A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Are there Kegel exercises for men? Plus: what does the KY in K-Y jelly stand for?

September 28, 2001

Dear Cecil:

I'm entering that odd time called menopause and have been told that doing Kegel exercises will help strengthen my uterus so that I don't have "leakage" in my older age. So, while faithfully doing said exercises, I wondered if MEN have problems as they get older and if they can strengthen their own appendages. Can they? Or is this just another case of urethra envy on my part?

Cecil replies:

You're not going to believe this, Judy, but there really are male Kegel exercises to help guys strengthen their appendages. Isn't that something? All these years men have worried about how long it is, and now they have to worry about how strong it is. I'm not saying that makes up for labor pains, menstruation, and breast cancer, but at least guys don't have it all their way.

Kegel exercises were popularized in the 1940s and '50s by California gynecologist Arnold Kegel as a way of strengthening the pelvic muscles, specifically the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle. Ever make yourself stop urinating before you were done? The PC muscle is what you used to do it. The primary purpose of Kegel exercises was and is control of urinary incontinence in older women. But a side benefit — and the main reason younger people have heard of Kegel — is that the exercises tauten the muscles of the vagina, thereby increasing the enjoyment of both (or however many) participants during sexual intercourse. Women are said to experience easier and more intense orgasms, and some climax, or climax during intercourse, for the first time in their lives.

Turns out Kegel exercises are useful for men, too. Older men often have urinary incontinence due to enlargement of the prostate, and Kegel exercises improve bladder control. (The exercises basically consist of repeatedly tensing the PC muscle — for instructions, see http://www.kegelexercisesformen.com/.) Sexual benefits include more intense orgasms, increased angle of erection, reduced risk of impotence, and — this is the one I think is interesting — increased distance of ejaculation.

Increased distance is something straight men don't give much thought to, but gay men are a different story. "Since we gay men constantly have sex on the brain, you're probably thinking to yourself, 'How do I build up my prostate muscle for a better more dramatic cum scene that will impress all my friends?'" writes Alex del Rosario, MD. Kegel exercises are the answer. (The link to this article has unfortunately expired.) The payoff for straight men may not be as great, but it couldn't hurt.

Whatever may be said for Kegel exercises, one of the best ways of exercising the pelvic muscles, from both a urological and sexual standpoint, is sex. For men, ejaculation removes prostatic fluid and reduces the size of the prostate. For women … well, one reliable female source attributes her well-toned vagina, excellent urinary control, and unprolapsed uterus to daily orgasms. I can't help thinking that if everybody were to follow her lead (follow her lead, not follow her home, cretins), the world would be a happier place.

Dear Cecil:

What does the KY in K-Y jelly stand for?

Cecil replies:

Numerous suggestions were offered by the freelance geniuses on the Straight Dope Message Board: (1) KY stands for Kentucky. It's finger-lickin' good! (2) K and Y aren't the initials of the first company to sell the stuff — according to the U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System, the brand was registered to Van Horn and Sawtell Corporation of New York on June 19, 1906, having been introduced in 1904. (3) It derives from something known as a kymograph, a drum-based device used for recording variations in pressure, especially blood pressure. No explanation of what connection this device might have to K-Y jelly.

A spokesperson for K-Y jelly's maker, McNeil-PPC, a division of Johnson & Johnson, says "surprisingly little" is known about the name's origin. The best she could come up with is that KY was a meaningless pair of initials used to designate the product during the research-and-development phase. However, she also says the lubricant was introduced in 1919, which is at odds with trademark office records, so some skepticism is in order.

Two more tidbits: (1) K-Y jelly was originally sold just to medical types and wasn't offered to consumers until 1981, which may surprise those who think it's always been standard boudoir equipment. (2) Several "line extensions" of the product have been introduced, e.g., a liquid version. A couple years ago an on-line wag thought up another one: KY2K jelly, which allows you to fit four digits where only two would go before. And you wonder why I love the Internet.

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