Pelvic floor dysfunction is more common than you'd think: 5 different types you may suffer from

As many as one in three women will experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lifetime.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: Fresh grapefruit on beige soft silk fabric background. Sex concept. Women's health, sexuality, erotic tension. Female vagina and clitoris symbol
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As many as one in three women will experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lifetime.

Ever been mid-yoga class, suddenly need to go to the toilet and not been entirely sure you've managed to keep it all in? Don't worry - you're not alone. FYI, pelvic floor dysfunction is far more common than you'd think - according to stats, one in three women will suffer from some kind of pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives.

Wondering why having a strong pelvic floor is important? A study published in the International Urogynaecology Journal found that women with strong pelvic floor muscles reported better orgasms and greater arousal. Those with a weaker pelvic floor found that their sensation and satisfaction may be decreased.

Have a children or a mother-to-be? A separate study from Marmara University in Istanbul found that sexual arousal, lubrication and orgasm were higher in women who did pelvic floor exercises after childbirth than those who didn’t (read our guides to the best lube and best condoms, here).

Experts also believe that stronger muscles mean increased sensitivity when you’re having sex. Tania Boler, founder of Elvie, a training device that links to an app in real-time to help guide women through Kegel exercises, says, that ultimately, 'a strong pelvic floor means increased blood flow to this region, your muscles become toned and the end result is a heightened sense of pleasure.’

Keen to read more about the main signs of pelvic floor dysfunction and how to treat it, too? Keep scrolling.

So, what is your pelvic floor? 

"Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles extending from the pubic bone at the front of your body, through to the coccyx - aka your tailbone - at the back," explains Alison Wright, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Still not sure what it is or how exactly it works? So, if you can stop your wee mid-flow, that’s your pelvic floor working and, likewise, when you hold in wind at an inopportune moment (...we’ve all been there), that’s your pelvic floor, too.

Bella Smith, GP and women's health specialist at The Well HQ, agrees, adding that the muscles work almost like a hammock, supporting your organs as well as your bladder, uterus and bowel.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: Loo roll

What does your pelvic floor do? 

According to Smith, three things.

It keeps you dry

"It holds the weight of your bowel, bladder and uterus and should keep you dry," she explains.

It enables you to pee

That is, when it relaxes when you try to go to the toilet. "This means you can fully empty your bladder and bowels," she continues.

It can help with sexual pleasure

While this isn't fully understood yet, experts believe that having a good pelvic floor can also help with a good sex life, the expert adds. Read our guides to the best sex toys, sex positions and tantric sex moves, while you're here.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: Woman clutching stomach

What causes pelvic floor dysfunction?

Interestingly, pelvic floor dysfunction could just be genetic. A 2009 study found evidence for a gene that predisposes to pelvic-floor problems, such as stress urinary incontinence, while pregnancy and childbirth play a vital role, too.

"The weight of the baby sits on your pelvic floor muscles, and this has an impact after childbirth, even if you have a caesarean,’ says women’s health physiotherapist and pelvic floor specialist Louise Rahmanou. "High-impact sports such as running, skipping and weight training can cause the muscles to weaken," says Rahmanou.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: 5 common types

1. Stress incontinence

As mentioned above, the most common issues is urinary stress incontinence. According to the NHS, stress incontinence is the term used to refer to urine leaking out at times when your bladder is under pressure - think laughing or coughing.

2. Urge incontinence

On the other hand, urge incontinence is also common. Smith explains it as an irresistible urge to empty your bladder or bowel.

3. Painful sex

If you've ever experienced painful sex, you may have a pelvic floor dysfunction whereby your pelvic floor is too tight. "This could make any kind of penetration sore," shares Smith.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: Young Woman Covering Pillow Lying On Bed Against Wall At Home

4. Painful smear tests

Similarly, if you experience severely painful smear tests, you may have a similar type of pelvic floor dysfunction.

5. Prolapse

Ever heard of vaginal prolapse? It's a type of pelvic floor dysfunction where your vaginal wall is unable to hole the weight of what’s above it anymore, explains Smith.

Do make sure you seek medical help for if you have any doubt you may be experiencing any of the above.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.