Believe it or not, you can exercise your way to a better sex life. There’s no equipment required, and you can do it pretty much anywhere — yes, even in the middle of a boring Zoom meeting. You’ve likely heard that pelvic floor muscle exercises, more commonly known as kegels, are something women do to keep things tight down there, especially after giving birth. But there’s so much more to it than that. Whether you’re having trouble orgasming or your libido is lower than you’d ideally like it to be, the sexual benefits of kegel exercises are worth giving this simple workout a try.
So what are kegels, exactly? According to Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in female sexual function, kegels are an isolated contraction of your pelvic floor muscles. This muscle group forms a hammock at the base of your pelvic organs and does a number of vital things — supports posture, prevents urine leakage, and, delightfully, assists in “optimizing” your orgasms.
While anyone can do them, not everyone should. As Jeffcoat says, “Kegel exercises are unfortunately over-prescribed as a miracle solution for anything in the pelvic floor: poor orgasms, urinary incontinence, and even painful intercourse.” But if you have any sort of pelvic floor dysfunction, like vaginismus or prolapse, kegels can sometimes make things worse.
Plus, according to Angela Fishman, a licensed P.T. who specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy, not everyone who has trouble achieving orgasm has weak pelvic floor muscles, as is commonly believed. “Be sure to seek guidance from a healthcare practitioner who specializes in this area to learn which exercises are best suited for your own situation,” she says. If there are no underlying conditions, kegels could work for you.
How To Do Kegel Exercises
Doing kegel exercises is surprisingly easy, but the movements may take some time to get used to. According to Jeffcoat, nearly half of women do it incorrectly, which won’t lead to desired results and may make pelvic functioning worse.
In her practice, Jeffcoat typically starts by telling patients to gently “close the openings.” For women, this means closing the anus, vagina, and urethra. Then, pretend that you’re picking up a blueberry with your vagina.
“Don’t squeeze it too hard as we don’t want to squish it,” she says. “There shouldn’t be any squeezing of the inner thighs or gluteal muscles, and the lower abs should also draw slightly inward. If you’re pressing them out, you are not performing a proper kegel exercise.”
To make it even simpler, Carol Queen, Ph.D. and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, suggests pretending that you’re stopping a stream of urine mid-flow. Contract the muscles, hold for a count of five, and then relax. “Any muscle exercise must have two parts: tensing and relaxing,” Queen says. “It can help to add regular breathing to this, because that can definitely help the relaxation part of the cycle.”
Take your time with these. To start, aim for 10 reps, twice a day, says Fishman. Over time, you can increase the length of time you’re holding it in from a count of five to 10. Like any exercise, it’s important to be patient. It may take four to six weeks before you see any big changes in pelvic floor muscle strength and sexual function.
The Sexual Benefits Of Kegel Exercises
If you make an effort to consistently work on your kegels, your pelvic floor muscles will see increased strength, which can lead to improved sexual function and satisfaction. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that kegel exercises improved arousal, orgasm, and sexual satisfaction in 145 postmenopausal women.
Exercise in general gets your blood pumping. Kegels increase blood flow to the muscles, which is important for arousal and sensation. Since the pelvic floor muscles surround the vagina, clitoris, and anus, you may find these areas more sensitive or responsive while you’re aroused.
As Dr. Karyn Eilber, MD, a urologist at Cedars-Sinai who specializes in Female Pelvic Medicine tells Bustle, an orgasm involves rhythmic contractions of the vagina and pelvic floor. When pelvic floor muscles are weak, the contracting and relaxing of the muscles won’t have as much sensation. Thus, the orgasm won’t be as intense. Strengthening the pelvic floor can help with this. “When a woman has better orgasms, her libido will increase because who wouldn't want more sex if it keeps getting better?” Eilber says.
Having control over your pelvic floor muscles is another benefit of doing kegels. According to Dr. Rachel Gelman, PT, DPT, pelvic floor health specialist for INTIMINA, people often focus on the contraction aspect but forget the importance of relaxing the muscle. Both are important for sexual appreciation, she says. When you have control over your muscle movement, you can playfully tease your partner with a little squeeze.
It’s important to note that kegel exercises aren’t a solution for everything. According to Gelman, many factors can contribute to someone’s ability to orgasm, including one’s mindset, blood supply, and hormone functioning, to name a few. If someone is experiencing any kind of sexual dysfunction, they should consider consulting a clinician that specializes in sexual health to ensure that nothing else is going on. Otherwise, kegels are an easy-to-do exercise that are worth a try.
Nazarpour, S., Simbar, M., Tehrani, F.R. & Majd, H.A. (2017) Effects of Sex Education and Kegel Exercises on the Sexual Function of Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Sexual Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28601506/
Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy, President-Elect of the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy
Angela Fishman, a licensed physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy
Carol Queen, PhD, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Dr. Karyn Eilber, MD, a urologist at Cedars-Sinai who specializes in Female Pelvic Medicine