Andrew Siegel MD 9/17/2016
“Loose lips sink ships.” These four words convey the warning “be very cautious of unguarded talk.” Dating back to WWII, this phrase appeared on posters created by the War Advertising Council to advise the public to be discreet with conversation, since information in the wrong hands could have disastrous consequences.
In the context of pelvic health—the topic that I often write about—“loose lips sink ships” has an entirely different meaning. When I use the term “loose lips,” I mean the literal term “loose lips,” referring to sagging and lax female genital anatomy that is a not uncommon occurrence after multiple vaginal births and other promoting factors. When I use the term “sink ships,” I refer to a variety of pelvic problems that can occur in women with “loose lips,” including urinary, bowel and sexual issues (that can affect the partner as well ).
Obstetrical Factors Can Cause “Loose Lips”
Genital anatomy, particularly the all-important structural supportive muscles of the pelvis–the pelvic floor muscles (PFM)–take a beating from pregnancy, labor and vaginal delivery. Pregnancy incurs maternal weight gain, a change in body posture, pregnancy-related hormonal changes, the pressure of a growing uterus and fetal weight, all of which may reduce the supportive and sphincter (urinary and bowel control) functions of the PFM.
Labor is called so for a genuine reason…the hours one spends pushing and straining are often unkind to the PFM. Elective Caesarian section avoids labor and affords some protection to the PFM, but prolonged labor culminating in an emergency C-section is equally as potentially damaging to the PFM as is vaginal delivery.
Vaginal delivery is the ultimate PFM traumatic event. The soft tissues of the pelvis (including the PFM) get crushed in the “vise” between baby’s bony skull and mother’s bony pelvis and are simply no match for the inflexibility of these bones. The PFM and connective tissues are frequently stretched, if not torn, from their attachments to the pubic bone and pelvic sidewalls, and the nerves to the pelvic floor are often affected as well. The undesirable consequences of this obstetric “trauma” include altered PFM anatomy with loss of vaginal tone and function, a.k.a. birth-related laxity (“loose lips”).
Studies measuring PFM strength before and after first delivery show a decrease in PFM strength in about 50% of women. Vaginal delivery is much more likely to reduce PFM strength than C-section delivery. Not surprisingly, following delivery, the larger the measured diameter of the vaginal opening, the weaker the vaginal strength.
Although the process of childbirth will not inevitably change one’s vaginal and pelvic anatomy and function, it does so commonly enough. After a vaginal delivery, the vagina becomes looser and more exposed, the vaginal lining becomes dryer, and hormonal-related pigmentation changes often cause a darker appearance to the vulva.
Beyond childbirth, the PFM can also become weakened, flabby and poorly functional with menopause, weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, sports injuries, pelvic trauma, chronic straining, pelvic surgery, diabetes, tobacco use, steroid use, and disuse atrophy (not exercising the PFM). Sexual inactivity can lead to their loss of tone, texture and function. With aging there is a decline in the muscle mass and contractile abilities of the PFM, often resulting in PFM dysfunction.
As a urologist who cares for many female patients, my clinical sessions bear witness to common pelvic floor complaints that can be classified under the category of “loose lips”:
“My vagina is just not the same as it was before I had my kids. It’s loose to the extent that I can’t keep a tampon in.”
–Allyson, age 38
“Sex is so different now. I don’t get easily aroused the way I did when I was younger. Intercourse doesn’t feel like it used to and I don’t climax as often or as intensively as I did before having my three children. My husband now seems to get ‘lost’ in my vagina. I worry about satisfying him.”
–Leah, age 43
“When I bent over to pick up my granddaughter, I felt a strange sensation between my legs, as if something gave way. I rushed to the bathroom and used a hand mirror and saw a bulge coming out of my vagina. It looked like a pink ball and I felt like all my insides were falling out.”
–Karen, age 66
“Every time I go on the trampoline with my daughter, my bladder leaks. The same thing happens when I jump rope with her.”
–Brittany, age 29
How “Loose Lips” Affect You and Your Partner
Weakness in the PFM cause the following anatomical changes: a wider and looser vaginal opening, decreased distance between the vagina and anus, and a change in the vaginal orientation such that the vagina assumes a more upwards orientation as opposed to its normal downwards angulation towards the sacral bones.
“Loose lips” are not caused by an intrinsic problem with the vagina, but by the extrinsic weakened PFM that no longer provide optimal vaginal support.
Women with this issue who are sexually active may complain of a loose or gaping vagina, making intercourse less satisfying for themselves and their partners. This may lead to difficulty achieving climax, difficulty retaining tampons, difficulty retaining the penis with vaginal intercourse, the vagina filling up with water while bathing and vaginal flatulence (passage of air). The perception of having a loose vagina can lead to self-esteem issues.
Women with “loose lips” often have difficulty in “accommodating” the penis properly, resulting in the vagina “surrounding” the penis rather than firmly “squeezing” it, with the end result being diminished sensation for both partners. Under normal circumstances, sexual intercourse results in indirect clitoral stimulation. The clitoral shaft moves rhythmically with penile thrusting by virtue of penile traction on the inner vaginal lips, which join together to form the hood of the clitoris. However, if the vaginal opening is too wide to permit the penis to put enough traction on the inner vaginal lips, there will be limited clitoral stimulation and less satisfaction in the bedroom.
Da Vinci made an interesting observation on perspectives: “Women’s desire is the opposite of that of man. She wishes the size of the man’s member to be as large as possible, while the man desires the opposite for the woman’s genital parts.”
Bottom Line: “Loose lips” (literally) can sink “ships” (figuratively), causing a number of pelvic floor dysfunctions including pelvic organ prolapse and urinary and bowel control issues. Furthermore, “loose lips” can sink your partner’s “ship,” making sexual intercourse challenging at times and less pleasurable for both parties. If your partner has compromised erections because of aging or other causes, “loose lips” can aggravate his problem by not providing sufficient stimulation to keep his penis erect. Help keep the anatomy and function of your female parts in good working order by participating in a PFM training program (Kegel pelvic exercises).
Wishing you the best of health,
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Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health– and MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health available on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, B&N Nook and Kobo; paperback edition available at TheKegelFix.com
Author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Siegel/e/B004W7IM48
Trailer for The Kegel Fix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHZxoiQb1Cc
Co-creator of the comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered Private Gym/PelvicRx, a male pelvic floor muscle training program built upon the foundational work of renowned Dr. Arnold Kegel. The program empowers men to increase their pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, and endurance. Combining the proven effectiveness of Kegel exercises with the use of resistance weights, this program helps to improve sexual function and to prevent urinary incontinence: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon.
In the works is the female PelvicRx DVD pelvic floor muscle training for women.
Pelvic Rx can be obtained at http://www.UrologyHealthStore.com, an online store home to quality urology products for men and women. Use promo code “UROLOGY10” at checkout for 10% discount.
Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, Arnold Kegel MD, erectile dysfunction, fecal incontinence, loose lips, loose lips sink ships, pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic floor muscles, pelvic organ prolapse, sexual dysfunction, The Kegel Fix, urinary incontinence, vaginal laxity