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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flex Your Sex Muscles!

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Is there a way to strengthen the PC muscle?

I answer this question in honor of Tatiata Kozhevnikova, who reclaimed her Guinness Book of World Records­ title of "Strongest Vagina" last week by lifting more than 30 pounds using her PC muscle. While vaginal weight lifting might not be a goal that everyone strives for, a strong PC muscle has its benefits, including preventing incontinence and heightening sexual response.

The term "PC" is short for pubococcygeus and refers to a muscle that stretches from the pubic bone to the tailbone in people of all genders. The PC muscle wraps in a figure eight around the rectum and the vagina or the root of the penis, and it's this muscle that rhythmically contracts when a person has an orgasm. Having a toned PC muscle can make orgasms come more easily for some women, and may help men delay ejaculation and make erections firmer.

PC muscle exercises were originally developed in the 1940s by gynecologist Arnold Kegel, and thus the exercises themselves are often called "Kegels." Dr. Kegel's original goal was to help patients who weren't able to control the release of urine, since the PC muscle stops the flow of urine from the urethra.

In order to effectively strengthen your PC muscle, you first have to figure out where it is. It's not uncommon for folks who are trying to do PC exercises to accidentally work the thigh, buttock or abdominal muscles instead. One way to isolate your PC muscle is to stop the flow of urine the next time you're going to the bathroom. That muscle you just squeezed is the PC muscle. Another way is to insert a finger into the vagina or the anus and contract the PC muscle-if you feel a gentle squeeze around your finger, you've located it.

Once you've isolated your PC muscle, you exercise it the same way you would any other muscle group, by contracting and relaxing it in sets of repetitions. First, empty your bladder (doing PC muscle exercises with a full bladder can lead to urinary tract infections or other problems). Then, squeeze the PC muscle for three seconds, and relax it for three seconds. It's common for people to unconsciously hold their breath while doing this, so remind yourself to breathe deeply during the exercises. Repeat this sequence 10 times, three times a day. As your muscles get stronger, you can gradually lengthen the time that you hold your contractions from three seconds up to 10 seconds.

The best thing about PC muscle exercises is that you can do them anytime, anywhere, without anyone being the wiser. On the bus, in your car, in class or a meeting, standing in line at the grocery store-make it a habit to do your Kegels during these little bits of down time.

You can also purchase weights or other devices to help focus your PC muscle or provide more resistance for the muscle to work against, just as you would with weights at the gym. The famous Kozhevnikova had heavy glass balls made for this purpose. Fun Factory Smartballs and Lelo Luna Beads are lightly weighted balls with an attached loop that can be inserted into the vagina and tugged gently while squeezing the PC muscle. The Natural Contours Energie vaginal barbell (like many other similar products) is a heavy, curved metal bar that can also be inserted vaginally while doing your Kegels; the weight of the bar gives your PC muscles something to work against, and also helps ensure that you're contracting the right muscles.

Both ball-style and barbell-style exercisers can also be used as sex toys. The Smartballs and Luna Beads function similarly to classic Ben Wa balls, and the sensation of the weights rolling around inside the balls can be highly arousing to some people. The Energie makes a great G-spot stimulator, thanks to its curved shape. You can't say that about those dumbbells lying around in the basement!

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.

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