Everyone likes nicely defined muscles, the kind that hint at strength and endurance and a healthy lifestyle. Some of us even work hard to build them. But what if I told you that exercising a certain set of muscles could not only help with the kind of bladder control that eludes many of us older women, but also lead to stronger orgasms and better sex in general? And that those exercises were fairly effortless and could be done anywhere?
You’ve probably already guessed that I’m referring to Kegels.
We’ve talked about these helpful pelvic floor exercises before:
- Why do them. Strong, toned pelvic floor muscles are tremendously helpful in maintaining bladder control—a particular problem for older women—and in avoiding organ prolapse. Toned pelvic floor muscles also create a firm “vaginal embrace” during sex and can enhance your own orgasm.
- How to do them. First, identify your pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. If you’re still not sure where they are, insert a couple fingers in your vagina and tighten so that you feel the vaginal walls constrict. Now, contract and hold for five seconds; release for five seconds. Repeat ten times. Gradually increase until you can contract ten times for ten seconds. Do these three times a day.
- How not to do them: You are not tightening your belly, thigh, or butt muscles. Every other muscle should be soft. Do not hold your breath.
Let me just say that however you do Kegels (as long as you’re exercising the right muscles) is just fine. Sit, stand, lie. Make dinner or watch TV. Drive. Got the picture? Kegels are invisible to everyone but you. That’s the beauty of it. However, as with any exercise, Kegels aren’t a magic pill or quick fix. You may not notice improvement for weeks. The important thing is just do it! Regularly.
Let me also say that some women find using Kegel weights (also called yoni balls, ben-wa balls, vaginal cones) helpful in identifying and isolating their pelvic floor muscles. Weights may also help develop those muscles more intensively—like using weights to build your biceps.
With a dearth of solid research on the topic, you will find wild, and wildly diverse, opinions about using vaginal weights. The Kegel Queen swears that doing Kegels can cure everything from organ prolapse to bad sex. She would never consider using vaginal weights to augment them. On the other hand, Kim Anami, the Kung Fu Queen of vaginal weightlifting, says that most women aren’t helped by Kegels because they don’t do them properly. She, however, will teach you to move furniture, shoot ping pong balls, and lift weights with your vagina. Or control your partner’s ejaculation. This might terrify most men. Or not.
I’m thinking that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
While they’re not for every woman, vaginal weights add a level of gravitas to your commitment to Kegel. They come in a rainbow of sizes, shapes, and materials, from jade to silicone, balls to barbells. We’ve culled the selection to a manageable assortment in our shop. You can choose from a simple, inexpensive “starter” kit with two silicone balls to a programmable Elvie trainer that syncs with a phone or tablet app to customize your Kegel workout and give you biofeedback to make sure you’re doing them correctly. Then there are the classic Luna Beads, which are beautifully designed and easy to use.
To use Kegel balls:
- Start with the lightest weight. Lubricate it well. (Don’t use a silicone lube with silicone balls.) Insert one just beyond your pelvic floor muscles, as you would a tampon.
- While sitting, perform ten sets of Kegels—contracting, holding, and relaxing for five seconds each.
- The next level is to practice standing with the weights in place. You have to maintain the contraction to keep them from falling out. Try to extend the length of time you can hold the balls.
- If you’ve mastered standing, you can try holding the Kegel balls while squatting and then while walking around doing normal tasks. This level may be beyond most of us estrogen-depleted, “mature” gals.
- Wash with soap and warm water. Dry and put away.
Kegels of any sort, weighted or not, are an important part of your downtown health regimen. They can help with bladder and bowel control; they can help keep your organs where they belong. Kegels improve muscle tone and blood flow to the pelvic floor, which makes sex more pleasurable for you and your partner. And if you decide to practice a little vaginal weightlifting, you can go here for inspiration.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.