You've got days that you train your chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs and abs. But can you actually train a "love" muscle? First let's get one thing straight, this love muscle is not the penis despite how proudly some guys may display this. The characteristic firmness that accompanies sexual arousal is not the result of muscle contraction, but of erectile tissue that when a man is sexually aroused becomes engorged with blood. This, of course, when applying the laws of physics makes sense in that an increase in fluid in a certain volume increases pressure within that container. And with an increase in pressure, a resulting change in physical dimensions! Oh boy, that sounds really clinical.
HOW DO YOU FIND THIS MUSCLE?
So you might be asking, "then what is this love muscle?" Interestingly enough, this love muscle is a group of muscles which are found in the region of the body called the pelvic floor. Different anatomists have defined these muscles in various ways, so in order to avoid any confusion, the most popular classifications will be used. Thus, so that you know where these muscles are, some important anatomical landmarks need to be mentioned. Perhaps you can find these on yourself. Yes, you can even try this at home. At a frat party. At a sorority party. Or perhaps at your favorite drive-in movie theater. But we'd suggest you not do this at the in-laws house.
The pelvic floor muscles are located between the legs and are attached between the pubic bone and the coccyx or tailbone. The pubis is actually where the right and left hip joint. If you put your hands on your hip bones and move toward the middle of your abdomen, then journey south you'll hit a rather large ridge before you reach your genitals. That's the pubic bone! In order to find the coccyx, go to the highest portion of your gluteal crease (the cute vertical ridge on your rear), push into it and go downward. If you don't feel anything hard you are too low. The coccyx is the lowest hard bony prominence you should feel and represents the true end of the vertebral column and is the back attachment of the pelvic floor.
ANATOMY OF THE LOVE MUSCLE
Now getting back to the MUSCLES! The pelvic floor is comprised of several individual muscles collectively referred to as the coccygeus and the levator ani muscles. Other muscles in this group include the deep transverse perineal muscles, bulbospongiosus, and ischiocavernosus muscles. (Careful not to confuse the latter two with the erectile tissue in the shaft of the penis- the corpus spongiosum and the corpora cavernosa.) The main function of the pelvic floor as a whole is to support the organs the lie directly above it. Thus, the anterior (front) and posterior (back) attachments of these muscles act as a hammock between the legs supporting the pelvic and abdominal viscera.
The levator ani not only acts as a hammock (sorry, you can't tap a nap on it). to support your organs, but it also prevents the downward thrust that accompanies a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure. You're probably wondering, when do you get sudden increases in intra-abdominal pressure? More often than you might think. For instance, when you sneeze, cough, vomit, or urinate. This muscle is also responsible for prevention of defecation when inconvenient or releasing gas when socially appropriate. But, in addition, an increase in intra-abdominal pressure occurs when you tighten that weight-lifting belt around your waist and perform a Valsalva maneuver during the most difficult part of a lifting motion. (A Valsalva maneuver occurs when you bear down.) So these muscles are important in helping stabilize your torso during a lifting motion.
THE STRUCTURE AND FUNTION OF THIS IMPORTANT MUSCLE
Because the levator ani is the largest and the most functionally significant, it has been the most frequently researched and analyzed of the pelvic floor muscles. Of all the muscles in the human body, scientists have suggested that the levator ani muscle is the most androgen sensitive. Studies on rats have shown that castration, which in essence eliminates most of your body's primary androgen, testosterone, causes a decrease in both the fiber area and weight of the levator ani muscle. When castrated rats are given testosterone, the levator ani doubles in size within nine days reaching a level similar to non-castrated rats. What is unknown and perhaps more interesting, is the effects of long-term testosterone administration on the levator ani in humans? The prodigious doses of androgens taken by the elite bodybuilder today has an obvious and profound effect on the chest, back, bis, tris etc. Would this also cause a tremendous hypertrophy of the levator ani and related pelvic floor muscles? Would this explain the effect in certain men who use steroids the amazing ability to "stay hard?"
Interestingly, the muscle fiber types present in the levator ani are predominantly your fast-twitch fibers, more specifically Type IIb or IIx fibers. In fact, the levator ani is 98% Type IIB fibers! Now that's fast! These fibers are geared for short bursts of high energy activity. This makes sense in that these muscles are infrequently used by most of us and they do fatigue easily. Sounds like a training study waiting to happen.
Studies performed in copulating rats have shown that these muscles show two quick energy bursts. The first is to maintain the rigidity of the penis during intromission (i.e. penetration) and the second burst occurring during ejaculation. This supports the notion that these muscles are fast-twitch indeed! (And men can attest to the fact that these muscles are easily fatigued!)
The role that the pelvic floor plays in sexual function is applicable to both men and women. For men, being able to control the contraction of the pelvic floor might also lead to control of premature ejaculation since the levator ani plays a role in intromission and ejaculation. Women, on the other hand, can heighten sexual pleasure by contracting the pelvic floor musculature during intercourse. This contraction results in increased pressure around the penis and according to the latest statistics, this may actually be a good thing...
Not only does the integrity of the pelvic floor heighten sexual pleasure, it also prevents incontinence, prevents prolapsing of the bladder or uterus, and aids in the childbirth process. Weakening of the pelvic floor is more common in women than men. The three most common causes of a weakened floor are the lack of estrogen in postmenopausal women, vaginal deliveries, and pelvic surgery. As a result women are more likely to suffer a type of incontinence known as stress incontinence which is the loss of urine due to increased intra-abdominal pressure during coughing, sneezing, or laughing. Because the pelvic floor is weakened, the muscles lose their ability to maintain the counter pressure needed to offset the downward thrust. Women who have had vaginal deliveries are also more likely to have a prolapsed bladder or uterus. Therefore, it is becoming customary for doctors to prescribe Kegel exercises to patients who are pregnant, suffer from incontinence, or have a prolapsed bladder.
YES, YOU CAN TRAIN THESE MUSCLES!
Obviously, the muscles of the pelvic floor are important for both men and women! And interestingly, you can train them! Kegel exercises were named for a U.S. physician who came up with exercises to target the strength of the pelvic floor. Kegel exercises are harmless and can be done anytime anywhere. Yep, you don't even need to go to your local gym. In order to contract the pelvic floor, draw in the musculature as though you are stopping the flow of urine or a bowel movement. Be careful not to contract the glutes or the abdominals. Tighten this muscle and hold for approximately 10 seconds then relax for approximately 10 seconds. You should feel a sensation of lifting in the area of the vagina or rectum.
Physical therapists have recommended that you do approximately35 repetitions spaced out over three separate intervals each day. Although, certain references recommend you train these muscles daily, it would actually make more sense to do it every day thus giving the muscle ample time to recuperate. Remember that these exercises can be done anytime anywhere. Some prefer to do it supine while others prefer to be seated. Certainly, women can do it during sexual intercourse. Who said "resistance training" wasn't fun? Also, these exercises will not harm you in any way. In fact, you might find them relaxing and last but not least, it might even help your love life!
- Ivy, C.C. Therapy management of urinary incontinence. Physical Therapy Forum. Feb. 26, 1993.
- Blanco, C.E. et al. Succinate dehydrogenase activity of sexually dimorphic muscles of rats. Journal of Applied Physiology. 78:2147-2152, 1995.
- Rand, M.N. and S.M. Breedlove. Androgen locally regulates rat bulbocavernosus and levator ani size. Journal of Neurobiology. 23:17-30, 1991.
- Venable, J.H. Morphology of the cells of normal, testosterone-deprived and testosterone-stimulated levator ani muscles. American Journal of Anatomy. 119:271-302, 1966.