A Brief and Vaguely Mystical History of Pelvic Floor Strengthening

The practice of strengthening your pelvic floor muscles is believed to be very ancient, practiced in a multitude of different cultures, for a variety of different reasons. Pretty much all of which point to a more invigorating sex life—interested?

In the West, we call pelvic floor training “Kegels,” after the gynecologist who popularized the idea. In 1948, Arnold Kegel developed the perineometer, a tool for measuring pelvic floor strength, and an eponymous exercise regimen as a means to increase that strength. Confronted with many patients suffering from urinary contractions, and uterine prolapse (particularly post-childbirth), he discovered that a number of them had weak pubococcygeal (PC) muscles, and his exercises aimed to help cure these ailments. His patients showed vast improvement after implementing his regimen and stumbled upon a bonus side-effect: the increased blood flow to the area allowed for heightened sensation, and in turn, better orgasms. 

Although his name comes up nearly any time the idea is mentioned, belief in the benefits of having a buff pelvic floor didn’t originate with Kegel. Before Arnold, pelvic floor strengthening was an important part of Chinese Taoist sexual practices and other Eastern sexual beliefs, such as Tantra. With an emphasis on sex as a spiritual practice, the pleasure of the vagina-having partner was of high importance in Taoism, and the strengthening of the pelvic walls believed to enhance the chi, or life force energy. Yoni eggs are often dated back to ancient China and Taoism, and although that history is contested, it is true that pelvic floor strength played an important role in sexual gratification for both partners spiritually and energetically. 

Ben Wa balls, too, have a murky origin—some accounts placing them as far back as 500 A.D., when they were developed as a toy to make sex more pleasurable to the penetrating partner. Small, weighted metal balls, filled with mercury, rubbed up against the penis as it penetrated the vagina. The strange movements of the mercury inside the metal balls turned out to be highly pleasurable to the penetrated partner as well. Ben Wa balls are still worn today, as a mild sexual stimulator, to passively activate the pelvic floor muscles, or to switch-up the sensations of penetrative sex. 

A revered sexual technique called Pompoir, which originated in India, also relied on a well-trained pelvic floor. Skill in the Tantric technique was largely tied to the mastery of the pelvic floor muscles, the ability of the vagina to contract, pull, and squeeze a sexual partner. The practice of Pompoir, as with any technique that leads to strengthened pelvic floor muscles, resulted in greater blood flow to the genital area, leading to greater sensation and stronger orgasms. 

As a result of these Eastern histories, however vague, practices related to pelvic floor strengthening are often shrouded with mysticism in the West today, like in the case of “vaginal weightlifter” Kim Anami’s teachings. Anami touts use of the Yoni egg and other toning devices alongside the spiritual, emotional, and energetic advantages of having an “articulate vagina,” considering her practice of pelvic strengthening to be linked to sex magic. 

Kegels exercises are not only potentially beneficial for the sexual wellness of vagina-having people—contracting the PC muscles that support erections has been shown to curb instances of premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction, and increase blood flow and sensation here as well. And while Kegels can work for many, not everyone “needs” to do them—if you find yourself trying to relax your PC muscles while peeing or experiencing uncomfortable tightness, you are probably beyond sufficiently toned in this region.

If pelvic floor strengthening is something you’ve never tried, playing around with a routine, with or without kegel weights or eggs, and working to activate those muscles could have scintillating results. Especially if you experience urinary incontinence or post-childbirth uterine prolapse or simply want to focus more energy on the area. Listen to your body, experiment with what works for you, and discover the range of potential benefits of pelvic floor strengthening.

Olivia Whittick is a writer based in Montreal. She is managing editor at Editorial Magazine, and an editor at SSENSE.