My last two periods have been 21 days apart. 21 very short days followed by full-length periods. Oh the Humanity! I’m pretty upset about it, but there ain’t one thing I can do. It seems my dial is set on two speeds: raging fury and raging horny.
Who knew that I was having it so good at 21 days? I’ve just started my period, AGAIN, 17 days after the last one started (you know you are supposed to count from start to start, right?). 17 DAYS!!!! And it isn’t spotting, either. I’ve got an appointment with the gyn next week to discuss options, because a period every 2-3 weeks just isn’t an option!
Anyway, today’s post is not about short periods, raging hormones, raging temper, or raging anthing. It is about Kegels. Finally.
Ladies, you gotta do ’em.
The first time I wet my pants was right after my son was born. Ten pounds of babyflesh passing through my tiny little woman parts left me joyful, ecstatic and incontinent of urine. Fortunately, I was young and I did heal and continence returned except under certain conditions: abrupt and sudden sneezing, coughing or laughing and jumping on a trampoline. I was mostly happy with these limitations. I laugh all the time so my bladder learned to stay mostly continent and the trampoline thing is usually pretty controllable too. But this last year has proven a challenge.
When you start peeing on yourself regularly, this isn’t good. And it isn’t groovy. No pair of jeans looks good on a butt wearing a big old bulky pair of Depends® underneath. So imagine my distress when I started to have some concerning problems with this in early Spring of this year.
Urinary incontinence is distressing. Philosophically, we all know that birth is the first step towards death, but there is nothing philosophical about urinary incontinence. It just bites. And tons of us ladies have it. Between the pads, the Depends, and the surgical remedies, female urinary incontinence is a billion dollar industry in the US. It is also very inconvenient as women with this problem start to orbit their lives around this embarrassing issue.
There are actually several different types of urinary incontinence. Here’s a good article that your tax dollars have paid for: http://www.womenshealth.gov/FAQ/urinary-incontinence.cfm
The two primary types of incontinence that I’m talking about today are:
1. Stress incontinence — leakage happens with coughing, sneezing, exercising, laughing, lifting heavy things, and other movements that put pressure on thebladder. It is the most common type of incontinence. It can be treated and
2. Urge incontinence — this is sometimes called “overactive bladder.” Leakage usually happens after a strong, sudden urge to urinate. The sudden urge may occur when you don’t expect it, such as during sleep, after drinking water, or when you hear running water or touch it.
or, I guess if you are really unlucky, you get some combination of both:
3. Mixed incontinence — two or more types of incontinence together, most often stress and urge incontinence.
I was suffering from stress incontinence, but could feel the cold hand of urgency incontinence pressing down on my bladder. This really was bothering me and I was starting to seriously consider surgery.
Fortunately, our trip to Rome intervened.
Rome is a magnificent city. The Italians really know how to live. Everything is better there, the food, the view, the architecture, everything. Everything, except the bathrooms. First of all, they don’t have free public restrooms like the US. And what restrooms they have are not easily located. Buildings are old in Rome and modern bathrooms are an afterthought. So, apparently, are toilet seats, but that’s a separate problem. First you have to find the bathroom before you can decide if you can afford the luxury of turning your nose up at it.
Our daily walking tours of Rome began centered around my access to a bathroom. Once I would locate a relatively clean and free one, I would try to keep myself oriented towards the location of that bathroom like a compass needle pointing north. This didn’t always work very well considering we were walking 5-10 miles a day and got lost several times. I did two things to cope. One good and one bad. The bad thing was I didn’t drink as much water as a person hiking that much in 80 degree weather ought to drink and I was very fortunate indeed that I didn’t pay the ultimate price of getting a urinary tract infection abroad. But the good thing I started doing was kegeling.
Due to necessity and vanity (who wants to walk around Europe peeing their pants or wearing depends?), I started being forced to do daylong kegeling while we were traipsing around Rome. And guess what? I started to see an improvement. After a week of walking 5+ miles everyday and kegeling to beat the band, my incontinence began to diminish. A lot. By the end of the week, I wasn’t having any leaking, I was able to hold it a lot longer, AND I started to notice a couple of other side benefits. I’ll talk about some of those benefits at the end so that anyone who wants to just get the information about kegeling and wants to skip the sex talk can do so easily.
Not all kegels are equal. Done incorrectly, you can actually make your incontinence worse. We don’t want that! The first step is isolating the muscle and then doing the correct exercise to get the best overall effects. I have read that nearly a third of women start kegeling with the wrong muscles, so do not skip this step no matter how shy, modest or squeamish you think you are. Peeing on yourself won’t help you maintain your modesty anyway, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The first way to find the right muscle is to try to stop the flow of urine when you are peeing. This isn’t a healthy thing to do all the time, but it is a good way to isolate the muscle and then test yourself every few weeks over the coming months to see your improvement. The best way is to put your finger in your vagina and squeeze your finger. Try to keep all your other muscles relaxed. Do not bear down and do not squeeze your thighs. Focus on squeezing your finger.
Once you have located the muscle you should be able to do kegel exercise discreetly anywhere, anytime without taking your clothes off or touching youself. But you should recheck yourself every so often to see your progress and make sure you are still using the correct muscle.
Now that you’ve found your perineal muscle how should you strengthen it?
After doing some research and some personal experiments, I’ve found the best way is to imagine the muscle like an elevator. I call the position of the perineal muscle when it is totally relaxed the “Ground Floor”; squeezed all the way up until the entire muscle is contracted is called the “Penthouse”. Initially, the movement for me was far more like a spasmodic fluttering than a controlled, sustained, upward movement, but with practice this muscle, like any other, will get stronger and stronger and you will be able to contract it firmer and firmer with intention and control.
In either a sitting or lying down position. Start at the Ground Floor and imagine the muscle pulling a little elevator car up to the Penthouse. Start squeezing slowly until you’ve reached the Penthouse and then hold it there. When I started, I could barely hold it for a count of 1 or 2. Now I usually raise the elevator (slowly, and with control, contract the muscle as opposed to just spasming it quickly) for a count of 8 and then hold it at the Penthouse for another count of 8. ETA: Do not just “let go” at this point, but try to slowly bring the elevator back down to ground floor over another 8 counts. This takes time and practice to do well. But the slower you do the exercise and the more control you exert the stronger the muscle will get. I try do 3 sets of 10 two or three times a day. As I said, I had to work up to this over several weeks before I could do it well with control.
To make this a habit I put triggers in my day. One of my favorites was during a recent trip I made with some girlfriends. Anytime the topic of sex came up we’d declare “KEGEL TIME!” And all of us would do 10 (well, I did mine and they said they did theirs.) One of the benefits of Kegel Time is that it can help bring about thoughts of sex, but more on that later.
There are some products on the market called “kegel exercisers”. I think the main benefit of them is that they are reminders for you to do kegels. The main drawback is that most of them, with the exception of Ben Wa Balls, are bulky and not discreet in any sense of the word. As part of my research for this blog, I bought The KegelMaster 2000 http://www.kegelmaster2000.com/ (I paid much less by buying it from a different website. I’ll be happy to supply the website to anyone who asks me privately.)
Hey, Teri Hatch uses it so it’s got to be good, right? Well, it does work; I’ll give it that. Here’s the quick action video that shows how it works: http://www.kegelmaster2000.com/flex.htm
The KegelMaster is a 8.5 inch (don’t get scared yet) lavender, dildo-shaped compression device that works on the principle of progressive resistance. The device comes with 4 removable compression springs that you adjust to your exercise level. You start with the lowest amount of resistance it takes to cause the device to open and close.
You only insert about 4 inches of the device into you. Right away do you see a problem? This is hardly something you can insert and walk around the house and vacuum while doing. I’m not sure when the average woman would have time to pull this hefty baby out and use it “discreetly” and clean it and herself up and put it away (it does come with a lovely royal blue satin carrying pouch), and remake up the bed. I don’t know about you, but the most convenient time for me to lie around stripped to the waist would be at night in bed, but there’s usually this other person there and I find that sort of embarrassing. Therefore, I think the device works well in theory, but I haven’t got the practice of it down by a long shot since I can’t figure out a good time to use it regularly. I mostly rely on the elevator method described above because I can do that anytime and anywhere, fully clothed, and that seems to be just fine. So save your money, unless you need the most hilarious white elephant gift for your next ladies Christmas gift exchange. If that’s the case, then I recommend that you pick your audience carefully.
Surgical repair of the vagina is a common modern procedure to treat urinary incontinence. But how effective is it? Several studies show mixed results with many women reporting excellent results and other women finding that not only is the incontinence not cured but they have additional sexual function problems. Choosing to have these types of surgeries is a serious decision with potential severe lifelong consequences. And many women find they need to have the surgery repeated 10 years or so all over again as the organs continue to prolapse due to gravity. I strongly suggest that you try six months of concerted kegeling before making any surgical decisions.
Urinary continence is not the only function women lose due to lax and flabby perineal muscles. I think it might be fairly easy for many women to become quite passive about their sexuality and their vaginas in particular. We do have the mixed blessing that sex can be a relatively passive sport for us. Add on some kids, a house to take care of, and maybe an overdose of hyperreligiosity and we might start taking our lax vaginas for granted, excusing them because we’ve had babies and we’re getting older and isn’t it normal to lose sexual function with age anway? And who has the time for kegeling?
Here is a link to an excellent article on female sexual function and the pelvic floor:
It is a long article, but well worth the read if you are interested in this topic. Let me just highlight some key points.
Check out the stats from the article on the prevalence of female sexual dysfunction
- Lack of interest in sex: 27-32%
- Unable to achieve orgasm: 22-28%
- Pain during sex: 8-21%
- Sex not pleasurable: 17-27%
There is definitely a correlation between poor pelvic floor tone and female sexual dysfunction. and it makes perfect sense. The perineum is a Figure-8 shaped muscle that encircles the anus, the vagina and the labia and clitoris.
When you contract the perineal muscle it pulls on the labia which pulls on the clitoris causing sexual sensations. I suspect this might be one reason that many women avoid doing kegels at all. Out of the context of the bedroom with their husbands, these sensations might be unwelcome for some women since they might feel that they should only think about sex or have sexual feelings at night when they are in bed with their husbands. There is a lot of guilt often associated with sexual sensations or feelings, esepcially if they occur outside of a sexual context. Standing around and kegeling while doing dishes can cause sexual sensations that can seem bothersome or troubling. But allowing yourself to feel sexual feelings and think sexual thoughts throughout the day is the recipe for being in the mood more readily when the lights go out at night. There is no reason why a woman cannot embark on a small fantasy with her husband while doing the dishes and kegeling. This, in my opinion, would be a good thing and would help improve a flagging groove.
Furthermore, orgasms are, in fact, really spasmodic perineal muscle contractions. The stronger that muscle is, the stronger the orgasms can be. I can honestly say that this has been a very true benefit for me. Just at the time I thought maybe my sexual powers were lessening I’m finding quite the opposite to be true and I do believe that a strong perineal muscle is at the root of that increased capacity for pleasure.
Imbedded deep in this long article is this bit of good news
In accordance with these results, another study showed that pelvic floor muscle training improves the sexual function of women
At the end of the article several key points are made, two of which directly pertain to this blog post:
- There is a close association between healthy pelvic floor function and female sexual function. Disorders in the former are closely associated with female sexual dysfunction.
- Pelvic floor muscle strengthening plays an important role in the maintenance of healthy pelvic floor function and in improvement of sexual functioning.
So there you have it. Two very good reasons to kegel. I have been so happy these many months since I’ve completely stopped peeing on myself and my sex life has improved as well. I no longer ever think about getting any surgeries. Maybe there will be a time in the future where that does become something I really need to consider, but for now I’m just going to keep kegeling. And I suggest you do the same.