What do you know about your pelvic floor?
During the month of June we’re talking about pelvic floor issues.
We looked at postpartum recovery, what to expect from a pelvic floor physiotherapist appointment, and the main causes of vaginismus.
Today, Bethany Peterson, a pelvic floor physiotherapist, joins us to talk about why it’s so important to get to know your pelvic floor!
Historically, female anatomy has been a hushed topic.
Science and medical fields were centuries into studying and dissecting men’s bodies before anyone turned their attention to women. The generational delay in understanding female anatomy negatively affected our advancements in women’s health and pleasure!
To slow our progress even further, the Evangelical Church’s approach to women’s bodies and sexuality has been one of fear. Don’t look at it, don’t talk about it, and definitely don’t touch it.
The man-made walls society and religion build around female genitalia are dangerous.
Those walls cause women to disassociate from their own pelvises to the point we are afraid to talk to our physicians, unable to communicate with our partners, and live unnecessarily detached from a part of our God-given body.
It’s time to take those walls down.
Getting to know your pelvic floor
Before we get too deep and personal on this topic, let me introduce myself! I am Dr. Bethany Peterson, a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist based in Kansas City.
When a new patient walks into my office, I make education my first priority. I pull out my handy dandy pelvis model and use it to help women understand where their muscles and organs are, how those body parts function, and what can cause them to malfunction.
(This isn’t a picture of the model, but it is a diagram of the pelvic floor!)
You see, girls don’t naturally interact with their private parts during childhood like boys do. A boy’s anatomy is very external. They see their penis and touch it when they go to the bathroom. Erections are normalized at a young age. And, while masturbation tends to be a taboo topic especially in the church, it’s much less taboo for young men than for young women.
Girls interact with their private parts primarily during toileting. They don’t spend time looking at or touching their body. And, sexual arousal is rarely addressed, often making girls feel weird, guilty, or even dirty about the natural sensations they feel in their pelvic area.
The idea that any part of your body is inherently dirty is simply unbiblical. Every piece of your body is miraculously made and no one has the right to make you feel any differently! In fact, the systems that shame you or make you disassociate with your pelvic region are in themselves, abusive.
Dissociation with your pelvic floor is dangerous.
The majority of women who come to my office for the first time are dissociated from their pelvis. Their body is sitting right in front of me, but that pelvis of theirs might as well be on Mars.
They are likely suffering from very common conditions like incontinence, abnormal periods, discomfort with sex, or a variety of other painful and wildly disruptive symptoms. But, they’ve been trained to believe that these problems are just a fact of life.
When I ask women exactly where they feel pain, what those sensations are like, or what their “normal” is, I often get that deer-in-the-headlights look. They are so conditioned to feel shame and embarrassment about their pelvic floor, that they struggle to advocate for themselves to a doctor!
Let me tell you, nothing makes me more excited than to assure these women that they can relax. The physical pain they are in is not because of anything they have done wrong. And, freedom from that pain is possible.
Once they take a deep breath, the stories start flowing. I listen carefully to stories about sexual trauma, abuse, shame, and traumatic pregnancies and births. Then, I get questions. Questions about sexual consent, duty sex, sexual addiction, spousal rape, vaginismus, and much more.
One of the big glaring problems is, terms like “consent,” “duty sex,” and “vaginismus” are not terms in most of my patients’ vocabulary.
I arrive at these terms with my clients after long, deep conversations about their own personal experiences.
I find out that they have never experienced an orgasm, yet they continue to have penetrative sex with their husbands because after all, “he needs it.” Or, I discover that they’re postpartum and their organs feel like they’re going to fall out when they have sex, yet they continue to do it anyway.
Sometimes, these stories clearly point to trauma and abuse, but the woman is so unaware of her rights to pleasure and autonomy over her own body, that she doesn’t even realize she’s had traumatic or abusive experiences.
Perpetuating women’s ignorance about their own anatomy makes them more vulnerable to abuse and less equipped to advocate for their own health and wellness.
None of this is the woman’s fault! It is the failure of generations of societal and religious wall-builders who keep them from knowing themselves.
Knowing your own body is crucial for communication and pleasure
Inability to orgasm, low sex drives, and pain with sex are all very common symptoms. In my professional experience, these are all far more prevalent in the Christian women I treat than they are with women who don’t subscribe to a particular faith.
There’s data to back up that experience, too. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, vaginismus was found in more women who adhered to strong conservative morals over liberal morals. And, those experiencing vaginismus were “more restricted in their readiness to perform particular sex-related behaviors than the control group.”
Do you know what makes women more likely to orgasm and enjoy sex? Open communication with their partner. Do you know who often has a hard time communicating with their partner? Conservative Christian women who have been conditioned to believe that their pleasure is secondary to their husband’s.
The 20,000 women surveyed for The Great Sex Rescue solidifies this evidence further:
Figure taken from The Great Sex Rescue.
In order to communicate what makes you feel good, you have to know what makes you feel good!
That requires you to have felt pleasure before, be able to reproduce that pleasure, and teach your partner how to help you get there!
Some of my most productive appointments have been when a woman’s partner comes with her to physical therapy. In those sessions, I can help a couple discover what’s anatomically happening in a woman’s body.
For instance, I can test for things like decreased mobility in the clitoris. The clitoris can be our best friend! But if it’s not touched and stimulated with relative frequency, it’s possible to develop decreased mobility. This is just one example of a common yet abnormal condition that can be fixed with a little education for both the man and woman in the relationship.
Knowledge is power and communicating knowledge can lead to great sex!
How do we get to know ourselves?
1. Get a mirror.
I know it seems silly, but we need to start by looking at our own bodies.
If I had a dollar for every time I handed one of my patients a mirror just to have them apologize for not shaving well, gross out at their own discharge, or say something along the lines of “that’s disgusting,” I could retire. Your anatomy is BEAUTIFUL! Do not apologize or be ashamed. (Do you think men apologize to their physician about their penis? Nope.)
2. Feel yourself.
Self-exploration does not have to be associated with lust, porn, or any other unhealthy behavior. Remember, men touch their penises daily. It’s healthy to know and be able to communicate what feels pleasurable and what feels uncomfortable when you’re touched. This is normal!
Discover your own normal. Every woman’s body is different. Your vagina will look, smell, and feel different than the next woman’s. If you know what your normal is, you can catch signs of abnormality early and talk to a doctor about anything out of the ordinary.
Educating the next generation
Our daughters do not need to grow up with walls around their pelvises. We have a responsibility to empower them with education. From a young age, they can learn the proper names for their anatomy. Instead of being afraid to whisper the word vagina, they can learn to communicate clearly to a doctor when they notice something is awry.
They can also be confident in telling their future spouse exactly what feels good and what doesn’t. And, most importantly, they can protect and advocate for themselves because they haven’t been made to feel ashamed about their own body parts.
Let’s forcibly stop society, religion, and men from dictating how well we get to know our own divinely created bodies and start getting acquainted with those beautiful pelvises!
Thank you, Bethany, and her co-author Rachel Bradrick!
Sign up for a free phone consult with Bethany here, or for her upcoming Taking Care of Mom class. Bethany is located in Kansas City, but she does do online consults.
For Physical Therapists, Bethany and Rachel are also working on a Continuing Education Unit about the cultural and religious implications on vaginismus. Pre-register here!
Bethany Peterson, DPT, graduated from Creighton University with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Prior to giving birth to her daughter, Bethany was working extensively with acute, skilled nursing, and traumatic brain injury patients in Kansas City. Her C-section recovery journey led her to more understanding and greater appreciation for Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy, so she took the leap and started training to specialize. Today, she is the founder and owner of Well + Core Physical Therapy in Kansas City, and an advocate for re-writing the script about female wellness and sex education, especially within the Evangelical Church.
Rachel Bradrick is a Kansas City-based physical therapist and the creator and owner of PTLearningLab.com. She graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Kansas and has worked extensively in outpatient, acute, skilled nursing, and traumatic brain injury care. Rachel is extremely passionate about patient advocacy and raising the standard of care among physical therapists. She and Bethany are currently collaborating on a Continuing Education Course for physical therapists based on the intersection of religious and cultural effects on vaginismus.
Can you relate to what Bethany and Rachel are saying? Why do you think women feel so uncomfortable touching themselves or so embarrassed at doctor’s offices? Let’s talk in the comments!
Pelvic Floor Series
- Why the Pelvic Floor Matters
- What Can You Expect from a Visit with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist?
- PODCAST: What should you expect after childbirth?
- 3 Keys to Childbirth Recovery
- The 4 Main Causes of Vaginismus?
- Why Exploring Your Pelvic Floor is Crucial to Your Health (and Sex Life!) (June 15)
- The Pelvic Floor Podcast (june 17)
- How to Address and Treat Vaginismus (June 21)
- How to Do a Kegel Exercise (June 28)
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My personal tip for knowing your pelvic floor and seeing a PFT: Kegels are NOT always the answer. Sometimes (like in my case), they’re harmful to recovery. I was SUPER tight for a long time and didn’t even understand. Then I got incontinence after childbirth and people said to do kegels. Turns out bc my muscles were already super tight I was just exacerbating the issue. My PFT had to teach me how to relax my muscles first.
Yes! The blanket recommendation to just do kegels is not good. Should you do kegels? The answer is … maybe!
Thank you so much for the conversation! Do we ever need it as Christian Women and other religions too probably!!! Thank you again!
As I look back at my teen years I’m thankful my natural curiosity and shows like Sex and the City helped me overcome my embarrassment to explore my genitalia. As I became more involved in conservative churches I was ashamed of these things but now as I’m pulling away from those harmful teachings and toxic circles I no longer feel ashamed. Maybe Sex and the City wasn’t the best educator for a teen girl (said with sarcasm) but it turns out there’s far worse coming from many churches. And as I had to deal with multiple issues such as UTIs after I first got married it was helpful to know my body.
Pondering this post. Something doesn’t sit right, and it’s hard to define what.
Of course shame isn’t from God. Of course women were designed to enjoy sex. Of course the body is good. Religious teachings have gotten these things wrong, and that’s beyond sad, and worthy of addressing. We can use Protestant Christianity’s own standard–the Bible–to prove that the body is good, and that marital love is holy and beautiful and mutual, and that these other teachings are chaff.
This post is addressed to an evangelical audience, but does not use the language (or attitude) of Christianity to prove its points. It uses the language of the current culture wars (“Let’s forcibly stop…”), the New Age (‘get in touch with your body’), and Brittany Spears (“I touch myself; it’s not a sin”).
It seems to me that if you want to win over a certain audience, you use their own text and language to do so. Unless you so disrespect that text and language that you have to import from elsewhere.
As an evangelical with a very happy sex life, I can say with confidence that these imported ideas aren’t necessary for achieving the authors’ stated objectives.
Do we have to trash our entire heritage in order to reclaim our God-given gift of sexuality and health?
I agree with the heart and soul of the message, but not with the way the authors got there, and not with some of the particulars of their conclusions.
Sex is meant to be unitive, so having your spouse touch you, or doing so while in an intimate setting with your spouse, is far different from the bondage of solo masturbation, which this article barely stops short of praising.
Sheila, you’re usually a lot more Christian in tone than this. What’s happening???
Solo masturbation is a perfectly normal and healthy way of learning about your own body and how you can reach pleasure. It is not sinful. And “getting in touch with your body” is absolutely crucial if you don’t want to end up dissociating and unable to be fully present in the body God gave you.
Since the Christian heritage for women’s sexuality has been one of shame, guilt, pain, violence, abuse, oppression, and denial, then yeah, I think it’s time to trash it.
I’m so sorry you feel this way, Meredith! May I ask–why come here for advice, then? Why not Cosmo?
On what grounds should we trash our heritage? What foundation are you using underneath your belief that freedom, joy, and wholeness are good things? These very ideas come from Christianity.
I would argue, as someone experiencing the amazing gift of sex in marriage, that Jesus is allowed to set us free on His own terms. He happened to have them written down for us in a handy little book that’s shaped our whole culture and given rise to the very ideas you espouse. Properly handled, they create freedom of a lasting kind that no secular revolution has ever done. (A brief review of every historical movement bent on “smashing” things from older generations reveals a lot of short-lived disasters.)
I worry that you are missing out on the amazing intimacy that can be present when there is no solo pleasure, but lots of amazing, mutual, relational, soul-edifying pleasure. And that goes for men too. Does masturbation happen as part of the growing -up years? Yes, and we shouldn’t shame kids for it, just like we don’t shame them for stumbling when learning to walk. But neither should we promote it on a marriage advice blog as a legitimate avenue for mature Christian expression.
I think it’s a great post.
If you don’t like the phrases and word choices, you can take the meaning behind the words.
Touching your own body has absolutely nothing to do with some pop song from a previous decade. Touching your own body is simply an action. I find it absolutely astounding that this article made you think of Britney Spears, of all things. It seems like you are giving popular culture far more power that it deserves. It never even entered my mind. Stop giving so much attention and power to things that aren’t worth your energy.
Touching your own body is not bondage. Haven’t you ever bathed, used a tampon or cup? Understanding your body parts is not just shy of masturbating.
As far as “our heritage,” I don’t believe I share a heritage with you. I was raised to read the Bible and follow God. Nothing about understanding your body and seeking good medical care contradicts that. Nothing about being ashamed of your body body resonates with Jesus.
Lisa, I think that other readers have interpreted the article the way I have, as well. See Meredith’s interpretations. With respect, I think I have read between the lines more than you.
In no way do I think that anatomical knowledge through personal exploration and partnered, intimate exploration is wrong. Not in the least! I am coming at this as someone with, I think, I very relaxed attitude toward understanding one’s own body.
What I am saying is that (a) we can arrive at liberating, healthy conclusions using our own ideological framework (yes, ours….I’m pretty hurt by your comment stating that your heritage is different…on what grounds can you say that? Find me the unChristian quote), and (b) articles that talk about self-awareness without countering the current *massive* trend toward solo pleasure as an end in itself in womens’ health, miss the mark. The idea that pop songs don’t influence our thinking is naive! That song helped pave the way.
I recommend Alisa Childers’ (a former Zoe Girl singer’s) podcasts on how the New Age and the self-help religion have found their way into Christian women’s advice. The most ardent authors in this area recommend setting oneself free from every Christian sexual ethic, “burning them to the ground”, etc. Their new idea of sex looks just like hedonism, does not protect children, and accepts pornography, open relationships, etc. In trading in the bondage of our own false religious interpretations, we don’t need to accept empty ideas from another source. I think Jesus is enough.
I love this blog because big ideas have tended to be discussed with nuance and a Jesus-centred ethic. These authors have a distinctly different flavour, and use no distinctly Christian proofs for their ideas in the entire article.
By stating that I don’t share a heritage with you, that isn’t calling you unChristian.
The foundation of a Christian is Jesus of Nazareth and I share that foundation with many, many people and I’m glad you’re one of them.
The heritage you brought up in your post was the extra cultural aspects of evangelical protestantism in the USA. Stating that “getting in touch with your body” is New Age is not a shared heritage among all Christians, only a small sector. I do not share that heritage with you. Stating that I don’t share that heritage with you is not derogatory, it’s simply a statement that not everyone who is Christian shares a cultural heritage with you.
If you can quote the passage from this post that encourages masturbation that would be really helpful.
You stated that you read between the lines more than I did. If that is the case, you are putting your own thoughts into this post rather than reading what the author actually wrote. It isn’t uncommon for our own hangups to interfere with how we hear others. But we need to own that and not insist that other people are saying things that they clearly are not saying.
I’ll ask again, haven’t you bathed or used a tampon or menstrual cup? Treated yourself for a vaginal yeast overgrowth? You’ve had to touch yourself and understand your anatomy. A woman who fully understands and appreciates her own anatomy is also much more likely to have a positive experience giving birth. That includes getting in touch with your own body and listening to gut instincts that something isn’t right. Good midwives and obstetricians know this, also. When a pregnant woman “just knows” that something isn’t right, they take it seriously.
Em, reading your comments, I feel like you read a totally different article to the one I did! The author (and it’s written by a guest writer who is a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist) is looking at how issues with the pelvic floor can affect our lives and how to ensure we are healthy in that area. She isn’t encouraging us to trash our entire Christian heritage, merely those bits of it that are unhelpful and unbiblical. (Like the women who don’t realise they have a genital cancer until it is too late to treat because they’ve always been told that ‘good Christian women don’t look down there’ – I find it really weird that women who have no issue in regularly checking their breasts for abnormalities think it’s ‘disgusting’ to do the same to their vaginal area!!! – And the single women who won’t go for desperately needed examinations or treatment because they think they will ‘lose their purity’ if a doctor examines them.) And she refers more than once to the fact that our bodies – every part of them – are ‘God given’.
Do you think it’s perhaps possible that you read the title of this article and made assumptions about what the article would contain based on that?
Oh, and by the way, as someone who regularly has to examine her vaginal area to monitor an auto immune condition, I can assure that there is ZERO similarity between feeling yourself to check for abnormalities and masturbation!!!
That isn’t what I’ve claimed at all. *face-palm*
But you are saying this article is encouraging ‘new age’ attitudes to the body and solo masturbation. I’ve now reread this article four times and I still can’t see where you are getting this from. Yes, it’s written differently from the way Sheila writes – the authors are medical professionals discussing medical health issues after all, so I would expect that. But I do not see anything unbiblical in what they are advising. And I 100% agree that it is time we stood firm against some of the terrible, unbiblical advice coming from some churches.
NB: I’m also struggling to find the quote from Britney Spears you claim they used. I think perhaps you are looking for things that aren’t there.
Em, I’m honestly not sure what you’re referring to. Do you mean that it’s wrong to look at your genitals with a mirror? Or to touch yourself so that you understand where the clitoris is, what the ridge on the clitoris is for, the difference between the urethra and the vagina? These are actually pretty important things for our own health.
Getting in touch with your body is actually quite an important thing, and isn’t new age. When you don’t understand your body, very bad things can happen. You can miss out on red flags that could signal that something is wrong. I just got an email from a woman today who had vaginismus and waited for 5 years before she got treatment. 5 years with no penetration! And why? Because we’re embarrassed of our genitalia. This is a HUGE issue, so we have to get beyond it.
I honestly don’t see what the problem is here. I’m not part of the culture wars, Em. I’m not even American. Could the problem be that you see things through the culture war lens, and then assume that people are saying things that they’re not? We know from our survey that so many women feel shame about their bodies. We know from our most recent survey about women when they were teens that so many have absolutely no understanding of their genitalia (they have better understanding of the words for male genitalia than for female genitalia). This is a huge issue. And I think using medical words is really okay. I believe that Jesus wants us to know and understand our bodies. Our bodies are good! And I hope that we can all be comfortable enough with them and treat them well enough that when something bad happens, we will seek help. And I think that’s something that is very, very Christian. We serve a God who cared for our physical bodies. Who did physical healings; who turned water into wine; who fed the 5000. He cares about our physical experiences, and so it honestly is okay for us to as well.
That’s why I love YOUR writing, Sheila. You’ve proven the authors’ (worthy) thesis using distinctly Christian language, thus elevating Jesus and the Bible in the minds of the reader. These authors didn’t.
I’m clearly not the only reader to have read the article thinking that the authors were tacitly encouraging masturbation, which again, is absolutely everywhere in women’s health right now. (See other comments.)
Don’t worry! I’m in touch with my body, as you say. I just don’t think that’s helpful language, as it borrows from the culture instead of our heritage. “Let’s forcibly stop” is a really weird thing for these authors to say, too. I think we’re all affected by what’s happening around us and you don’t have to be American to know about those things.
Well said, Em. Honestly, I’ve found myself steering away from “Christian” content lately that just doesn’t sit right with me… like, it’s coming from a source I want to trust & have in the past, but then there’s just something about it that doesn’t sit right with me either. (this post included and many others, even though on the surface I may agree with the premise). Maybe it’s the language used, like you said. Maybe it’s something deeper. Idk. I can’t pinpoint it exactly.
I one hundred percent agree with you on this one. Propagating secular views on solo sex a.k.a masturbation for unmarried Christians is absolutely wrong. It’s like saying if you don’t fornicate before marriage you will commit adultery after marriage. Because there is certainly no way to learn how to be pleasured by a spouse, if you have not pleasured yourself before.
I hope it is not the intention of this article to create fear in young Christian women, that if they are not masturbating (which is never done by teen girls and young women detached from lustful thoughts) before marriage, they are doomed to experience sexual intimacy in marriage that is not pleasurable and gratifying.
Christian girls who are saying no to masturbation since it is sexual immorality do not deserve this burden of fear, shame and guilt, you are indirectly placing on them Sheila
I don’t understand where this is coming from. Knowing what parts of your body are pleasurable is not masturbation. It’s also not wrong to touch your genitals. Boys touch theirs all the time. It is very, very important to know your anatomy. It really is. I’m sorry that people think this is dirty.
I think it is amazing that conversations are happening about the pelvic floor. I could have avoided a lot of issues if everything mentioned in this post had been normalized for me. I’m going to try to do my part to make it normal. Thank you Bethany and Rachel!
So to be blunt because I have teenagers and that usually how they ask questions. For those readers like Em and the others who have problems with the way this article might have been creeping towards encouraging masturbation I will ask the same question my daughter asked me. Where in the Bible does it tell women that they can not touch themselves or masturbate? Where does it say that they can only explore their bodies with their husband? I understand where the argument comes from against male masturbation for Catholics and the spilling of his seed but where are women discussed? I also understand and can agree with many thoughts about masturbation in marriage etc etc. However, if we are going to say that an article is creeping towards going against our Christian Heritage or coded for what the Bible teaches us where is the chapter and verse? I tried to find one. I couldn’t. This I believe is part of what this author was getting at. Knowing your body, the way it feels, the way it looks heck even what causes it to orgasm is not sinful and of this world. It is literally understanding Gods creation and how it works. We have put rules on it and called them Gods at a huge cost to our health.
It’s not in the Bible. It’s extra legalism. The verse about men spilling their seed was about a man avoiding his societal duty to provide a son for a widow, it wasn’t saying masturbation is a sin.
There are some excellent arguments for and against masturbation. I don’t see a case for it being a sin.
Hello Sheila I am just wondering about something. If believers say that self exploration of the clitoris is necessary for unmarried Christian women to be able to know what they want out of sexual intimacy when they are eventually married.
Where do we draw the line on Masturbation as sexual immorality, is it when they want to get vibrators, or start reading erotica for ideas on better ways to explore their bodies. I just want to know so I can be sure what is biblically sound. Because right now I feel like I am cheating my future spouse by not exploring what is pleasurable for me.
All my life I have been taught that sexual intimacy after marriage is about learning together what is pleasurable.
Yes, I think that’s very true–sexual exploration is best once you’re married.
At the same time, never touching your genitals and never knowing the parts of your anatomy is not healthy and can lead to a lot of shame later, and can make it harder to get aroused later.
It is not necessary to know how to bring yourself to orgasm in order to have him bring you to orgasm. However, many married couples, if they’re struggling with how to get her aroused, can benefit from her exploring herself (either with his hand or with hers) to figure out what feels good. Often women do need to figure it out, because he’s not touching in a way that feels good, and they don’t even know what to ask for. If you spend a lot of time on foreplay first, this generally does take care of itself.
I think it’s far more important to have an expectation going into marriage that he will spend time on foreplay and on getting you aroused than it is to learn how to reach orgasm yourself. But that does need to be communicated. What far too many couples do is rush to intercourse. She’s never aroused. They don’t know why or what’s wrong, and they continue to have intercourse that is very unpleasurable for her. It should be understood that this shouldn’t be done, and all effort should be made to help her feel good first. This, however, is much easier to do when she is not ashamed of her genitals, and especially when she knows the difference between her clitoris and her vagina.
Shelia this post all though well intentioned, can lead people astray into false doctrines such as Masturbation is healthy and normal.
2 Peter 2 vs 1 – 2 ” But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”