The pelvic floor muscles are important for many reasons. Not only do they support the internal organs and provide continence, but they also enhance sexual function for both men and women. Studies have linked weakened or injured pelvic floor muscles to reduced vaginal sensation, lower sexual arousal, infrequent orgasms and painful intercourse. Other studies have shown that strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can improve sexual response in both men and women.
The pelvic floor is a platform of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and sphincters that combine to support and close the bladder, vagina, uterus and bowel. This group of muscles attaches to the pubic bone in front and run underneath the body like a muscular trampoline, inserting into the tailbone and stretching from the sit bones on either side of the body.
In women, contraction of the pelvic floor muscles can increase the amount of blood circulation to the clitoris and pelvic region, which in turn increases arousal and vaginal sensation. In men, this muscle group is essential for gaining and sustaining an erection. Weak pelvic floor muscles are a major contributing factor for erectile dysfunction.
Like any other skeletal muscle in the human body, the pelvic floor muscles have slow-twitch (endurance type) and fast-twitch (speed type) muscle fibres. This means that your pelvic floor muscle training should consist of sustained, lower intensity holds as well as fast, higher intensity squeezes. The length of time to hold a contraction and the number of repetitions will vary from person to person, depending on his or her initial muscle strength and endurance. A general guideline is to exercise it to the point of fatigue (when the muscles feel tired out).
When doing pelvic floor exercises, it is very important to ensure a correct technique, as poor breathing mechanics or exaggerated use of the abdominals can actually be counter productive and place unnecessary downward pressure inside the pelvis, weakening the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles not only close the sphincters, they also act to lift the organs. So it should always feel like a squeeze and a lift, and never like an overly strong bracing of the abdominals. If you feel at all unsure of your technique, you should seek a thorough assessment from a qualified professional.
In sum, investing on your pelvic floor health will enhance your sexual pleasure with the added bonus of preventing pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence and back pain. Do not ignore it, just get started!
Monica Donaldson, Physiotherapist.