By Josey Vogels
As a sex columnist, I find people I’ve just met
often tell me things perfect strangers probably have no right knowing. Like
“Maria,” who recently confided that she’s so afraid of losing control of
her bladder that she no longer enjoys sex with her husband.
Now, I know some folks are into water sports (and I’m not
talking white water rafting), but I think it’s safe to
say most of us don’t enjoy peeing during sex.
Unfortunately, for women like Maria who suffer from a
condition known as “urge incontinence,” peeing is not
optional. When she’s gotta go, she’s really gotta go.
“There are usually no warning signs,” says Kelli Berzuk a
physiotherapist specializing in incontinence and pelvic pain
and author of I Laughed So Hard I Peed My Pants: A Women’s
Essential Guide for Improved Bladder Control. “Women suffering
from urgency feel an intense pressure and a need to void
immediately. This can happen anywhere and at any time.”
Which can be a tad embarrassing. But that’s the problem,
say Berzuk. Despite the fact that it’s estimated that half the
female population will at some point experience some form of
incontinence (according to the Mayo Clinic), leaky bladders
aren’t exactly considered appropriate cocktail party
discussion material. And not all of us have a sex columnist
handy to chat with about it.
There is, however, plenty that we gals can do before things
get really bad.
First step: Admit you have a problem. “Many women don’t
have a clue that they qualify as being incontinent,” says
Berzuk. “If we learn to look for warning signs, we can do
something about it.”
Like ease up on the Diet Coke. “Caffeine, artificial
sweeteners and carbonated beverages can irritate the bladder
lining, and over time, cause urgency,” explains Berzuk.
Smoking and alcohol can also contribute to bladder
dysfunction and incontinence, whether that’s leaking when you
sneeze or laugh, or having to go to the bathroom a zillion
times a day.
But be warned, holding off on liquids so you won’t have to
go as often may actually worsen the problem. Besides, holding
your pee too long stresses out your bladder. Having said that,
going too often -- more than, say eight or nine times a day --
could signal an already irritated bladder. A woman with a
healthy bladder should pee between five and nine times in a
day and up to one time at night, says Berzuk.
And while you may pride yourself on your balancing skills
as you hover precariously over a less-than-pristine public
toilet seat, your bladder is literally bearing the brunt.
“Healthy bladder function is all about the relationship
between the pelvic floor muscle and the bladder muscle,”
explains Berzuk. “When you relax your pelvic floor muscle, it
sends a message to your bladder muscle to contract and empty.
If you’re hovering, your legs are contracting and your abdomen
is contracting, so the pelvic floor muscle isn’t relaxed and
you’re pushing the urine out. “Voiding should be a passive
event, it should never be forced.”
So, next time, cover the seat with toilet paper if you
You also wanna whip those pelvic muscles into shape through
Kegel exercises (squeezing like you’re stopping the flow of
urine). Just make sure you’re doing them right. Berzuk says at
least one major study showed that over half of women do their
Kegels incorrectly. “Some women actually worsen incontinence
problems by bearing down rather than pulling the muscle up and
in,” she says.
Strong pelvic floor muscles can also help stop pee leakage
during sex. (FYI, female ejaculation and urine loss are two
different things so make sure you’re not thinking you’ve peed
the bed when you’ve actually just enjoyed a healthy G-spot
orgasm. The main clue: pee is yellow and can smell, while
ejaculate is clear and odourless.) Certain sexual positions
may help if incontinence is a problem, says Berzuk. “Lying
down is better,” she says. “If you’re standing or sitting,
gravity is pushing the pelvic organs downward, and putting
pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. Deep thrusting can also
trigger bladder muscle spasm.”
But, she stresses, every woman’s anatomy is different and
it’s best to try various positions to see what works best for
While it’s certainly true that pregnancy and childbirth
also put added pressure on the bladder and pelvic muscles,
you’re not automatically sentenced to incontinence.
“[It’s best] to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles before
you get pregnant,” Berzuk says. “That way, you’ll know how to
find that muscle and gingerly work it even when everything
feels throbby, bruised, and mushy down there after
childbirth.” What fun. Combine worrying about spending our
adult life in diapers with long bathroom line-ups and an
inability to write our names in the snow, and it’s clear women
get a raw deal in the pee department.
Luckily, female incontinence is treatable. “Ours is caused
by muscle neglect, hormonal changes, weight gain, and so on,
while men usually become incontinent as a result of nerve
damage caused by prostate enlargement or prostate surgery,”
explains Berzuk. Speaking of surgery, Berzuk advises women who
are considering a “bladder lift” to practice good peeing
habits and keep those muscles strong. “You’ll stand a much
better chance of it succeeding,” she offers.
While it’s time to admit that bladder control problems
aren’t reserved for old gals or those of us who’ve popped out
a bunch of kids (“We’re seeing this now in teenage girls
involved in high-impact sports”), we don’t have to accept it
as part of life as a woman.
“It’s important to address the problem rather than the
symptoms,” says Berzuk. “If we were able to talk about it more
easily with other women, we could recognize the signs early on
when we can still do something about it.”
So, ladies, next time you’re at a party and see a woman
drinking a Diet Coke and crossing her legs when she sneezes,
strike up a conversation. Tell her about this great book
you’ve been reading about pee.
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