Once you learn about your pelvic floor, you’ll think it’s pretty cool.
During my early 20s, I struggled with some sexual and intimate health problems. It was quite isolating as it’s not the type of subject we tend to discuss openly. It was extremely confusing since I never really got much women’s intimate or sexual health education, so it was difficult to figure out what the right decisions were and how to advocate for myself. And just googling random symptoms can be so scary and unhelpful!
Maybe you can relate to this, or maybe in your case you experienced pain during sexual intercourse and you felt that you could neither talk about it with your circle nor find a solution through within the regular healthcare circuit. Maybe you are a mom and you experience the huge transformation that your body goes through w pregnancy, and felt like “Nobody told me this was going to be this way.” The truth is that intimate and pelvic health problems that impact your sex life are more common than we think! This is why it’s important to understand the basics and learn about red flags and what to do.
The pelvic what? I'm floored.
Women* go through many changes that have an impact on our bodies, specifically the pelvic area. Whether you are in your late puberty, pregnant, postpartum, or in the years leading up to menopause, it’s important to understand your pelvic area, know the symptoms and build good habits - your sexual experience will improve too ;)
The pelvic floor area is a group of muscles - and tissues and fascia - shaped like a hammock based in the lower part of your core that is used to help facilitate and support certain bodily functions.
There are four main functions of the pelvic floor area.
Support: The pelvic floor area supports and holds the bladder, uterus, and intestines in place within the pelvis.
Buffer: Your pelvic floor works to lessen the pressure from the abdomen from coughs, sneezes, jumping, and the weight of pregnancy.
Closing & opening: This function works to prevent bladder leakage (and others leaks! ha!), and also to prevent constipation - Myth Buster here: Constipation is only related to nutritional choices - Wrong!
Sexual activity: This function helps to relax bodily openings to help facilitate entrance and exit to the vagina and anus. This affects orgasm and sensations during sexual intercourse - whoop, whoop!
By the way, the pelvic floor area encompasses your core muscles, too. They work together to help with these main functions.
Let's talk about red flags.
The pelvic floor is damaged when it receives excessive pressure, stress or injuries. The following factors may lead to dysfunction, and it’s good to keep them in mind to either avoid them or to have a specific routine that will prevent any problems and counter the effect of these accelerators.
Regularly taking part in high impact sports like running for a prolonged period of time. Of course, running is a great physical activity, but we recommend to have a pelvic floor toning routine as a compliment!
Chronic constipation that strains the abdominal area to push downward.
Perineal tearing or debilitation during childbirth.
Chronic coughing or sneezing.
Bad Posture! Body posture greatly affects the health of the pelvic area. For example, the tendency to hunch your back makes the chest sink and the ribs sink causing the pelvic area sphere to take on the excess pressure.
Those are the basics, but there are many other factors that may cause also strain in your pelvic area, from sexual and/or emotional trauma to frequent infections or urogynecological diseases.
"I just want to strengthen my pelvic floor. But...how?"
If you have any symptoms like occasional incontinence, discomfort during sex, or pain in the pelvic area, to name a few, please go see a specialist and tell them that something is off. Advocate to get an extensive check up and ask to be referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist. tabú also has a great article about pelvic floor pain and dysfunction to help guide your conversation.
Also, there are plenty of exercises that will help restore a healthy core and pelvic floor. There are breath and lengthening exercises, hypopressives, but the most popular ones are Kegel exercises. There are many types of Kegels, and the posture/position in which you perform Kegels as well as the associated intervals/contractions influence which specific areas you are stimulating. Kegels also help gain more awareness about your body (win!) and can enhance sexual pleasure by improving the tone of pelvic floor contractions during orgasms; they can even favor female ejaculation (yass)! However, it should be noted that kegels are not the right exercise for everyone who experiences pelvic pain.
I’ll leave you here with a simple exercise to identify your pelvic floor taken from our B-wom program:
For this exercise you will be putting your hand back on the vulva. Once there, use the contraction that you use when you want to stop the flow of urine while using the bathroom. Those are the pelvic floor muscles! Note how it contracts and relaxes.
For more helpful exercises like this, check out B-wom!
* reference to cisgender women. Pelvic floor knowledge is important for everyone!
Illustrations by Marcy Gooberman
Estrella Jaramillo Ríos is the Co-founder of B-wom, the app for women’s health. She is a passionate advocate for gender equality, relentless self-developer, and ever-searching soul.