It’s no secret that most men think about sex. Whether it’s having it, wanting it, or reminiscing about it, your mind often drifts into fantasy land when it comes to nature’s most pleasurable activity. But how many of us put in the time and effort to set the stage to live out these fantasies? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent some time throughout your life focusing on keeping your body in peak shape, whether it’s eating healthier, exercising, staying away from the toxins that affect your body.
And while staying active and a good diet are great for your sex life, how much do you really focus on your sexual health and sexual functioning specifically? Most men would answer not so much. Before becoming a sexologist, I rarely thought about it. We often take for granted a precious aspect of ourselves until it disappears or becomes inconsistent. Then there’s panic, self-doubt, anxiety, blows to self-esteem, our confidence dips, and inferiority sets in. As a sex educator and sex therapist, I’ve seen this pattern develop with far too many men when there’s a shift in their sexual health and functioning. What can we do about it?
The truth is, human bodies are forever changing and that includes their sexual expressions. We need to begin to have real conversations and acknowledge that over time, we slowly move away from our 18-year-old sexual functionality and our bodies change. Everyone will experience it — at different times and in different ways — and you will too. Eventually, your erection will become less consistent, maybe disappear. Your sex drive will change, often slowing down throughout the lifespan. Your ejaculation, once shooting through the walls to no more than a dribble. Your semen will lessen over time, going from teaspoons to drops or no fluid. Your refractory period after ejaculation, minutes in between erections can become days or more as you age. Your body will change in many ways. While some may view these changes as negative, aging will also change you for the better. You’ll be more mature than your 18-year old self. You’ll be smarter, wiser, a better communicator, with a higher emotional IQ, you’ll treat women with more admiration and respect, and you’ll have more compassion and acceptance for people. The sooner you begin accepting this and not dwelling on certain changes, the sooner you can begin to make the most of who you are in the moment.
The penis represents the majority of many men’s sexual identities and dominates how they see themselves as sexual beings. While there is more to sex than intercourse, erections, and penises, having an erection is a physically and psychologically pleasant experience, and it’s not hard to see why men focus on them (and particularly their absence, should they disappear.) But besides praying, crossing your fingers, and hoping, what can you do to keep your sexual functioning in good sexual health? One of the answers is Kegel exercises.
For far too long, we’ve associated Kegel exercises exclusively with women, particularly women doing them after pregnancy — for vaginal tightening or to combat post-pregnancy urinary incontinence — but rarely do we look at the benefits for men. It’s not surprising men haven’t even heard of Kegel exercises for their sexual health benefits, let alone started doing them. Unfortunately, many cultures exclude sexual health information from young men’s educations.
Discovering Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises were discovered in 1948 by Dr. Arnold Kegel. That’s right — they’ve been around nearly three-quarters of a century, and we’re still trying to get the word out. To do a Kegel is rather easy — and you’ve probably done similar muscle contractions thousands of times without giving them much thought. Each time you ejaculate, the orgasmic contractions squeeze and work your pelvic floor muscles (PFMs). Each time you squeeze out the last few drops after urinating, you also contract the same muscle group that Kegel exercises target.
To do a Kegel exercise, pretend as if you were stopping the flow of urine. That same squeeze, the contract and release of the muscles that would stop the urine flow, is strengthening your PFMs. Something less discussed by educators and doctors is the importance of also doing anal Kegel exercises. Because the sphincter is comprised of muscle and intertwined with surrounding pelvic floor muscles, the anus can be contracted to strengthen the muscles around it as well.
Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFMs)
Kegel exercises work specific muscle groups in the pelvic floor area to help strengthen and tone this region for improved medical and sexual health purposes. There is a great deal of muscle and tissue in this area, as the PFMs act as an interwoven web within the pelvic regions and support the pelvic organs such as the uterus (in women), the bladder, and the intestines. Over time, these PFMs can stretch, become weaker, and lose tone — hence the need for Kegel exercises. Within the PFMs, there are right and left levator ani muscles that comprise the bulk of the PFMs; the pubococcygeus muscles, the puborectalis muscles, and the iliococcygeus muscles. When you hear sex educators discuss the “PC” muscles being strengthened with Kegel exercises, they are referring to the main levator ani muscle, the pubococcygeus (PC). The PC muscle stretches front to back from your pelvic region through your internal genitalia, including your prostate, anus, and urethra, and ends in the coccyx region near your tailbone area. All of these muscles form an interconnected web known as the pelvic floor muscles, running through your pelvis, and you need to keep them strong and toned in order to retain your sexual functionality as you age.
How does is the penis involved with Kegel exercises and stronger PFMs? Remember those interweaving muscles in the pelvic floor? Some of them actually connect to the base and root of the penis. It makes sense; your penis needs to attach to something — why not some muscles and ligaments? The penile bulb (near the base) has muscles called the bulbocavernosus and the ischiocavernosus that serve as bridge muscles attached to both the penis and PFMs. When doing Kegel exercises, a man will feel his penis “jump” and slightly raise. It’s more visible with an erect penis than a flaccid penis, and you will see and/or feel a slight, upward movement.
The internal penis has three main cylindrical chambers, the corpus spongiosum and 2 larger chambers called the corpus cavernosum. These chambers have muscle, tissue and blood vessels. When erection is stimulated, these chambers (mostly the 2 corpus cavernosum) fill with blood to produce tumescence, the fancy word for erection or engorgement of the penis with blood. As you’ll see, Kegel exercises and blood flow to your erection go hand in hand.
2. Medical Impact of Kegel Exercises
There are a number of medical issues that benefit from Kegel exercises. Urinary incontinence is an issue that people experience where their sphincter muscles associated with the bladder and urinary tract are weakened, allowing for urine to be expelled. The incontinence is often noticed when people get up from a seated position , laugh, cough, or workout. Sometimes leakage occurs after urination, which is called dribbling. Kegels can help build stronger PFMs, which can increase the tone and strength of these muscles to help with involuntary urine leakage.
What’s good for the front door is also good for the backdoor. Kegel exercises can also provide benefits for bowel urgency, incontinence, and leakage from your anus and rectum. The PFMs that surround your backdoor area can also be strengthened to improve tone and strength in the anal sphincter and surrounding muscles to provide us with improved ability to manage incontinence. In addition, anal Kegel exercises can be very helpful for people who engage in receptive anal sex or anal play to help create stronger sphincter muscles for better tone.
An Overactive Bladder
Have you ever had the feeling of needing to use the restroom immediately or often? An overactive bladder is associated with an urgent and/or frequent desire to urinate. It’s often triggered by a conditioned response, such as entering a bathroom or hearing running water. Essentially, the muscles around the bladder contract, triggering a squeezing effect that creates the desire to want to urinate. Because strong PFMs help us have better muscular control, Kegel exercises can help an individual inhibit the involuntary contractions and manage overactive bladder symptoms.
A Healthy Prostate
Strong PFMs have a positive effect on pelvic and urinary health. It is believed that the prostate can also benefit from Kegel exercises as the circulatory benefits may have a positive effect on prostate enlargement symptoms and prostate health.
3. Sexual Concerns
Most people work out for a specific purpose; to stay in shape, to look good, to feel more confident, health reasons. Your sexual health should be no different, which can include your mental, emotional and physical health — as well as your attitudes about sexuality. These all impact your sexual health. When it comes to your physical sexual health, it’s no secret that cardiovascular and muscle training is helpful for circulation and stamina benefits. So exercises like jogging, hiking, weightlifting, and swimming can all be one of the many ways you stay in good sexual shape. In addition, Kegel exercises are a fantastic exercise to incorporate vascular strength training to the pelvic areas that are often neglected.
Many of us experience sexual concerns. It’s a normative part of our sexual experience. Almost all people at one time or another experience changes in their libido, erection, erogenous zones, orgasmic potential, ejaculatory experience, sensitivity levels, and desire. But while Kegel exercises may not be the answer to all of your challenges in the bedroom, they can help you stay in better physical sexual health to improve, manage, or delay sexual concerns.
Most sexologists will agree that the majority of people’s sexual concerns have a psychological component. The way you feel, your discomforts, and judgments about yourself can deeply impact your feelings of safety and security when it comes to becoming sexual and intimate. Many people have fears, insecurities, body image struggles, low levels of confidence, mental health difficulties, and a host of other thoughts and feelings that may be present when they’re getting sexual. Performance anxiety is the culmination of biopsychosocial sexual distress. Biologically, stress and anxiety creates cortisol and adrenaline, neither of which is helpful for penile circulation. Psychologically, you may experience nervousness and worry associated with unrealistic or rigid expectations, as well as the fear of recreating negative experiences that have been painful or disheartening. Socially, you may be struggling with concerns about your partner’s reactions or judgments, which can feel shameful and embarrassing. In addition, your performance anxiety can be associated with external stressors, from occupational anxiety and family difficulties, to partner and relationship troubles.
How do Kegel exercises help with performance anxiety? As a sex therapist, I have witnessed many clients gradually shift their mindset when working towards change. Doing the work can help you feel like you’re changing and exercises that have been shown to be helpful for sexual health often inspires, empowers and instills the seeds of confidence you need. Take, for example, a person trying to lose weight for medical reasons by doing a daily walk. That one walk, in itself, may not alleviate or manage the medical condition, but may help a person feel better about themselves, add to motivation, create a positive mindset, and be a step in the right direction. Kegels alone cannot remedy deep-seated psychological anxieties or relational issues, but doing Kegel exercises can help you feel like you are working towards positive changes and improvements, can be mentally empowering, and can help you feel as though you are addressing your sexual concerns with a multifaceted approach.
One of the most difficult sexual concerns men deal with is the changes in their erectile functioning. The DSM-5 defines ED as a persistent or recurrent inability to attain or maintain an erection with an accompanying distress and interpersonal difficulty. While many men self-diagnose ED, we have to also be honest and realistic with our bodies and nature taking its course. Many men create a barometer of virility in their youth and teen years, which then serves as a baseline for comparison of their erectile expectations throughout the lifespan. You’re really being unfair to yourself if you’re expecting your penis to behave like it did when you were 18. Where an 18-year-old man can curl 100 pounds, 20 years later he might be lucky if he could roll that 100-pound bar a few feet. Yet men tend not to feel the same anxiety, distress, or feelings of mourning the lost functionality of my biceps. It’s the changes with aging. But with erections, many men hold their penises to an entirely different standard, unfortunately. The truth is, erections typically become less reliable and more inconsistent as you age, and for a variety of reasons. While each person is different, according to The Massachusetts Male Aging Study, about 40% of men between 40 and 50 years old experience erection challenges, and this percentage rises about 10% each subsequent decade.
Have realistic expectations about your erections. Over time, your hardness will become less hard. The speed at which you get erect will diminish. The time you can remain hard will likely change, and sometimes your penis will decide it would rather be stubborn and not get hard, and other times your erection will tease you by making an appearance, then disappearing like a rabbit in a magician’s hat. It’s nature and a part of life. Some of the things you can do to manage these changes is to learn not to rely solely on erection, and embrace and incorporate foreplay, massage, your hands, sex toys, your mouth, kink, and other sensual and sexual experiences into your sexual scripts. In addition, you can eat healthy and nutritionally, exercise regularly, work on your mental and emotional regulation, and of course, incorporate Kegel exercises.
Unfortunately, most of us add to our erectile difficulties with our lifestyles. How many of the following are you currently doing, or have you done in the past? 1) Smoking cigarettes, 2) Experiencing poor sleep quality, 3) Feeling high amounts of stress or anxiety, 4) Consuming large amounts of alcohol or doing drugs, 5) Avoiding regular workouts, 6) Spending significant amounts of time sitting every day, and 7) Eating poorly? These routines and lifestyles can affect your erections and possibly lead to medical issues — such as high blood pressure, poor circulation, nerve damage, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes — which can also result in the need for medications that can further inhibit erectile functionality. Sometimes, the medical issues may arise with little lifestyle contribution, like neurological issues, hormone or endocrine changes, Peyronie’s disease, or physical injuries to the brain, pelvis, penis, or spine. Also, it’s possible your mental health can be affected by those same lifestyle choices and medical issues — things like anxiety, mood changes, and depression struggles to name a few. As well, psychotropic medications can impact your sexual functioning, including erections. As valuable as Kegels may be, it’s highly unlikely these exercises can overcome medical issues described. However, changing your lifestyles and including Kegel exercises can be very beneficial in improving and maintaining your physical sexual health and erectile capacity. Why?
Kegels can improve circulatory functionality in the pelvic regions and penis for better circulation, which can be helpful maintenance against ED.Blood flow is vital to getting an erection and the oxygenation of tissue and muscles, which helps keep surrounding muscles and tissue in peak shape and improves penile rigidity. Pelvic floor muscle training can help with trapping blood inside the penis, thus helping to keep your erection. Kegels can also strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your genitalia and pelvic floor to improve your erectile angle. So yes, stronger erections can be experienced with doing Kegel exercises consistently.
Premature Ejaculation (PE)
Premature ejaculation is the persistent or recurrent ejaculation before a person desires it where there is minimal sexual stimulation when it leads to distress or interpersonal difficulty. People who experience premature ejaculation seem to experience it early on and it often continues throughout their lives. Most studies find that about 30% to 33% of men identify having this difficulty, and the percentages remain in that range across ages. If you’re wondering how many minutes or seconds worth of sex counts as premature, focusing on the stopwatch isn’t how PE is characterized. There’s no “right” amount of time to last before ejaculating — it’s more of a subjective determination that includes individual and partnered experience. Many men want to last longer to emulate the long sex sessions they may see in porn, or believe that’s what their partners want. The only way to truly understand the situation would be to have an honest conversation with your partner.
Kegel exercises can be used to help prevent premature ejaculation when incorporated with the start/stop and squeeze methods, as well as with ejaculatory peaking or edging exercises. When using these techniques, one can contract the pelvic floor muscles when nearing climax and ejaculatory inevitability. Doing a long Kegel exercise at this point of no return helps inhibit ejaculation. The benefits of the start/stop and squeeze methods are that they can help individuals become more aware of their penile, orgasmic, and ejaculatory sensory experience, help individuals learn to manage higher states of arousal and sensation, and elongate the plateau stage between desire, arousal and orgasm.
Ejaculation & Orgasm
Having weaker pelvic floor muscles may equate to less powerful orgasms and ejaculation. Many men will notice later in life that their ejaculations went from a missile to a dribble. Also, men may long for the days when the rhythmic contractions of orgasm felt like an earthquake. Much of this can be attributed to aging and lack of pelvic floor muscle strength and tone. Kegel exercises are associated with more intense orgasms and ejaculatory power because stronger muscles create more force during the emission and expulsion of semen. In short, if you strengthen your PFMs, your ejaculatory trajectory will likely improve and the contractions you feel will likely feel stronger.
Male Multiple Orgasm
Strong pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises can also be used as part of the training to separate orgasm and ejaculation, allowing for male multiple orgasms. Your body can learn to experience the rhythmic muscular contractions of orgasm without expelling semen through ejaculation. The Kegel exercise is used to contract the pelvic floor muscles when ejaculation approaches, to allow orgasm to be experienced but ejaculation to be held back. The benefits of male multiple orgasm is you won’t experience the after-effects of ejaculation, most notably loss or erection and a refractory period. Learning this technique can take some training and time, but beneficial if longer sexual interactions is desired. An excellent book to explore this is called The Multi-Orgasmic Man by Mantak Chia.
4. Workout Regimens
Now that you’ve discovered the benefits and learned how to do a Kegel exercise, the next step is creating your own workout regimen and doing them consistently. Here’s a simple and effective version which you can adjust accordingly.
PFMs benefit from rest after workouts just like any other muscle. Because the number one issue with doing Kegel exercises consistently is remembering to do them, try this easy regimen. Do your Kegels in summer and winter (rest in spring and fall). Do them Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (three times per week). Each day, work out your PFMs in the morning, afternoon, and evening (three times per day). Each workout per day, do three sets of 20 repetitions for a total of 60 reps. For your repetitions of 20, try doing standard Kegel squeezes and hold/squeeze for three seconds on the fifth, 10th, 15th, and 20th repetition. During the evening sets, focus on your anal Kegels with repetitions. Essentially, you’ll be doing 60 reps in the morning, 60 reps in the afternoon, and 60 reps at night, for three days per week for 12 weeks. Then rest for 12 weeks. Once you master your standard Kegel exercises, you can add resistance (think weight training for increased strength and tone), such as a small hand towel that can be placed at the base of the erect penis and moved outward towards the tip when more weight is desired. For advanced training, use a larger, heavier towel.
If you’re a rebel and want to make up your own regimen, you should. Some people create their own Kegel exercises routine; to the beat of their favorite music, after they use the restroom, or during TV commercials. There are also training modules you can purchase to help you with your workouts. A male Kegel exercise product called Private Gym incorporates an exercise training CD that can be used to guide users, provides penile weights for resistance training, and an informative book called Male Pelvic Fitness by Andrew Siegel, M.D. The book expands on the principles discussed in this article and includes additional information on pelvic fitness as well as the benefits of Pilates, core exercises, and stretches that support good pelvic health.
There’s no reason for you to not incorporate Kegel exercises into your life. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They’re easy, they can be done anywhere, and they have numerous benefits for everyone. So get them into your routine, be consistent, and your body with thank you in the long run.