“Do your Kegels so your vagina doesn’t fall out”.
This right here was the exact pelvic floor lesson I received from my mother when I was 12 years old. Ignore the fact that this explanation is an über simplification of prolapse, but it also doesn’t explain anything about what a Kegel is, why we should do it, and how the pelvic floor works.
Odds are, your initial education about the pelvic floor wasn’t much different than mine. Unfortunately, this is quite common. We have reached a point where we openly speak (and learn) about periods and menopause, yet there still exists a lack of conversation and education surrounding pelvic floor health. Everyone has a pelvic floor, and while this area of our bodies does and controls so much, it’s still considered taboo.
Okay, so what is the Pelvic Floor really?
The pelvic floor is the muscular sling that supports the major pelvic organs (including the bladder, bowel, vagina, and uterus) and maintains the everyday functioning of the bladder and bowel. It has two primary functions:
- Sphincter control: Contracting the pelvic floor muscles closes the urinary and anal sphincters, allowing continence to be maintained. Relaxing the pelvic floor muscles opens the urinary and anal sphincters, allowing for voluntary urination and defecation. This function is important for good sexual health.
- Pelvic organ support: The pelvic floor muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues are vital to regulating intra-abdominal pressure and supporting the pelvic organs in the correct positions to prevent prolapse.
Aside from these two functions, the pelvic floor is also there to prevent incontinence and is even important for your sex life since an orgasm is actually a series of muscle contractions. Therefore, the healthier your pelvic floor = the less you pee when sneezing or laughing, and the stronger your orgasms are!
How come we aren’t talking about this?
1 out of every 3 women suffers from a pelvic floor disorder that causes bothersome symptoms, such as prolapse and incontinence. Yet despite this alarming statistic, many avoid or postpone treatment out of embarrassment to open up about their struggles.
Dysfunction of the pelvic floor can be the result of pregnancy, giving birth, aging, and more. Many experience symptoms of discomfort, leaking, or pain and simply accept this as part of the process of becoming a mother or aging and that simply isn’t true. It is extremely important to know that while pelvic floor disorders are common, they are not normal.
Knowing all of this information now, it’s hard to understand why we don’t speak about these issues more frequently and openly. Is this because the muscles overlap with our crotchal region and traditional values have taught us that it’s inappropriate to speak about them? Is it because these disorders are more commonly found in females? Perhaps it’s because this region is commonly associated with postpartum or aging and the conversation doesn’t need to extend beyond these communities? Or is it because as a muscle group, this just isn’t one that we see when we look in the mirror and therefore don’t grasp the importance of it? Chances are, it’s a mix of all of these.
But don’t lose hope just yet! Like menopause and periods, talking about the pelvic floor is becoming slightly more common in the public sphere. Celebrities like Zosia Mamet, Kate Winslet, and Helena Bonham Carter have spoken out about their pelvic floor conditions. These conversations are helping others feel more comfortable approaching the topic and speak to their doctors about treatments.
Start ‘em young
It’s always better to start educating kids on the pelvic floor sooner rather than later. Communicating the importance of this muscle group and how to properly train it could prevent millions from suffering and living in discomfort later in life.
The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said just that actually. They suggest that pelvic floor education be added to classes covering sex and relationships from the ages 12 to 17. Prof Gillian Leng, chief executive of NICE, said: "Improving women's awareness of pelvic floor health and encouraging them to practice pelvic floor muscle exercises throughout their lives is the most effective way to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction”.
If you don’t know, now you know: How to exercise your pelvic floor
One way to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction is to maintain a healthy and strong pelvic floor. Just like any muscle in our body, being strong and firing at the right times in the right way will improve overall function.
However, since we can’t see the pelvic floor, it’s hard to tell if the muscles are getting weaker or “atrophied” (which means they are losing their mass and becoming smaller). Sometimes this happens, and we don’t even have symptoms yet! Some common symptoms of a weak pelvic floor may be leaking urine with coughing or sneezing, or even laughing or exercise. In order to improve bladder control, the pelvic floor muscles need to be strong and coordinated, and that can help maintain overall pelvic health.