There are a few words that are undeniably linked with being female—words like tampons. And douching. And Kegels.
Kegels, also known as pelvic floor exercises, first entered public discourse as a method for treating urinary incontinence in postpartum women—not an especially sexy endeavor. But these days, you’re more likely to read about them as an option for women who simply want to “tighten” their vaginas and improve their orgasms.
What many people don't realize, however, is that Kegels aren’t just for vaginas—people with penises can reap the benefits of pelvic floor exercises, too! Yes, ~male Kegels~ are a thing.
Doctors have quietly prescribed Kegels to men for bladder issues and sexual dysfunction for years, but the concept has just begun to go mainstream—thanks largely to some folks who are hoping to cash in on the concept. Some of the same savvy entrepreneurs who have sold women on Kegel products—from weights to rubberized balls to high-tech wearables—are now attempting to sell men on them, too.
Before you run out and blow your paycheck on a bunch of new pelvic accessories, however, it's helpful to understand how male Kegels work, and what the products claim to do.
Many people believe Kegels improve sexual performance in women by strengthening the vaginal canal and making it feel tighter, but they're really about exercising our pelvic floor muscles—which work the same whatever shape our genitals may be. A stronger pelvic floor means stronger orgasms, which contributes to the sensation of vaginal tightness, but it can also mean stronger orgasms and harder erections for people with penises.
“The pelvis is a hammock of muscles,” explains Nefatari Ellis-Marin, a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor health and lymphedema, “and with muscles, you need a balance of strength and flexibility. You can’t shorten a short muscle; you need the ability to lengthen in order to contract.”
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer—especially if you’re sitting with bad posture—you’re likely to have tight, stressed pelvic floor muscles. When the muscles involved in sexual intercourse and waste removal can’t contract or relax properly, people can experience symptoms ranging from sexual pain and weak ejaculation to constipation and urinary incontinence.
Poor pelvic floor health can cause pain beyond the pelvis, too. As Evelyn Hecht, owner of EMH Physical Therapy in New York City, explains, “If you walk around with a clenched fist all day, the muscles in your hand will get tight, and they’ll hurt.” Because pelvic floor muscles are also connected to the diaphragm (a muscle involved in breathing), deep hip rotator muscles, the lower abdominals, and the lower back, symptoms of pelvic floor weakness can even include difficulty breathing, lower back pain, and compromised athletic performance. Adding pelvic floor exercises to your fitness routine could alleviate these symptoms—and more.
Just as women who do Kegels boast stronger orgasms, improved sensation during sex, and increased libido, men who attend to their pelvic floor health can expect all the same benefits—not to mention harder erections and improved orgasmic control.
“When men are struggling with sexual dysfunction, like premature ejaculation, difficulty achieving erection, or pain during or after intercourse, they’re more likely to take a pill than to seek therapy,” says Ellis-Marin. “There’s a stigma to pelvic floor therapy and to sexual dysfunction, and that keeps a lot of men in silence.”
Women, of course, have embraced the Kegel for decades, even before Samantha introduced the women of Sex and the City—and the nation—to her pelvic routine more than a decade ago. Indeed, the use of pelvic exercise aids for women stretches back hundreds of years. OhMiBod’s Lovelife Crush, a smart device that is both a vaginal weight and a pelvic floor exercise tracker, recently won the Best of CES Award for Digital Health and Fitness, but the device's design is clearly reminiscent of Ben Wa balls—vaginal weights that have been in Taoist and tantric sexual practice for centuries and commercially marketed to women for both vaginal toning and sexual pleasure during intercourse.
In the 21st century, the market for men has just begun to catch up. Minna, the sex toy manufacturer behind the Bluetooth-enabled pelvic floor exercise tracker kGoal, a device geared toward women, recently announced plans to attempt to close the Kegel gender gap with the kGoal Boost, a sophisticated device touted as "the best way to boost your health below the belt."
If they raise the funding, Minna will join a small but growing group of manufacturers creating tools for male pelvic floor exercise.
Until now, the few male Kegel tools that exist have mostly involved adding weighted resistance, and are either inserted anally or worn around the penis. Resistance makes the motion of contracting and releasing pelvic floor muscles more challenging, which companies claim contributes to muscle strength and tone, much like weight-lifting can speed up muscle gains. Historically, these tools have been marketed to men experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction, ranging from an inability to achieve erection to pelvic organ prolapse.
However, the kGoal Boost doesn’t incorporate resistance, functioning primarily as an exercise tracker—or, in simpler terms, like a FitBit for your penis. By taking this approach, it's going after a bigger consumer base of men. "Go ahead and do some reps while watching the game on your couch or while driving to work," the promotional video for the product urges. "It's the rare workout that actually can be added to your day without taking any extra time."
Ellis-Marin sees a potential benefit to fitness trackers like the kGoal Boost, which promise to help men find their pelvic floor muscles, keep track of their workouts and progress over time, and encourage them to stick to their pelvic floor exercise goals.
But she expressed skepticism about weight resistance systems for Kegel beginners. “At this present time, I’ve never used or needed to use weighted resistance,” she says. The most common problem she sees in clients is pelvic floor tightness, “and I’m not going to make a tight pelvic floor tighter with weights.”
Companies that sell these products claim that weight resistance is a fast and effective way to increase pelvic floor strength. But unless a physician has instructed a patient to focus on building strength, Ellis-Marin recommends focusing on flexibility, control, and building strength through simple hold-and-release exercises.
Hecht also believes there are better ways to keep this system of muscles healthy and strong. “Adding weights might not make a difference, but engaging the pelvic floor muscles during core exercises absolutely would,” she says.
For newbies, Hecht suggests that you begin by locating your pelvic floor muscles then practice contracting and fully releasing the muscles until you’re comfortable with the sensation. Then, during core exercises like squats, bridges, or hip extensions, consciously engage your pelvic floor for a full-body workout. Indeed, “if a man isn’t seeing the abs that he wants, it might be a matter of improving his pelvic floor strength,” Ellis-Marin points out. After all, these muscles are deeply connected.
Hecht also stresses the importance of relaxing fully after every contraction, and suggests yoga poses like Happy Baby and Pigeon Pose to help stretch and relax pelvic floor muscles after a long workout.
Should every man do pelvic floor exercises? Hecht’s answer is an emphatic yes—and women should, too. “We live in a sitting culture. We sit at home, at work, and we just don’t think about our pelvises,” says Hecht. “But this part of the body is so important. If we don’t have healthy sexual functioning, healthy urinary and bowel function, and strength in our core and trunk muscles, our bodies just don’t work.”
But don’t rush out to buy a fancy new Kegel gadget just yet. If you aren’t experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction, improving your pelvic floor health is as easy as a quick hold…and release.
“I would recommend starting with 50 contractions a day and slowly working up to 100,” Ellis-Marin suggests, noting that finding time for a pelvic floor workout is as easy as setting a regular reminder on your phone. “You don’t need special equipment or clothes to do it. You can do it at your desk, on the subway platform, or while you’re cleaning the house.”
Or even as you read this very article.
Haylin Belay is a NYC-based writer and sex educator exploring the intersection between identity, sexuality, and health.