The big squeeze: Welcome to the pelvic floor revolution

May 10, 2021

If you want to know about the wonders of a healthy pelvic floor, you could do worse than look to Coco Berlin, who styles herself “Germany’s most famous belly dancer,” writes Emine Saner of The Guardian.

 Berlin started belly dancing in 2002, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when she went to Egypt to study dancers there, that she wondered why they were so much better. She concluded that they were seriously in touch with their pelvic floors—the internal muscular structures that supports the internal organs and prevent incontinence, among other important functions.

“When I connected to my pelvic floor, for the first time in my life, I had this feeling of embodiment,” Berlin recently told Saner in an interview for The Guardian.

It improved her dancing—before, she says, it had felt “like mimicry” – but also affected the rest of her life. She felt more confident, “I had the feeling that I own my body”. Her enjoyment of sex was greatly improved, and she felt stronger and less stressed. She thinks it is a prime reason why people assume she is much younger than she is (she’s 42 and, speaking over Zoom from her home in Germany, Saner says she looks like a woman in her 20s).

Berlin is about to release the English translation of her book Pussy Yoga, which shares her boundless enthusiasm for pelvic floor health. “Normally, the pelvic floor is only something that you get in touch with when you’re pregnant, incontinent, or have other issues,” she says. “It was such a fringe topic.”

But not anymore. Berlin’s book comes just as we are seeing an increase in the number of features in women’s health magazines about pelvic floor exercises (also known as kegels), apps (Britain’s NHS recommends Squeezy, which sets exercise plans and sends reminders), and devices that train you from the inside.

Indeed, the  Elvie Trainer— an internal trainer launched in 2015 that enables users to monitor their exercise achievements via smartphone—has been ranked 41st among Europe’s 1,000 fastest-growing companies by The Financial Times.

There are podcasts, such as Why Mums Don’t Jump, which are aimed at ending the stigma around vaginal prolapse and incontinence; and other issues with pelvic floor dysfunction.

Nobody in the world of pelvic floor health would say the increased awareness is a bad thing—up to 33% of women will experience a pelvic floor problem—but numerous surveys show many women have no idea what it is or its purpose. One survey of 1,000 women found one in six didn’t know where it was, and a quarter didn’t know what it did.

 “It’s a part of the body people haven’t been given nearly enough information about for years,” says Amanda Savage, a pelvic health physiotherapist. “The wonderful thing about pelvic health is there are a lot of things you can do that will improve the situation, through natural methods: exercise, diet, knowing how to help your bowel empty, knowing how the bladder fills and empties. There’s a lot one can do to help oneself. It’s a shame when people haven’t found out about those things they could be doing, and they are like, ‘Why did nobody tell me this ten years ago?’”

But could this become yet another body part women are supposed to be anxious about? With our outsides under more scrutiny than ever, do we need to start worrying about the insides too? “I think it’s everything in moderation,” Suzanne Hagen, professor of Health Services Research at Glasgow Caledonian University, who researches pelvic floor disorders, recently told The Guardian.

Research contact: @guardian

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