’s newsfeeds recently, so you’re definitely not alone in wanting to know more about them! Kegel exercises, also referred to as pelvic floor exercises, are used primarily to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvis is the region between your hips that holds your reproductive organs. The pelvic floor muscles ensure that the bladder and bowel functions are supported and maintained. However, they can be weakened from a variety of things, such as pregnancy, childbirth, aging, or being overweight.

To identify the right muscle group, try the following tips. For people with a vulva, try to stop your urine mid-flow. The muscles you use for this action are your pelvic floor muscles. People with a penis can identify the muscles by sticking a clean finger into the rectum and squeezing it. You can also tense the muscles that prevent you from passing gas. Try not to squeeze any muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, or thighs.

It is important to keep these muscles strong to help prevent urinary and fecal incontinence or loss of bladder and fecal control. Most people can benefit from doing Kegels, but women may find these exercises especially helpful in preventing urinary incontinence during pregnancy and childbirth. According to the American College of Physicians, urinary incontinence is underreported but affects around 25 percent of women ages 14-21. It is characterized by needing to urinate often (eight or more times during the day and additional times at night), or urine leakage when sneezing, coughing, laughing, experiencing an orgasm, or even exercising. As an added bonus, doing Kegels have also been linked to enhanced sexual pleasure and a decrease in pelvic pain during sex.

To strengthen these muscles, you can try Kegels! Kegel exercises are small, short movements in the target muscle group. They are simple and can be done at almost anytime, anywhere — sitting down during the day or even walking around from class to class, although it might be easiest to start by lying down to get used to the movement.

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Always perform with an empty bladder. Using Kegels to start and stop your urine midstream can lead to urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Start small! Your first goal should be to tighten the muscles for five seconds. Then relax them for five seconds. On the first day, aim for five reps. Work up to contracting the muscles for ten seconds, and then relaxing for ten seconds. Repeat three times a day! It seems small, but if you are not used to using these muscles, you should ease into it, like with any exercise routine!
  • Be sure to breathe calmly during the exercises, and be careful to not flex the muscles in the abdomen, thighs, or buttocks.

If at any point during the exercise your abdomen or pelvis hurts, stop! Your form might be incorrect or you might be working the muscles too hard.

Similar to most exercises, the most important thing about Kegels is quality, not quantity. They might feel foreign at first, but it’s important to stay dedicated to the proper form. In a few weeks or months, you should see improvements in your bladder and/or bowel control. There are also toys such as ben wa balls, dilators, and more that have been designed to assist with practicing Kegels and can be useful for when and if you feel ready to add more of a challenge.

If you have questions about whether Kegels are right for you or are experiencing regular urine or bowel incontinence, consult with your primary care provider or a healthcare provider at Sexual Health and Wellness (SHAW) at McCosh Health Center by calling 609-258-3141.

~The Sexpert

Information regarding Kegels, Kegel Exercises, and their benefit were retrieved from The American College of Physicians, Go Ask Alice, The Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, and The National Association of Continence.

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