‘Squeeze your pelvic floor in dull meetings’: three ways to show a weak bladder who’s the boss | The last taboo


Tessa Coates: ‘Maybe we all need to do a little less whispering and little more talking openly.’
Photograph: David Yeo/Guardian

“Oh my god, I’m going to wee!” – Is that not the greatest response you can get to a good story? Everyone hunched over, legs crossed, waving their arms going: “Don’t make me laugh, don’t make me laugh.” 

It happened only this week, when I managed to corral my parents into the car to go to our nearest Covid drive-through testing centre, and my dad was so bad at having the test up his nose, and the hysterical nervous energy of the whole thing was so overwhelming, that the whole car was crying with laughter. Our nurse Julie (God bless the NHS) was leaning against our bonnet weeping, going: “Oh my god, I’m going to wee!” It’s maybe the best thing that’s happened all lockdown.

Pelvic floor exercises

But it really got me thinking about bladder weakness, and how I’m rapidly approaching the age group where the statistic “one in three women over 35 experience bladder incontinence” applies. One in three! My school friends have started having babies and are reporting back that the whole bladder situation is indeed “as bad as you imagine”.

I’m imagining it to be pretty bad and I don’t think I’m alone. Research suggests that 66% of women under 34 are worried about bladder leakage as they get older.

I don’t know what the other 40% are doing and why they’re not worried. Have they not heard all the whispered horror stories that trickle down from the frontlines?

The messages were pretty clear – you get a few good years, and then everything goes rapidly downhill and one day you’ll have a vaginal prolapse in the middle of Zumba and your whole womb will shoot out. (That’s a real story they used to tell at my school. It happened to the aunt of a friend of a friend, and her womb just shot across the floor.)

Maybe we all need to do a little less whispering and little more talking openly. So that if we do experience bladder weakness in some form, as about a third of us will, we’re prepared for it, and ready to laugh – just maybe not too hard. Until then, face it confidently, straight on and tell it to piss off! Here are three pieces of advice to help get you through.

1. Talk about it
We’re so good at never, ever mentioning anything even slightly embarrassing. But all that means is that people suffer needlessly in silence, and another whole generation of schoolchildren are confused enough to think an entire womb could shoot out with the velocity of a T-shirt cannon.

2. Start those pelvic floor exercises NOW
You can safely ignore everything Gwyneth Paltrow is suggesting about going about your day with two jade eggs and a wasps’ nest up there, and retiring for the evening after a quick crouch over the kettle for a steam. The only really helpful thing you ever need to do is work on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles for a few minutes every day. Practise stopping mid-wee next time you’re on the toilet, release and then stop again. Whatever muscles you used there, those are the ones you need. Practise squeezing during dull moments, or in boring meetings. And start now! No matter how young you are.

3. Wee before you get intimate or start exercising …
And indeed before dancing, trampolining or any sort of vigorous leaping. I didn’t even know this was something I needed to be worried about, but apparently bladder leakage is incredibly common during sex. Hearteningly though, only 10% of women over 50 say it’s actually had a negative effect on their sex life. Maybe it’s not the great crisis we think it is. Maybe it’ll even open up a whole new kinky side to your sex life! The advice is to find a way to talk to your partner about it, and if they aren’t nice about it, that’s a pretty good reason to find someone else to have sex with.

As incontinence affects one in three women over 35, we should all be having more open conversations about this everyday condition that impacts women of all ages. Find out more at tena.co.uk/ageless

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