It's not just women - MEN need to do pelvic floor exercises, too!
If the muscles are too loose they don't support the bladder or bowel
This may lead to leaking from either area, as well as erectile dysfunction
Exercising the pelvic floor can also help men with stress incontinence
Every woman knows how important it is to do pelvic floor exercises after giving birth, and devices and mobile phone apps to help them do this have now become quite commonplace.
What's less well known is that men need to do these exercises, too, to prevent incontinence in later life but also to ward off problems in the bedroom.
However, even if you know you need to do this, getting the practice right is another matter.
The pelvic floor is made up of the sling-shaped muscles which run from the pubic bone to the base of the spine, supporting the bladder, bowel and uterus in women and the bladder and bowel in men. There are also 19 tiny individual muscles embedded in it, some of which are vital for sexual function.
Like all muscles, the pelvic floor can weaken over time. If the muscles are too loose they don't support the bladder or bowel and this may lead to leaking from either area, as well as erectile dysfunction or difficulty ejaculating.
This is because one of the muscles in the pelvic floor, the bulbocavernosus muscle, which sits at the base of the penis, is responsible for allowing the organ to engorge with blood during an erection and contract during ejaculation.
This muscle is one of the first to weaken, and if its strength isn't maintained, it stops functioning properly.
A pelvic floor that's strong will provide much better support for all of the pelvic and sexual organs, but pelvic floor exercises, otherwise known as Kegel exercises, aren't only important as men age. In younger men, the muscles can become too tight - known as a hypertonic pelvic floor. This is a problem which affects fit, gym-going types. Regular weight-lifters often contract these muscles, and for too long, which can result in tightness.
If the muscles are too tight and restricted, they can pull the anus and prostate forward towards the pubic bone, along with the sacrum (a triangular bone at the base of the spine), pulling it out of alignment and causing severe pain in the rectum and genital region, and even the lower back and abdomen.
Stress could also, inadvertently, cause issues. When emotionally stressed, men can over-contract the pelvic muscles without realising it, which can cause permanent tightening, too.
Kegel exercises can help both problems, as they involve repeatedly relaxing to loosen over-tightened muscles, as well as contracting to strengthen weakened ones. Exercising the pelvic floor can also help men with stress incontinence - a particular problem after surgical procedures on the prostate.
If you've got problems we would recommend performing the exercises three times a day every day
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the accessory muscles to compensate for this. 'Up to 20 per cent of men will develop persistent stress urine leakage of varying degrees, and virtually all will have temporary leakage after a prostatectomy for prostate cancer,' says Tamsin Greenwell, a consultant urological surgeon at University College London Hospitals.
'Regularly performing pelvic floor exercises for three months greatly improves continence or reduces leakage after prostate surgery.'
To exercise their pelvic floor without a device, men would have to rely on the same sort of contractions women are taught to do post-natally to strengthen their pelvic floor.
This involves relaxing the muscles of the thighs, bottom and abdomen (some experts recommend doing them sitting down to help with this) and squeezing the muscles around the front passage as though trying to stop urine flow, while simultaneously contracting around the back passage as though trying to stop wind.
However, the pelvic floor muscles are hard to isolate and research has shown that 50 per cent of people get the technique wrong.