There is a lot of information on the Internet about Kegels. Call it the Kegel Kraze, if you will. We’ve even published a guide to Kegel exercises because they are important for overall health and healthy sexual function. Well, they can be. A healthy pelvic floor is essential, but Kegels are not always the way to go.
With so many people suffering from pelvic pain issues, we have to take a closer look at the Kegel phenomenon. Pelvic pain related to muscle spasms, vulvodynia, vaginismus, and endometriosis are extremely common. So many women are faced with these conditions that it's crucial we understand that while Kegels are great for some people, they can be harmful and counterproductive for others.
Here is what you need to know about your pelvic floor and whether or not Kegel exercises are a good option for you. Do not believe the hype—Kegels are not a cure-all for everything and everyone.
First thing's first: What is a pelvic floor?
Even if you’ve been on the Kegel train, you may not know exactly what it is you’re actually strengthening. The Kegels are the pelvic floor, a very important, sling-like muscle group whose main job is to hold in your lower organs.
“The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that are attached to the bottom of the pelvis. It’s primary functions are to stabilize your spine and pelvis, keep your organs inside of you, helps you to poop and pee, carry and birth a baby, and it acts as a blood and lymph fluid pump,” explains Dr. Uchenna "UC" Ossai a pelvic health physical therapist that specializes in chronic pelvic pain, male and female sexual dysfunction, and bowel and bladder disorders. “Your pelvic floor is kind of a superhero.”
It’s important to note that every single human, regardless of sex or gender, has a pelvic floor. So a healthy pelvic floor is important for one and all.
The pelvic floor and sexual function
Ossai says there are multiple muscle groups that play a role in sexual function, but the pelvic floor is often overlooked or forgotten completely. A healthy pelvic floor is essential for pain-free sex, more acute pleasurable feelings, and even stronger orgasms, not to mention, it will save you from the dreaded “sneeze-pee” we can encounter as we age.
“Just like any other muscle, your pelvic floor muscles must be able to contract, relax, and lengthen as needed,” she says. “If your pelvic floor is not able to function at that basic capacity, it can negatively impact your experience and physiological response to sexy time.”
What is with everyone and Kegels these days?
Unless you’ve been living in a cave (or not on the Internet searching sex things), you’ve probably heard about the importance of doing Kegel exercises.
Ossai explains that this newfound wave of Kegel obsession is due to lingering myths about female sexuality, namely that the more sex you have, the “looser” you’ll get. Ossai says that the need for a tight vagina to have great sex “is simply untrue.”
A healthy pelvic floor is great overall for your health and well-being, but it’s not about “tightening your vagina.” It’s about having a healthy body. Nothing will make your vagina looser other than time. Like all muscles, the pelvic floor ages. Kegels can be helpful with combating this the same way bicep curls can help you maintain healthy biceps and crunches with healthy abdominals.
When the Kegels get too strong
“Kegels are a bad idea if you have pelvic or genital pain, pain with sex, difficulty emptying your bladder, constipation, etc. Kegels are also a bad idea if you don’t have a full understanding of your own anatomy,” Ossai says. “People can sometimes make the mistake of engaging the wrong muscles or holding their breath and bearing down to achieve a proper Kegel, which can really cause injury.”
And several tools out there that are marketed toward healthy pelvic muscles could be doing more harm than good. I personally became completely obsessed with a Yoni egg a few years ago (and still am to this day). I didn’t know much about doing Kegels, but I was a huge fan of the Yoni egg because it was so heavy it seemed to do all the work for you. You don’t really have to contract or release with a Yoni, because your Kegels naturally stay firm to keep it in place.
I was using my Yoni every single day...until my Kegels became too tight. It started causing pelvic floor pain and subsequent pain during sex. So, I stopped using it for a while, and my pelvic floor relaxed, and sex stopped being painful. I now use it once a week and have very strong PC muscles, but not too strong.
The pelvic floor is more complicated than you might realize.
Before you run off and start buying into the Kegel hype, get all the information you can.
“Pelvic floor contractions (aka Kegels) are a bit more complicated to perform accurately than people realize. The first step before you train any muscle is to first know where you stand in regards to coordination, strength, endurance, and pain. If you start training your pelvic floor without this knowledge, you can cause more harm than good.” Ossai explains. “The pelvic floor wraps around the anus, penis, vagina, and urethra (in vagina owners); so depending on what your needs are, you might focus on the entire pelvic floor or simply one area. Not to mention the fact that there are other muscles attached to your pelvis! So, if those muscles are weak or hyperactive, that can impact the alignment of your pelvis, thus impacting how your pelvic floor muscles are able to be recruited.”
Does this sound a bit overwhelming? Don’t worry. If you’re worried about whether or not Kegels are a good idea for you (or if you’re wondering how exactly to do them), you can speak to a pelvic floor specialist in your area for assistance. Always seek medical guidance to ensure safety.
Are Kegel balls a good idea or not?
Ossai says that you should be able to strengthen your Kegels without assistance from Kegel balls, but if you decide you’d like to use Kegel balls, they won’t harm you. Be sure you choose a Kegel ball that is made from medical-grade or body safe silicone. (We love Bennies from Unbound.)
Personally, I still love my Yoni egg, but there is some controversy around it because crystal is a bit porous, and therefore can hold more bacteria.
“Let’s put it this way, if you know how to tighten, relax, and lengthen your pelvic floor, you should be fine,” she says. “However, put a time limit to how long you hold it in. If your muscles are on the tighter side, you can wind up straining your pelvic floor muscles or causing a spasm.”
Too long, didn't read? Pay attention to your body. You really CAN make your Kegels too tight, and the idea that “tighter is better” is complete BS. And if you have pain during sex or any other kind of pelvic floor dysfunction: DO NOT DO KEGELS.
These exercises are not a cure for pelvic pain issues and can actually make them worse. “Remember that pelvic floor dysfunction is incredibly common across all genders,” Ossai says. “Get help as soon as you notice symptoms; the sooner you intervene, the better. Seeking help from a pelvic health PT is one of the best and least invasive ways to manage this!”