LET'S face it – everyone's love life has taken a hit during the pandemic.
But if there's anything you can do to intensify sexual pleasure, it's to exercise pelvic floor muscles.
Strengthening the muscles that sit between the pubic bone and tailbone canbe hugely beneficial for sex by increasing the ability to feel sensation.
Physiotherapist and spokesperson for the Professional Network of Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapists Amanda Savage, told Healthista: "Many women report they are able to reach orgasm more easily, and that their orgasms are more powerful, after focusing on pelvic floor muscle exercises.
"Sexual pleasure comes from the movement and build-up of friction against the vaginal walls.
"The vaginal walls are layered with the pelvic floor muscles.
"Pelvic floor muscle exercises tone and strengthen these muscles, improving blood supply and nerve activity, all leading to greater pleasure."
It's not just women who should be working their pelvic floor muscles.
Men will find strong pelvic floor muscles help to achieve erection and may prevent premature ejaculation, according to the NHS.
Not only are pelvic floor muscles the secret to better sex, they are also crucial for our health down there.
They support our organs from the bladder to the anus (and everything in between), therefore a weak pelvic floor can lead to incontinence and uncontrollable gas.
Even the NHS backs pelvic floor muscles to "make sex better" – as well as to help you keep bladder and bowel control.
To start with, you'll need to "find" your pelvic floor muscles.
Do this by squeezing your muscles as though you are trying to stop yourself passing wind or weeing, without clenching your bum, legs or tummy.
You should feel a contraction inside, which is the pelvic floor.
Men can check they are doing it correctly by standing in front of a mirror – when contracting you should see your penis dip downwards, and see and feel your scrotum lift upwards.
Here's eight ways to exercise the pelvic floor for a spicy sex life.
1. Squeeze and hold
Much like a bicep, Amanda explains that there is only one type of contraction that you can do with your pelvic floor.
"Your bicep muscle has one action – it folds your hand towards your arm," she said.
"Your pelvic floor has its own special action, drawing in and sucking – it’s the movement you do when you’re trying to hold your wee or stop yourself from passing wind."
The amount of time you’re able to hold for will vary between people, but if you have no dysfunction, the experts say you should aim to hold for around 10 seconds.
Christien Bird, women’s health physio and owner of the White Hart Clinic suggests doing this hold 10 times – and then doing that twice a day to see the best results.
The NHS says after a few months, you should start to notice results.
But it is "not recommended that you regularly stop the flow of urine midstream as it can be harmful to your bladder".
2. Short, powerful squeezes
Building up your pelvic floor muscle is not only going to make you feel more confident in the bedroom but if you suffer from a weaker pelvic floor this exercise also has the power to make a huge difference to your day-to-day life.
Pelvic floor muscles kick in when we sneeze, pass wind or feel that our bladder might leak.
By practising short, powerful squeezes we can improve their capabilities and learn to squeeze them in time to cough, keeping our wee in our bladder.
Using the technique that you learned in exercise one Amanda explains: "Like all muscles in the body the pelvic floor muscles can perform in different ways.
"Practice short, powerful squeezes (10-15 in a row)."
Draw your muscles in quickly and release, repeating this in short bursts.
3. Hold while you're having sex
Now it’s time to put that endurance building squeeze and hold into practice.
Physiotherapist and PhD student, Kate Lough said: "It’s good to know where those muscles are and then when it comes to your sex life you can decide to have a bit of fun with it."
Speaking to women, she said: "During sex, you can squeeze and try and get your partner to feel it.
"Use those muscles for some effect, for some fun."
The more firmed and toned you are, the more you’ll feel yourself and your partner during sex and according to the professionals, this will help to improve your orgasms.
4. Don't hold too long
Christine explains that one thing that is incredibly important to remember is that releasing those muscles is just as essential as tightening them up.
Some women are unable to tighten those muscles, but other women may find it difficult to let them go.
"It’s like if you lift your arm and hold it with a weight to strengthen it – you don’t leave your arm up there, you bring it down again," she said.
"It’s very easy to store a lot of tension in your pelvic floor and you can get pains and your muscles can go into spasms."
It can be the result of urinary tract infections, bouts of cystitis or even stress and anxiety that causes your muscles to tense but one thing is for certain, it can have a huge impact on intimacy.
"There’s a group of women we see that have pain during sex and that can be due to an overactive pelvic floor."
While suffering from this may mean having to see a professional, there are ways that you can work on this in the privacy of your own home.
"On your own, you can practice releasing your pelvic floor," Christine said.
"Try and tighten up your pelvic floor and if you don’t feel much movement there, you may already be tensing.
"Release your tummy and let that space between your bum bones open out – it’s really about feeling your tummy go really floppy. If you’re struggling with this, it may be useful to go and see a physio."
5. Squat, squat, squat
From building strength to burning calories, we’ve all heard about the benefits of squatting.
But there may just be one more.
"When you squat, you contract your glutes – your big bottom muscles," Kate said.
Make sure you’re doing it right
When you are doing pelvic floor exercises, do not:
- squeeze your buttocks together
- tense your legs
- bring your knees together
- hold your breath
- lift your shoulders, eyebrows or toes upwards
- forget to relax between each squeeze
If you do any of these, you will not contract (tighten) your muscles correctly.
"If you do that and you’re lucky enough to be someone that has an automated co-contraction of your pelvic floor then without you doing anything else you can just squat and your pelvic floor muscles will kick in.
"While this is a great way for many women to exercise the pelvic floor, it doesn’t work for everyone.
"And in some rare cases such as prolapse, it can even be damaging which is why the experts insist it’s important for you not to feel embarrassed about any problems you may have.
"Some women have real issues around prolapse – they join a gym and are too embarrassed to tell the instructor about their problem and then they get inappropriate exercises which are loaded with too much pressure and their pelvic floors are too weak to cope with them."
As a rule, the experts say if any exercise starts to make your problem worse – go and see an expert.
Pevlic floor muscles can actually weaken as a result of repeated heavy lifting, making it all the more important to practice the steps above to offset any damage.
If you lift heavy weights, tighten your pelvic floor muscles at the same time to get the body used to preventing leakages.
6. Practise Pilates
If you’ve got the squeezing and tensing down, Pilates can really help with pelvic floor training.
Amanda said: "All Pilates exercises aim to work your core muscles together as a group.
"The core muscles used are your abdominals, your pelvic floor, your back muscles and your diaphragm.
"You first focus on learning to use each one separately (the basic pelvic floor, the basic abdominals, the basic breath) but then the goal of pilates is to use them all in balance together.
"Once you are certain that you are definitely using your pelvic floor correctly you will include your pelvic floor in all your pilates exercises too.
"You will be practising using your pelvic floor muscles not just in isolation but as part of all movements.
"This is a great progression from the basic pelvic floor exercises as in real life all our muscles have to work together and we have to do lots of complex movements."
7. Invest in a gadget
If you’re really struggling to do it on your own, there are plenty of gadgets you can invest in.
There are a whole host of pelvic floor trainers that work in a variety of ways.
The experts say that if you’re struggling to train your pelvic floor simply by following instructions to squeeze and you aren’t able to see a professional, a gadget might be the thing for you.
Trainers like Elvie can be inserted into your vagina and then tracked and used from your phone.
And others such as the Intimina use vibrations to help you squeeze and a sensor to help you progress by moving you up a level depending on your performance.
Extra tips to keep you motivated:
Christine is a fan of one created by the NHS called the Squeezy app.
"It gives you notifications to remind you to train," she said.
"If you know how to do an effective contraction and how long you can hold for you can individualise your training, although you may need an assessment for this, and it gives you really simple instructions on how to do your exercises.
"It costs a couple of pounds but it has a visual aid that goes up and down as you squeeze and you have to keep up with it – that will help you train your speed."
It may also help to reduce the pressure on your pelvic floor muscles by keeping a healthy weight, drinking lots of fluids, stopping smoking and speaking to your doctor if you have a persistent cough caused by asthma or hayfever, for example.
This story originally appeared on Healthista and has been republished with permission.
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