We’re so very out of touch with our pelvic floors. Until researching for our podcast episode with Sarah Wolujewicz, Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist at The Havelock Clinic, I didn’t even know that men had a pelvic floor!
Yes, us women might be a bit more aware of ours but it’s a part of even our bodies that we tend to ignore until there’s a problem. Quite frankly this is shocking considering how important they are in terms of stability and also sexual function.
Your pelvic floor is the collection of muscles, tendons, ligaments and fibrous tissues, running from your public bone to your coccyx, that supports pelvic organs helping you to enjoy sex, stopping you from wetting yourself and from bowel issues. A good visual is imagining it as a hammock.
Sarah agreed that we don’t talk about it enough and this coyness about anything to do with our pelvic floors, bladders, bowels, vulvas and penises was echoed in the podcast interviews with Jane Lewis, author of Me and My Menopausal Vagina (S1 E7) and Laura Dodsworth (S2 E1) author of the Bare Reality series. Her book Womanhood was the subject of the Channel 4 documentary ‘100 Vaginas’. What I’ve learnt from all three of these women is that the lack of discussion is leading to serious consequences. I’ve written about my learning from interviewing Laura Dodsworth previously.
So,‘serious consequences’ – men first. If you Google images of male/female pelvic floors you’ll see they’re quite similar. But men are even less inclined to think about them until there’s a health impact.
Erectile Dysfunction is difficulty gaining or maintaining an erection. It’s not something that men shout from the rooftops about but it’s a very commonly searched term on the internet. There could be a host of medical reasons for it and it could be psychological but it can also be the first sign of cardio vascular disease. An erection relies on good, healthy blood vessels that increase the blood flow into the penis so, of course, it actually makes perfect sense that a struggle to get or maintain one could actually be flagging up something really serious, but blokes will ignore it, keep it to themselves, make excuses because, heaven forbid that you admit to anyone that you’ve got a problem with your manhood, right? Well, ‘man-up’ and go see your GP for god’s sake.
Women are a bit different in that wetting ourselves is absolutely considered top-grade comedy fodder in our female circles. How hilarious are the stories of actually pissing our pants when we’ve jumped on the trampoline with the kids, run for a train, sneezed, or coughed? But, for god’s sake, don’t laugh too hard, unless you’ve got a spare pair of knickers in your bag.
However, consider for a moment the message this is sending – the laughing, the adverts for a whole range of items to deal with those ‘Oops moments’ all telling us that this is ‘normal’ and a part of ageing that we just need to accept when actually roughly 80% of those issues could be helped by seeing a Women’s Health Physiotherapist.
If a woman starts wearing these items to manage symptoms in her 50s, say, she could be wearing them for 20-30 years. Without a doubt she’ll have issues such as soreness and infection which isn’t so comical.
Consider also that one of the biggest reasons for people moving into nursing homes is around bladder/bowel incontinence. Still laughing?
I haven’t even touched on vaginal atrophy, a condition so misunderstood and in some cases so severe that women have taken their lives rather than continue suffering. Please listen to the podcast with Jane Lewis (S1 E7) for information and support on dealing with this.
I asked Sarah in this episode about pelvic floor trainers and penis weights (yes, we giggled at the idea of resistance training for penises). Research on such gadgets is limited and they could be damaging if not used correctly. So, can I suggest that rather than forking out for something endorsed by a celebrity who’s being paid to influence you, instead you look to the NICE Guidelines that recommend supervised pelvic floor training? Your time and money will be better spent on a consultation with a Pelvic Health Physiotherpist.
Sarah Wolujewicz assured me that ‘it’s never too late’ and that something she hears often is patients wishing they’d got help sooner.
Listen to the episode to learn about simple, evidence-based steps you can take yourself and also to gain a bit more understanding so that you can make informed choices about your pelvic floor health.
POGP website (Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy) – excellent leaflets and able to help with finding a local physio: https://pogp.csp.org.uk/
Squeezy App (pelvic floor exercises app and ‘Find a physio’ directory – NHS and Private): https://www.squeezyapp.com/
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