We know staying healthy entails eating right, exercising regularly, and staying calm with meditation, prayer, counseling, etc. Everyone knows that refrain, and some actually practice it!
But, as women, we have different health concerns than men. Physically, we are different. For starters, men don’t have to deal with mammograms, having a period, or childbirth. Or what happens physically after childbirth. If you have kids, you know what I’m about to say. If you don’t have kids, I’m sure you’ve still heard of them—Kegels. That mystical exercise that claims to strengthen your southern area. But what is that “area” you’re supposedly strengthening? The pelvic floor muscles.
What Are Your Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Pelvic floor muscles are skeletal muscles—like our triceps and biceps that get a daily work out and some trips to the gym. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore these “southern” muscles. According to Mayo Clinic, your pelvic floor muscles “work like a hammock to support the pelvic organs.”
Men have pelvic floor muscles too, which hold their bladder and bowel, but women’s pelvic floor muscles carry more—bladder, bowel and uterus.So basically, this hammock-like muscle is at the bottom of your pelvis, holding all of your pelvic organs and keeping them where they are supposed to be. If you’ve ever sat on a hammock, it is comfortable and strong—it holds you up and balances you.
Our pelvic floor muscles not only give us support, but they give us control. When they are contracted, they keep the openings to the bladder (the urethra) and the bowel (the rectum), tight and closed, or open. This gives us conscious control over our bladder and bowel movements. So, we choose when we want to hold something in, and when to let it out.
Glamorous? Maybe not. Necessary? Absolutely! But your pelvic floor muscles aren’t just for your trips to the bathroom, they’re also for your trips to the bedroom. Your pelvic floor muscles are closely connected with your vagina, clitoral complex, and all the parts that contribute to female sexual function. The squeezing of your pelvic floor muscles during sex leads to sexual sensation. (See, science really is sexy).
Why it Matters
The everyday impact of life—walking, running, jumping, snowboarding, skiing, standing, sitting, (yes, even sitting)—affects our pelvic floor muscles. Imagine how much more, then, a profound event, like pregnancy and childbirth, affects the female body. Overtime, our muscles weaken. This sometimes results in a set of conditions known as Pelvic Floor Disorder (PFD).
“It has been said that 50 percent of women will experience PFD of some kind during their lifetime, but it is difficult to generalize into this number given the different conditions that exist and the fact that it is likely underreported,” Dr. Jaclyn Bonder, medical director of women’s health rehabilitation at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told BRIDES.
So think of that lovely hammock you’ve laid in. After years of lying on it, the once-sturdy fabric gets threadbare and the lining has holes. It begins sagging lower to the ground when you lay on it. Pelvic floor muscles are much like that hammock; if you don’t keep the fibers strong so they can support you—with intentional not passive exercise—it can lead to issues such as pelvic organ prolapse, sexual dysfunction, and fecal or urinary incontinence.
You don’t have to be pregnant to start working on your pelvic floor—any woman can! There are many videos and resources out there about pelvic floor exercises, and treatments for pelvic floor issues. However, before you jump into a strengthening regimen, you should first be able to find your pelvic floor muscles.