This article is written in partnership with Yarlap®—they’re dedicated to helping us enjoy the benefits of better pelvic floor health and we’re honored to work with them. ~ ed.
I remember the first time it happened.
I was surprised—a little shocked even. Half amused, half embarrassed.
I thought it was just temporary. That it would go away in time. Then it happened again, and again…until it became “just the way it is.”
I accepted it as an inconvenient truth of life after children. Every time I sneeze, cough, laugh too hard or jump too high, I pee myself a little. Fact.
Welcome to one of (wo)mankind’s least-talked-about but most widespread health issues: urinary incontinence (the medical term for bladder leaks).
Incontinence hotline. Can you hold, please? Eugh! It used to send sympathetic shivers up my spine every time I saw one of those cringey ads for “leaky” or “overactive bladder” on the back of a public toilet cubicle door.
Before it happened to me, a leaking bladder seemed like something older women who hadn’t done their Kegels properly had to contend with in private.
Permanently necessary protective padding in place, they would laugh knowingly with their equally challenged friends because none of them could “hold” after all.
It’s far from the truth about pelvic floor health. But it’s exactly the kind of picture of so-called “bladder control” problems that keeps them shrouded in embarrassment and secrecy.
Urinary incontinence is common, but that doesn’t make it normal.
One in two women will experience some kind of pelvic floor related struggle in their lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we should have to live with it.
Most of us do, though, as a peer review article on pelvic floor issues for women published in March 2020 states: “Incontinence symptoms are rarely reported by women because the outcomes are intensely personal and often prompt emotional burdens of shame and embarrassment, as well as low self-esteem and it may diminish sexual activity.”
And these one out of two women range from college athletes to septuagenarians. This is not a problem exclusive to women of a certain age, body type, fitness, or activity level…or even to women themselves. Men struggle with it, too—though not as prevalently.
So, it’s about time we brought it out from behind the restroom door and into the light. There really is no reason to be ashamed once you realize just how many of us share the struggle—and how easy it can be to solve, with the right support.
That’s precisely what MaryEllen Reider, co-founder of Yarlap®, is on a mission to do: destigmatize pelvic floor dysfunction and empower women to reclaim their pelvic floor health, and their lives. How exactly? With the help of a nifty device her dad invented…
That is to say, an FDA-approved, medical-grade AutoKegel® device her dad, Brent—fellow co-founder of Yarlap®, and medical device engineer for muscle rehab—invented after a family friend experienced pelvic floor issues and he started looking into how he could help.
I’ve been using the Yarlap® for the past two months, in the privacy and comfort of my own home, where it was delivered in beautiful, discreet packaging. And it has changed my life.
And I’m not the only one whose life (and pelvic floor) has been changed for the better:
A healthy pelvic floor is about much more than just being able to hold in your pee.
The primary function of the pelvic floor muscles is postural. They play an essential role in the dynamic stability of the whole musculoskeletal structure of the body and they hold our visceral organs in their correct natural position.
So, that belly pooch?
It may be a sign of a weak pelvic floor. I’m pretty sure it was for me, because, a couple of weeks after I started using the Yarlap®, I noticed a definite shift in the slight but stubborn little belly protrusion I had come to accept as the permanent aftermath of having carried and birthed two human beings into the world.
A small price to pay, but still.
And pelvic floor muscle tone not only improves bladder control, but also has a huge impact on sexual performance and expression. Honestly, I didn’t have many complaints before, but since, things have only, well…improved beyond expectations. Quite an unexpected side-perk.
Good old Dr. Kegel himself said that “sexual feeling within the vagina is closely related to muscle tone, and can be improved through muscle education.”
The best part? I haven’t had to do a single one of those frankly inscrutable and tedious exercises named for the doctor himself. Nope. Not one Kegel. Well, not on my own anyway. Because Yarlap® does them for you.
You see, the problem with Kegels is they’re hard to do right and they don’t always work, because…they’re hard to do right. And they’re hard to do right if:
1. You lack pelvic awareness and…strength (kind of the problem here).
2. You lack patience and persistence (hold for 5, release for 20, and…yawn, I lost count).
Personally, I don’t so much lack #1 as I do #2. My mother has been telling me pretty much since I conceived my first son to “do my Kegels.” Did I listen? Obviously not.
Kegels are downright boring and I’ve already got a million other things to juggle.
So, I simply avoided things like skipping at the gym (annoying, since it’s one of the best calorie burners around, and sneezing or coughing or laughing too hard on a full bladder (tricky, and requires frequent precautionary bathroom breaks).
I took even more precautionary bathroom breaks whenever my two energetic boys wanted me to join them on the trampoline. Which sucked, because I cannot overemphasize just how much I love jumping on the trampoline.
I started using Yarlap® three times a week for 15-20 minutes each time, following the simple instructions specific to stress incontinence (when a physical movement or activity like running, jumping, sneezing, or coughing causes involuntary leaks).
It’s different from other “Kegel devices” because, well, it’s not a Kegel device. It’s an Autokegel® device. It uses automatic muscle stimulation to remove all the guesswork, hard work, and margin for error involved in regular Kegels.
After three weeks, I was able to enjoy a whole hour of non-stop, leak-free jumping at an indoor trampoline park for my eldest son’s 10th birthday.
I did not have to miss out on one second of silliness and fun. What an absolute pleasure!
Uninterrupted trampolining aside, what exactly does a healthy pelvic floor feel like?
If our pelvic floor muscles are the cornerstone of everything from a healthy posture to a satisfying orgasm, why don’t we pay them more attention?
Because we don’t tend to realize we have a healthy pelvic floor until…we don’t. Totally understandable. For a crucial muscle group, they’re deep, internal, and tricky to locate.
As the Queensland Government said, “the pelvic floor muscles are kind of like a sling of muscles that runs between the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone at the back.”
Think of them like a small muscle hammock that supports your visceral (internal) organs, including your bladder.
While a healthy pelvic floor might be easy to take for granted, the signs of a dysfunctional one tend to be pretty loud and clear:
- Urinary issues, such as urge incontinence (when you have a sudden, intense urge to urinate, often followed by leaking, and/or you need to urinate frequently) and stress incontinence (which is what I have…or had, maybe)
- Constipation or bowel strains
- Lower back issues
- Pain and/or instability in the pelvic area
- Pressure, discomfort, or muscles spasms in the pelvic area
- Pain during penetrative sex for people with vulvas
- Inability to experience orgasm, or lack of intensity when orgasming
You shouldn’t have to live with the pain, lack of intimacy, and embarrassing leaks that come with pelvic floor dysfunction.
Sadly, many doctors are just not properly trained in pelvic floor health. So, they have no idea that “just get on with it and do more Kegels” is not a solution for most people with pelvic floor issues.
And, as it turns out, I was wise not to have followed my mom’s advice after all. Having a healthy pelvic floor actually has nothing to do with whether you’ve “done your Kegels” or not.
In fact, over 50% of people cannot do a proper Kegel exercise (even with proper training). Mind-blowing, but also understandable. As we’ve established, these muscles are really hard to isolate.
Even if you are among those who do manage to get them right, doing more of them may do more harm than good. Like any muscle group, we can also overtone our pelvic floor.
This leads to a pelvic floor that’s a bit like a bodybuilder at their first yoga class: tense, in a fair amount of pain, and definitely unable to relax their root chakra. All without actually solving the problem of bladder control.
The beauty of the Autokegel® approach is that it also improves your innate muscle awareness through training the muscles progressively and safely to both strengthen and relax more effectively. After years of wondering whether I’m doing them right, I’m now familiar with what a Kegel should actually feel like, so I’m able to isolate my pelvic floor muscles with more ease, too.
I still favor the Yarlap®, though, because I can literally fall asleep while it does its work. And it switches off automatically once the program is complete. It’s polite that way. Easy to clean and store, too.
And the sensation itself? Well, I was a little nervous at first about the idea of putting a “stim device” inside my vagina. But I was pleased to discover how perfectly comfortable, even reassuring it feels. As one eloquent user explained, “It’s like a firm handshake in your vagina.”
And, after a solid hour of fun on the trampolines with my kids, I feel inclined to give her (my vagina, that is) a high five for good measure.