Allure in their bid to out Goop Gwyneth Paltrow in our post-jade egg society asks if “Vaginal Kung Fu” is the secret to better sex?
By vagina Allure and I mean pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that wrap around the vagina). I am an expert in these muscles. I treat pelvic floor muscle conditions every single day that I am at work. Every. Single. Day. I palpate them. I recommend therapy, sometimes to strengthen them and other times to help them relax. I inject them. I review treatment plans with physical therapists. This is my thing. Every day.
By “Vaginal Kung Fu” Allure and their experts mean hoisting rocks with pelvic floor muscles. That does sound less sexy, doesn’t it? I am using Kung Fu in the title for this post, even though it pains me more than slightly, so this piece appears in searches as this technique is unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Why does Dr. Masterson or Dr. Lisa, the OB/GYN expert sourced in the article, and Allure call it vaginal Kung Fu? I guess it gives more of a sexy ancient medical mystique that plain old jade eggs? Who wants to emulate concubines when you can emulate warriors!? When I look at that picture I don’t think Kung Fu I think heavy rock hanging from a jade egg in your vagina. Maybe I am just too concrete.
The “trend” (because I just can’t bring myself to actually call it a therapy) involves inserting a vaginal weight with a string attached to a heavier rock or surfboard or a bunch of avocados whatever and then swinging it around like a pendulum using your levator ani muscles for control. And when I say you I really mean hopefully no one.
Why would anyone need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles this way? I had no idea and I am an expert. Regular Kegel exercise work fine for most women and when they don’t we have pelvic floor physical therapists and occasionally weighted cones. I was ready to admit that perhaps I was so jaded about quasi-ancient vaginal techniques that I had become closed to these more quantum-type techniques so I asked a different kind of pelvic floor expert, a urogynecologist. After what can only be defined as a heavily pregnancy pause she asked, “Why would anyone need to do that?”
Yes, it is true levator ani muscles contract during orgasm. It is also true that strengthening these muscles with Kegel exercises (see below for free handy instructions that do not require vaginal weight lifting) can be beneficial. However, science tells us that using weights is no more beneficial that using other techniques. Let’s repeat that, weights offer no benefit. Weighted vaginal cones (much lighter than mini boulder above) are definitely effective, but they do not appear to be superior to any other technique. If you really love vaginal weights (I mean the sets sold specifically for Kegels and not jade eggs and rocks strung together like the Flintstones’ Christmas lights) and that’s the only way you are going to do the exercises then great! Some people need a gym membership to work out and others just need running shoes. To each their own. If it gets you on track and you are getting healthier then that’s great. However, to suggest that weights are somehow better is medically incorrect.
One of the issues with weights is many women have trouble finding the time to do them as they require a certain privacy. It is hard to get into the exercises if your kids/pets/significant other is knocking at your bathroom door. The more involved or inaccessible you make an exercise the harder it is to do with any kind of regularity. So yeah, lugging rocks around and clearing the bathroom so you have room to swing a boulder with your vagina without breaking your toilet just adds another layer of complexity. And a back bend? Right. Worried about damaging the porcelain? No worries, find a hemp bag and fill it with fruit.
No one has studied how the pelvic floor contracts with heavy weights. So we don’t know if this technique is working the correct muscle groups, if there is any risk for injury to the levator ani muscles or to obturator internus muscles (the levator ani attaches to the obturator internus), or if there is even equivalence with current therapies never mind added benefit! An Instagram account is not a peer-reviewed study. We also still don’t know if these vaginal jade eggs can be cleaned or if they harbor bacteria. We don’t know if adding heavy weights can lead to vaginal abrasions. Multiple unknowns are concerning.
It is not a stretch that a women could actually injure her pelvic floor with pelvic floor hoisting (my term for this so-called vaginal Kung Fu). Isolating pelvic floor muscles can be challenging so it is easy to do them incorrectly. Any incorrect exercise technique can cause pain and injury. I seriously injured my shoulder doing a Yoga/Pilates crossover class with a poor technique that went uncorrected by the instructor so it doesn’t even take weights to seriously hurt yourself. I regularly see women who have pelvic floor muscle pain from doing over enthusiastic and/or technically incorrect Kegel exercises so adding an unstudied technique with a weighted object could easily be a recipe for disaster. It is very easy to clench incorrectly to keep an object in the vagina.
Speaking of incorrect techniques the picture in Allure is a prime example of what not to do. When you strengthen muscles it is contract and relax not contract to see who can hold the most weight the longest. Also, it would be hard for mere mortals to isolate and know they are isolating the right muscles while in a back bend.
I get that vaginas are cool, I really do. I also get that they sell copy but Allure is venturing into GOOP territory when they promote an unstudied and potentially harmful technique. An Instagrammer isn’t a medical expert and as for Dr. Masterson recommending the technique? I look forward to her publishing her ultrasound study on how the pelvic floor contracts with heavy weights and her prospective study comparing this with traditional Kegel exercises.
As a pelvic floor expert I can see no medical benefit to lifting heavy weights vaginally. I can see lots of potential for harm never mind the rigmarole, so even if the technique were proven equivalent to Kegels the set up and inconvenience would likely be a barrier. Just imagine if you came home and found your kids playing with your vaginal rocks? After all, one can do Kegels at one’s desk and no one need ever know. Keep in mind with the pelvic floor it’s repetition not weight that matters.
You can call it by any ancient name that you want, but so-called vaginal Kung Fu is it’s just swinging a rock around with your pelvic floor muscles and there is no proof it offers any benefit and many reason to suspect it could be harmful.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor without a rock:
The first step in strengthening your pelvic floor with Kegels is learning how to isolate the muscles. It is harder than you think, mostly because they are not really in our conscious control. You don’t think much about emptying your bladder or bowels, if everything is working right at a social appropriate time and place it just seems to happen. However, you can learn to identify the right muscles with one of these techniques:
- Try to stop the flow of urine while you are on the toilet. If you slow or stop your stream you are using the right muscles. Remember how it feels, but only do this once or twice as this is for show not practice. This is because urinating is a complex reflex and if you mess around with it too much it could stop working the way you want it to!
- Pretend you are in a crowded elevator and squeeze the muscles you would to stop a fart. You should feel a pulling sensation into your body if you are doing it correctly.
- Put a lubricated tampon (the 10 cent cost I referred to earlier) in your vagina and tighten the pelvic floor muscles as you gently pull on the string. This is a form of simple and effective biofeedback. If you feel resistance when you tug you are using your pelvic floor muscles correctly.
- Place 1 or 2 fingers in your vagina and tighten your pelvic floor muscles. Do you feel a squeeze? If so, you are doing it correctly.
Once you feel comfortable identifying the muscles move on to the exercises. The act of contracting the pelvic floor is called a Kegal and there are 2 routines to choose from, quick flicks and sustained contractions. A quick flick is a contraction and release and a sustained contraction is a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles for 5-10 seconds. That is why no one needs to walk around all day with a jade egg as sustained contractions for hours is not recommended (meaning the advice form GOOP on this is terrible). Exercising a muscle involves putting it through its range of motion.
When you are first starting do your exercises lay down with your knees bent and take deep, relaxing breaths. You want to make sure your belly (abdominal wall), buttocks and inner thighs are always relaxed. If they aren’t it is harder to isolate your pelvic floor correctly and you could end up contracting these muscles instead. This is why GOOP’s “expert” advice of walking around with a jade egg inside could be very harmful as many women will simply end up contracting their buttocks. For sustained contractions do a Kegel for 5 seconds then relax completely for 10 seconds (or two breaths if that is easier). Each contraction and relaxation is one repetition. Do 10 repetitions three times a day. For quick flicks do 5 Kegels quickly in a row, taking 1-2 seconds for each contraction and release. These 5 quick Kegels is one cycle of quick flicks. Do 5 cycles of quick flicks with a 5-10 second rest afterwards (so 25 quick flicks) for one set. Do one set of quick flicks three times a day.
To recap for beginners it is 10 sustained contractions three times a day or 25 quick flicks three times a day. It is good to do both sustained contractions and quick flicks. Consider doing one exercise on odd days and the other on even or alternate in other ways.
One you have the hang of it you can progress to doing your Kegels (sustained contractions or quick flicks) while walking or sitting or standing. Build up the length of time of sustained contractions to 10 seconds and work up to doing 6 sets of 10 repetitions throughout the day, so 60 sustained contractions a day.
If you know you are going to cough or sneeze try to do a sustained contraction right before as it will help prevent leakage of urine. If you really have to pee and are worried about leaking do a set of quick flicks. It will temporarily relax the bladder muscle and then calmly move to the toilet.
It will take 6-12 weeks to see improvement. Like all exercises consistency is the key. If an app helps you with this, that’s great but you can always just set reminders on your phone. By 4-5 months of daily practice you will have achieved the most benefit. At this point you can back off to 3 days a week.
No one has studied whether expensive trainers or vaginal video games make a difference. If those motivate you, then great. If you are the type of person who has an unused bathroom scale, ask your self how will this be any different before you shell out your cash. If you are having difficulty mastering the technique or after a few months are not seeing any change I wouldn’t look to GOOP for or gadgets for advice, I’d consult a pelvic floor physical therapist. They are experts in this and often just a few visits will get you on your path to pelvic floor greatness.