Incontinence: It Can Ruin Your Sex Life

By Lauren Streicher, MD


For the approximately 30% of adult women who suffer from involuntary loss of urine, they are not just afraid to laugh, sneeze, cough or run without wearing a diaper or a pad – they are also afraid to have sex. In fact, close to 30% of women with incontinence report that sexual activity causes them to lose urine … a libido killer if there ever was one.

If like many women you go into avoidance mode and your partner never knows your “headache” is because you really just don’t want to pee on him, not because you don’t want to have sex with him, it’s good to know that there are better solutions.

Kegel exercises, while commonly recommended, rarely completely alleviate the problem but may be helpful if performed correctly.

Sling procedures are minor surgical procedures that elevate the bladder neck to prevent leakage. While highly effective for stress incontinence (the kind that makes you lose urine when you cough laugh or sneeze), some women prefer not to have surgery.

Pelvic-floor muscle training, along with behavior modification and biofeedback with an experienced pelvic-floor physical therapist, are also highly effective, but relatively few women have access to a personal pelvic-floor physical therapist.

InTone is a  use at home  device that can help strengthen your pelvic floor and eliminate or greatly reduce incontinence. This silicone device, which you can obtain from your doctor and use at home, is placed in the vagina and inflated in order to assure comfortable (but close) contact with the vaginal walls. During brief therapy sessions, a gentle electrical stimulation (the appropriate level is determined in the doctor’s office) occurs which enables strengthening of pelvic floor and bladder muscles. A hand-held control unit provides voice coaching and visual biofeedback. The results are impressive.

The point is: Incontinence is common, but common is not the same as normal, and there are a number of options to go from diapers to dry. It’s a matter of starting the conversation with your doctor to say, “This is important to me and I want to do something about it” instead of just accepting it and letting it ruin your sex life.

Sexual function is complex and whether the issue is incontinence, pain, dryness, loss of libido or the inability to have an orgasm, the solutions are not one-size-fits-all any more than one speculum fits all! My book, Sex Rx, is  a comprehensive look at all the things that can sabotage one’s sexual health, and more important, how to fix it. In addition, you will see how you compare to other women when it comes to sexual practices and sexuality. So, please take 5 minutes to participate in my SexABILITY survey.

Originally published 8/26/13

New Guidelines for Urinary Incontinence, But Are They Enough?

By Lauren Streicher, MD

Published Sep 15, 2014

If you are a woman who is afraid to laugh without crossing her legs, you are hardly alone. A whopping 57 percent of mid-life women and up to 75 percent of elderly women suffer from urinary incontinence. The impact of urinary incontinence on health and quality of life is dramatic.

In spite of the prevalence of the problem, most women do not report their incontinence. Sometimes this is due to embarrassment, but also can be because of the assumption that a leaky bladder is a “normal consequence of aging” without effective treatment options beyond medication or surgery. Approximately half of women who do report leakage to a healthcare provider are inadequately treated. Pads and diapers are commonly recommended, but they should be thought of as a means to manage — not treat — incontinence.

New Treatment Rules: A Good Start

With all this, it’s welcome news that the American College of Physicians (ACP) has published new treatment guidelines to address the fact that urinary incontinence is underreported, under-diagnosed, and under-treated.

The ACP stresses that the type of incontinence, “stress” or “urge,” dictates treatment. Stress incontinence means the loss of urine with cough laugh sneeze, while urge incontinence means “I’ve gotta go, and I’ve gotta go right now!

Stress? Start with Kegel exercises. Since most stress incontinence is a result of weak pelvic floor muscles with subsequent inadequate support of the bladder neck and descent of the urethra, I could not agree more that pelvic floor muscle strengthening is the first step. But Kegel exercises?

It’s true that Kegel exercises are commonly recommended. And almost as commonly, they fail. Multiple studies show that few women do them correctly or consistently. Success is most likely in the young, highly motivated patient who works with a pelvic floor physical therapist. Face it, if Kegel exercises worked, the adult diaper industry would not be advertising on prime time television and would not be a gazillion dollar a year industry. The ACP recommends Kegels for “pelvic floor muscle training.” But what the ACP does not acknowledge is that success is dramatically higher if they are done in conjunction with pelvic floor physical therapy.

Urgency? Go with bladder training. Bladder training is behavioral therapy. It involves urinating on a set schedule and gradually increasing the time between voids. This sometimes helps and is recommended for women with urgency incontinence. It will do nothing for stress incontinence.

Consider watching your weight. Obesity contributes to both urge and stress incontinence, and when women are informed that excessive weight is a factor, it can be a significant motivation for weight control. Having said that, many thin women are incontinent.

Know when to turn to medication.The ACP correctly points out that medication treats overactive and urge incontinence, not stress incontinence and should never be a first treatment.

So there you have it. The ACP recommendation is to do Kegels, which commonly fail, bladder training which may help with urgency not stress, and weight loss, which is often unrealistic and not always the problem. If all else fails, ACP recommends medication, which only helps urgency, must be taken for a lifetime, and is not without side effects.

More Options for Incontinence

Where does that leave the woman who follows these recommendations and is still peeing in her pants? Pretty much nowhere since the ACP did not include in their recommendations other effective nonsurgical treatments. These include:

  • Formal pelvic floor physical therapy
  • InTone home therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Botulinum toxin
  • Percutaneous nerve stimulation
  • Electrical stimulation

While not a first line option, sling surgery should be offered and considered for women with stress incontinence who have failed non-surgical options. I have had dozens of patients that as a result of a 15-minute vaginal sling procedure are able to jump, skip and run without wearing diapers.

The ACP recommendations are a good start and since the internists no longer recommend an annual pelvic exam it is reassuring to know they are not completely overlooking the lower half of a woman’s body. Still, a majority of women who fail these primary interventions are left not knowing about other options when Kegels and weight loss fail. The guidelines should make it clear that women with incontinence who are not successfully treated can still be helped, and should be referred to an expert for treatment options beyond what an internist is able to offer.


Everyday Health Sept 15, 2014

Everyday Health Sept 15, 2014