This information will help you learn how to perform pelvic floor muscle (Kegel) exercises to improve your sexual health and pleasure.
Many women do Kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles. This can help manage or prevent physical problems such as the leakage of urine. Kegel exercises can also help improve women’s sexual health and pleasure by:
- Relaxing the vaginal muscles, which allows the vagina to be more open. This is helpful for women who are experiencing pain during sexual intercourse and/or with pelvic exams
- Increasing sexual arousal
- Improving a women’s ability to reach orgasm
- Improving blood circulation to the vagina
- Increasing vaginal tone and lubrication
How do I identify my pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor muscles form the bottom of your pelvis and support your pelvic organs. These are the muscles that you would use when urinating to stop the stream of urine or that you would use to hold back or prevent you from passing gas.
Here are some ways you can identify them:
- Imagine you are urinating and contract the muscles you would need to stop the stream of urine. Do not actually practice stopping the urine stream, especially if your bladder is full. This can actually weaken the muscles and lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder, which increases your risk for a urinary tract infection (UTI).
- Tighten the muscles that are used to hold back or prevent you from passing gas, but don't tighten your buttock or inner thigh muscles. If you're doing it correctly, there should be no visible movement of your body lifting. If you are tightening the muscles of your buttocks or abdomen, or notice that your body lifts slightly, you are most likely using the wrong muscles.
- Try inserting a finger or vaginal dilator inside your vagina and tighten or contract your pelvic floor muscles. When performing pelvic floor muscles exercises, you should feel your vagina tighten and your pelvic floor move upward.
If you are having trouble identifying these muscles, contact your doctor or nurse.
How do I know if I am using the wrong muscles?
To find out if you are also contracting your stomach muscles, place your hand on your stomach. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. If you feel your abdomen move, you are using the wrong muscles. Avoid using your stomach, leg, or buttock muscles. Exercising these muscles will not help you regain pelvic floor muscle tone.
How do I perform Kegel exercises?
For each Kegel exercise session, tighten your pelvic floor muscles (as described above) and hold for 3 to 6 seconds; then, relax your muscles completely for 3 to 6 seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 to 20 times per session.
If your pelvic floor muscles do not start to tire using a 3 to 6 seconds contraction, or you have to repeat the exercise 20 to 25 times to feel pelvic floor fatigue, then start over and hold them for 6 to 10 seconds; then, relax your muscles completely for 6 to 10 seconds. It is important that you always spend the same amount of time relaxing your muscles as you did to contract them.
How often should I perform Kegel exercises?
Once you have learned to correctly to contract your pelvic floor muscles using one of the suggestions above, exercise these muscles a few times throughout the day. Do several Kegel exercise sessions a day.
For sexual health rehabilitation, the goal is to tire out (or fatigue) the pelvic floor muscles so that they relax and are more flexible. This is important when doing dilator therapy or if you're having pain with vaginal intercourse. If your vaginal muscles are tired, they will open or stretch more easily.
Research has found that toning the pelvic floor muscles can benefit sexual health and arousal. If you challenge yourself while practicing Kegel exercises, you can increase pelvic floor muscle strength. You can also draw blood flow to the pelvic floor, which is important for arousal.
Where should I do Kegel exercises?
Most people prefer doing Kegel exercises when lying down on a bed or sitting in a chair, but you should be able to do them in any position and in any place. Follow these simple steps:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position so that your body is relaxed.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise as your belly fills with air. Your pelvic floor muscles should remain relaxed as you breathe in.
- Breathe out slowly and smoothly through your mouth as you tighten your pelvic floor muscles. Maintain the contraction while you exhale.
- Breathe in again and release your contraction, which relaxes your muscles.
It is very important that you relax fully between each contraction and that you do not hold your breath.
Can Kegel exercises harm me?
These exercises can’t harm you in any way. Most people find them relaxing and easy. This exercise should not be painful. If you feel pain while performing this exercise or afterward, you may not be performing the exercise correctly, or this exercise may not be appropriate for you. Contact your doctor or nurse to discuss this.
What if I need more support or information about sexual health and intimacy?
If you need more support and information about these issues, talk to your doctor or nurse about MSK's Female Sexual Medicine & Women’s Health Program. For more information or to make an appointment, please call (646) 888-5076.
The Female Sexual Medicine & Women’s Health Program provides services at the following locations:
- Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion, 160 East 53rd Street, New York, NY
- Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center and MSKCC Imaging Center, 300 East 66th Street, New York, NY
What if I have severe pain or continued incontinence?
MSK has physical therapists who specialize in women’s health and can address the causes of pain or problems in your pelvic floor muscle area. If you are experiencing these problems, ask your doctor or nurse for a referral. Our physical therapists will see you at MSK's Sillerman Center for Rehabilitation, 515 Madison Avenue, New York, NY. You can call the Sillerman Center at (646) 888-1900.