What Are the Sexual Health Benefits of Pilates for Women?
- Pilates can improve libido, sexual arousal, and sexual function and increase satisfaction in the bedroom.
- Pilates appears to be a good treatment option for women with sexual dysfunction.
- Pilates helps build strength and confidence. That's reflected in your sexual health.
Pilates is a mind-body exercise method developed in the early part of the 20th century by Joseph Pilates, a German physical trainer. Pilates developed the exercises—the method was originally called Contrology—while he was interned during WWII, with the belief that mind and body health were interconnected.
It's based on the original exercises, but Pilates is more sophisticated these days, and there are more than 2,000 instructors in the United States—plus around 10 million people participating in Pilates training.
For many women, Pilates is an enjoyable and relaxing pastime that emphasizes core strength and flexibility and promotes greater body awareness. As well as overall health benefits, many wellness experts believe Pilates can improve sexual health by enhancing libido, sexual arousal, and sexual function and leading to increased satisfaction in the bedroom.
How does Pilates improve the sexual health of women?
"Research shows that Pilates can have a very positive effect on sexual function," said Deborah Lee, M.B., Ch.B., a sexual and reproductive health specialist at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, an online doctor and pharmacy service in the United Kingdom. "In a recent 2023 pilot study, a group of women were diagnosed with female sexual dysfunction (FSD) and were invited to participate in a 12-week Pilates program. The results showed a highly statistically significant improvement in both their Beck depression inventory (BDI) and female sexual function index (FSFI) after the exercise program."
Although it was a small pilot study, the results were very impressive and more research is indicated, Lee said.
"A similar study was conducted in Turkey in 2016 with equally impressive results," she said. "After the program, during which a group of female participants practiced Pilates twice a week, there was a statistically significant increase in desire, arousal and ability to orgasm. Sex and relationship specialists believe that Pilates appears to be a good treatment option for women with sexual dysfunction."
The following are the three main benefits of Pilates exercises:
- Improved body awareness. "Practicing Pilates can help individuals become more aware of their bodies, leading to increased confidence and self-esteem. This heightened body awareness can translate into greater comfort and enjoyment during sexual activities," said Martha Tara Lee, D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore.
- Positive core effects: Pilates exercise makes your core more flexible and stable, which can help you experience more comfortable and pleasurable sexual experiences. As a result, you can try a greater variety of motions and positions, last longer in those positions, and experiment, which brings you and your partner new thrills and excitement.
- Strong abdominal muscles: Pilates emphasizes the development of strong abdominal muscles that are essential for sexual activity.
Many people these days are chronically inactive. This could be because they have a desk job in which they spend the majority of the day doing little more than tapping keys on a keyboard. Work can be stressful and it's often more seductive to rest after a busy day than to think of exercise.
However, the body is designed to move, and the less we use our muscles, the less aware we become of all the sensations we should be experiencing.
Increasing your body awareness means you're better able to realize where specific sources of pain, discomfort and stiffness come from. Then, you can address them with the appropriate exercises, massages and other treatments. Pilates exercises help you to be in sync with your physical body and more sensitive to arousal, sexual gratification and orgasms.
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How can Pilates improve your mental health?
"Pilates helps build strength and confidence, and so it can help our mental health. When you're feeling confident and strong and have mental clarity, that's reflected in your sexual health," said Allie Guillerm Tichenor, a Pilates instructor and the owner of Pilates Punx, a fitness studio in Los Angeles.
Immersing yourself in Pilates, gradually improving stability and strength, and even seeing some muscle growth can greatly improve your confidence and self-esteem. As a result, you are more likely to have a positive perception of yourself, and the vibrant energy you exhibit can make foreplay and intercourse more exciting.
Furthermore, regular physical activity challenges your body to become more robust and flexible, reduces tension and promotes relaxation. During strenuous exercise, your body gets stressed and inflammation rises, but consequently, your cortisol levels—the stress hormone—are likely to drop significantly.
"Any form of exercise—including Pilates—is good for physical and mental health," Lee said. "It stimulates blood flow, and good blood circulation is vital for sexual arousal. In men, a good blood supply is needed to produce and maintain an erection, and in women, blood flow is needed for lubrication and genital/clitoral sensation."
Many Pilates exercises target the pelvic floor muscles that are essential for sexual function.
"Pilates has a huge emphasis on pelvic stability, which is a huge part of women's sexual health," Tichenor said. "Through Pilates, you can strengthen your pelvic floor, which can help with control, stamina and even relaxation. Many women deal with pelvic pain, especially those who have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]. Pilates can also help alleviate pain in the pelvic floor."
"Pilates is not just about tightening and strengthening the female pelvic floor. It is more about facilitating and improving posture, relaxation and breathing as well as the ability to participate in the rhythmical movement of the penis in the vagina," Lee added. "Experts say that pelvic tilts and bridging are specific areas to work on for improved sexual function. Your Pilates instructor can direct the exercise program appropriately."
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"It can be a good idea to attend Pilates classes with a partner," Lee said. "That way you can communicate better with each other and understand how you are improving the strength and flexibility of both pelvic floors together."
How can you make the most out of Pilates?
Just because you practice Pilates doesn’t mean you are extracting the full sexual health benefits from the exercises. Lee offered five tips to get the most out of your Pilates sessions:
- Combine Pilates with other forms of exercise. Incorporate Pilates into a well-rounded fitness routine that includes cardiovascular exercise and strength training for optimal overall health.
- Consistency. Practice Pilates regularly to see improvements in strength, flexibility and body awareness over time.
- Focus on form. Pay close attention to proper form and technique during exercises to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of injury.
- Listen to your body. Modify exercises as needed to accommodate any limitations or discomfort, and always communicate with your instructor about any concerns or questions.
- Personalize your practice. Work with a qualified instructor who can help tailor your Pilates routine to your specific needs and goals.
The bottom line
More research needs to be done on the entirety of physical, sexual and emotional benefits associated with Pilates, but the limited amount that has been done paints a relatively clear picture.
"While there is limited research specifically on the sexual health benefits of Pilates, the overall physical and mental health improvements associated with regular practice can contribute to a more satisfying sex life," Lee said.