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Five exercises you can do for a better sex life

Any physical activity can improve your sexual health. But a few exercises are especially beneficial

Danielle Friedman Published 15.05.24, 02:17 PM
Representational image.

Representational image. The New York Times Services.

As far as your muscles are concerned, sex is just another workout. And like most workouts, the more conditioned you are, the more enjoyable it can be.

Yes, you can train for sex.

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“It’s important to remember that sex is movement, and it’s exercise,” said Debby Herbenick, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the Indiana University School of Public Health. If you want to have satisfying sex, she said, you’ll likely benefit from moving your body outside of the bedroom.

If you’re happy with your sex life, a regular fitness habit can help to ensure your body continues to function properly. If you feel like your sex life could be more satisfying, exercise may help with erectile dysfunction, pain with penetration and low sex drive, among other issues.

Regular physical activity can also help you become more self aware. “You learn to listen to your body,” Dr. Herbenick said, “and then you can carry that wisdom over to your sexual life.”

While pretty much any workout routine can improve sex over time, a few specific types of movement can be especially helpful for sexual function and enjoyment, depending on your needs and physical ability. Here are five exercises that experts in sexual health and fitness recommend.

Work in bursts of high intensity cardio.

Your cardiovascular health directly impacts your sexual health, and not just because sex can sometimes be vigorous and aerobic, Dr. Herbenick said.

The cardiovascular system powers two bodily systems that are important for sex: erections and vaginal lubrication. Without proper blood flow, one will likely have trouble achieving or maintaining either, she said. Research also suggests that, for some people, aerobic exercise itself can stimulate arousal.

If you don’t already do aerobic exercise, begin by establishing a solid cardio baseline through regular, moderate-intensity activity, said Darlene Marshall, a personal trainer in upstate New York who has helped clients train for better sex.

Then, once you can comfortably walk or jog at a “conversational” pace for about 20 minutes, add intervals of high-intensity effort, she said — to train for the bursts of exertion sex can require. Depending on your fitness level, running or cycling sprints, brisk stair climbs or high intensity interval training are all good options.

“The goal is to help your body avoid becoming overwhelmed, cardiovascularly, during sex,” Ms. Marshall said.

Do Kegels — correctly.

The health of your pelvic floor, the hammock of muscles that sits at the base of the pelvis, can make the difference between a gratifying sexual experience and a lackluster or even painful one — for women and men — said Janelle Howell, a pelvic floor specialist in Chicago. Between 10 and 20 percent of women in the United States report pain during sex.

When your pelvic floor muscles are weak or tight, you may not experience as powerful an orgasm. Tight pelvic floor muscles can also make penetrative sex painful. Healthy pelvic floor muscles need both strength and flexibility to be able to contract and fully release on command.

Kegel exercises, which mimic the effort of holding and releasing urine or gas, can be an effective way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, Dr. Howell said. The key is to make sure that after every contraction, you fully relax the muscles — something many people don’t do properly.

For women, Dr. Howell suggests imagining an elevator slowly going up, then slowly going all the way back down to the ground floor, to ensure the muscles fully release. For men, tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold for three seconds, then fully relax for three seconds.

If you have a tight pelvic floor, experts advise skipping the Kegels and focusing instead on diaphragmatic breathing, which can help to relax and lengthen the muscles. (A pelvic floor physical therapist can offer a full assessment.)

Limber up your hips.

Most people spend hours a day sitting, which can lead to tight hip muscles, fascia and ligaments. When your hips are tight, you may experience back and pelvic pain during sex.

“I hear a lot that people can only do one position,” because they’re stiff or other positions hurt, Dr. Howell said.

Improving your hip mobility can help your whole lower body move more fluidly and comfortably, and may improve pelvic pain during sex, she said.

As a first step, Ms. Marshall recommends releasing some of the constricted areas by placing a tennis ball against your glutes and rolling it around, then shifting it to your hips and hamstrings, massaging each area until you feel the muscle release. This can be done sitting or against a wall.

From there, stretch your hips, hip flexors, glutes, back muscles and hamstrings by doing a figure-four stretch, 90/90 stretch, cat cow or happy baby pose, Dr. Howell said, or “any movement that’s bringing your chest closer towards your knees.”

Finally, dynamic exercises such as deep squats and glute bridges mobilize the hips and build strength. And if you want to dial up the intensity, weighted squats, leg presses and kettlebell swings can increase the power in your glutes and hamstrings.

“I love kettlebell swings for sexual training,” Ms. Marshall said, because they involve “a rhythmic movement of flexion and extension in the hips.”

Focus on your entire core.

The more strength you have in your core, the more you will be able to move easily during sex. Most of the nerves and muscles that are involved in sex are integrated into the core, and strong core muscles can also help to reduce back and hip pain before, during and after sex.

“Strengthening the core can really help with endurance during sex, helping you feel strong and solid in your body,” said Rachel Zar, a sex therapist in Chicago.

To work the full cylinder of muscles that make up the core, Dr. Howell recommends doing planks daily. “You can start small,” she said. “Say you can only hold it for five to 10 seconds — that’s going to help you to engage all of your core muscles at one time.”

Another bonus to working the core muscles? Dr. Herbenick and her team have found that, for some people, contracting and releasing their core muscles helped them become aroused. Consider your planks foreplay.

Practice five minutes of daily yoga.

Yoga can help improve hip mobility and build core strength. And practicing slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is especially valuable for sex, Dr. Herbenick said, because it helps to relax both the body’s parasympathetic nervous system and the pelvic floor.

“You might find that vaginal penetration is more comfortable. You might find that erections come more easily,” she said. “Stress is the enemy of erections.”

If you don’t feel up to moving through yoga positions, practicing the breath work alone is valuable, Dr. Howell noted. “Even just laying on the yoga mat, putting your hands on your belly and just breathing into your belly can really start to calm that nervous system,” she said, “which can then support more pleasure in your sex life.”

The New York Times Services

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