How do I use Ben Wa balls?
Oh how I love answering questions about Kegels and the pelvic floor (see also: my monthly womxn’s group, Coffee, Kegels, and Conversation)! Society has taken the very extensive topic of pelvic health and maintenance and distilled it into a cure-all: kegel exercises, and, by extension, Ben Wa balls. Of course, there’s way more to the story.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretch across your pelvis, from your tailbone to pubic bone (back-to-front), and from one sitting bone to the other (side-to-side). Think of it as a trampoline of firm muscle. It is able to move up and down.
What does the pelvic floor do?
The pelvic floor supports your pelvic organs like your bladder, bowel, and uterus. It gives you control over using the bathroom. It is also important for both orgasm and ejaculation. For people with uteruses, the pelvic floor also provides support for the baby during pregnancy and assists with the birthing process. Finally, the muscles connect to your core, helping you to stabilize your spine and maintain proper posture.
Everyone has a pelvic floor?
Kegels are exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor
You can do them on your own (in fact just reading about that means you probably started to practice!) or use exercisers, like Ben Wa balls or Kegels beads.
Doing Kegels can cause more harm than good for some people
For many people, Kegels and/or using Ben Wa balls or similar tools cause more issues. Generally speaking, you want to avoid tightening exercises if you have any of the following:
- Pelvic pain
- Rectal pain
- Sexual pain (e.g. vaginismus, vulvodynia, dyspareunia, vulvar vestibulitis)
- Low back pain
- Abdominal diastasis
- Core weakness
If that is you, I am not saying that you should never do Kegels or use Ben Wa balls. Instead, check-in with a pelvic floor physical therapist, particularly one who specializes in pelvic pain (which may or may not be the same as someone who specializes in treating incontinence). They will assess your pelvic tone (how tense your pelvic floor muscles are) and determine a course of care that may or may not include strengthening—but most likely won’t start with it.
More of us need relaxing more than strengthening down there, at least to start
And strengthening a muscle that’s tight or not activating well only leads to issues like trigger points. Think about a knot in your back. Is that muscle strong? Not necessarily. It is tight and painful though!
The same thing can happen in your pelvic floor and often does. We know that stress, trauma, and tension live in our bodies. They tend to take up residence in areas directly impacted, weak, or disconnected. The pelvic floor is one of these key spots.
If you are worried about tension, there are two great places to start your pelvic health journey: diaphragmatic breathing and a modified happy baby pose. On each inhale feel your diaphragm moving out and up towards your head and your pelvic floor moving down and back towards your feet. On each exhale, feel them come together again. It may take some time to feel this, especially the pelvic floor. Thankfully, visualizing the movement activates a portion of the correct muscles. And, of course, connect with a pelvic floor physical therapist to further assess your situation and create the best plan of care for you.
If you are ready to strengthen, do NOT start with Ben Wa Balls
When it comes to Kegel trainers, it’s the opposite of regular weights: bigger is lighter. It gives the muscles of the vagina more surface area to contract and relax around. Ben Wa balls are heavy and small. They tend to fall out at inopportune moments, pop up next to your cervix, or come out when you pee and roll just far enough back in the toilet that you need to shower after retrieving them.
Instead, start with Kegel beads
These are my favorite. They’re made of body-safe, hard plastic and come with a whole training set. The string to remove them is nylon, not plastic, so it doesn’t ricochet the ball back to smack your bits when you pull them out
How to use Ben Wa balls—or Kegels beads
- Start with a bigger, lighter ball. Yes I’m repeating this rule!
- Insertion: put a few drops of lube (see my faves here) on the ball and your fingers and then insert them into your vagina. Never stick them in your butt. They will get sucked up and cause problems that require a trip to the ER you’d probably rather not take.
- Test them on a day you stay home. You’ll learn how long you can wear them before the muscles fatigue. You’ll know this happens because you’ll feel the bead move closer to the vaginal opening—or it’ll fall out. Trust me when I say it’s better for this to happen in your living room than the checkout line at Whole Foods!
- If they fall right out, that’s OK. I recommend connecting with a pelvic floor physical therapist ASAP. In the meantime, try this. Lying on your back, insert the lightest bead. At this point you can practice pulsing around it, with special attention to relaxing fully. Alternatively, you can practice gently pulling on the string, as if you were going to pull it out, and tightening the muscles to prevent it from being pulled out.
- If you go out with them inserted, bring a clean plastic baggie with you so you can pop them out if needed.
- Remove them just like you would a tampon. It may be easier if you exhale and/or push down like you are peeing while removing them.
- Wash with a gentle soap and water—my preference is this organic toy cleanser. Once every few wears, sterilize them by placing them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them (do not boil them in the pan) for a few minutes.
Bonus sexpert tip: use the elliptical with them in. It will change your life.
Like any group of muscles, taking care of your pelvic floor requires both strengthening and rest
How we approach it may be different, but at the end of the day, the pelvic floor muscles are just that: muscles. Partnering with a knowledgeable expert is your best bet, but these tips will get you started.