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Kegel Rhymes With Bagel: What I Learned at Camp Kegel

10/21/2011 06:01 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2011

Kegeling -- an easy, pelvic-floor exercise -- can help prevent incontinence and even heighten sexual pleasure, if done regularly. I had read this for years, long before Kegel Camp became the 36th most popular paid app in the health category.

But beneficial, free and easy didn't convince me to start, even as I marched toward menopause, a time when a woman is at increased risk of needing a slim-fitting, revolutionary product.

Then, I met the campfire girls.

I was new to the group of campers, introduced to most of them around a campfire on the shores of Lake Michigan. Six of the women were in their 50s; at age 44, I was the baby of the tribe.

It was a late afternoon in fall and, as the sun lowered, the fire's orange flames contrasted against the deep blue of the world's fifth largest lake. A slight drizzle prompted us to instinctively tighten our circle around the fire. Within the hour, the visual barrier between sand and water weakened, and it was at that point the stories of incontinence began to leak out.

Why were these women talking about incontinence? Certainly no one was ... oh, they were.

Susan poked a log with a stick. "Last night, Diane made me laugh so hard that I had to shower and change underwear," she said. "And whenever we go to dinner, I put a spare pair of underwear in a baggie, tucked in my purse."

Kathy spoke next. "Whenever Karl and I go out, I wear black slacks. Tan shows wetness." Vignettes from other women followed, stories that mentioned Scottish dancing, spiking volleyballs, coughing, sneezing and trampolines. One by one, five of the women testified to their own bladders' provocations.

The burning wood crackled. A loud pop signaled that in one log, water vapor had exerted intolerable pressure and been released.

"My doctor says I have a strong pelvic floor." The dissenting voice came from the sixth woman, whom I hadn't met. No one spoke as she rose from a gnarly log and strode toward the fire. "I've done kegels faithfully for fifteen years since childbirth -- at stoplights, in elevators, wherever I can, whenever I can." We watched her silently as she scooped up a log and tossed it handily atop the fire like she was Mrs. Davy Crocket. She stood tall, wiped her hands on her classic cut jeans, and told the hushed crowd that for her efforts, she had been rewarded by the Goddess of Continence.

Waves lapped the shore while we considered our own quarter-sized patches of real estate. Kegels ... ah yes ... kegels. Didn't our ob/gyns mention kegels (rhymes with bagels, not beagles) during our pregnancies?

By the light of the campfire, I sipped my merlot, tightened my pelvic floor muscles, felt my temples inexplicably tighten, then quickly released. I didn't need to kegel. I laughed without leaking, wore light-colored pants with confidence. I had no fear of trampolines.

But should I?

What about that mishap that occurred last month in the kitchen, when I stood on a chair and reached high into an overhead cabinet for a seldom-used platter? Wasn't it true that I was continent largely because of my age? Wasn't it true that I had the two main risk factors -- I bore a child vaginally and I was getting older? Wasn't it true that I could be one Scottish dance, one dinner with Diane from having my campfire story?

I tightened and began to count.

Jeannie squatted by the fire and rotated the foil packets that contained our dinners. "Where can I meet men?" she asked.

"Not at a bar. That's not a good situation," Lisa said.

"Not at Match.com. That's not a good situation," another woman said, but I wasn't really listening. My counting had reached ten, at which point I released, symbolically dividing my life into the Pre-Kegel and Post-Kegal eras.

Tighten ... hold ... release!

Back home the next day, I read that in just three months my floor could be almost factory new, providing that I exercised it daily. Thus, my new hobby began.

Tighten ... hold ... release.

Initially, I followed convention and kegeled at stoplights and in elevators. But I seldom drove or rode elevators.

Tighten ... hold ... release.

I branched out. I kegeled when I rode the 15 bus to work. In a meeting with my boss, I mentioned kegeling, and she and I kegeled together, bobbing slightly as we sat at her cherry-laminated table. But these new efforts proved sporadic as well.

I had to find a solution.

Tighten ... hold ... release.

The answer presented itself one morning as I stood before the bathroom mirror, flipped over an egg timer, then dutifully began to brush my teeth for a full three minutes: I would kegel whenever I brushed and flossed. That was eight years ago. And not to brag, but I haven't leaked (nor had a cavity) in all that time.

Younger women, don't thank me if you avoid becoming one of the roughly 30 percent of women who suffer stress incontinence. Spike a volleyball! Jump on a trampoline with your kids! Drink a large coffee with your funniest friend! No, don't thank me. Applaud the campfire girls.

And when the opportunity presents itself years from now, pass on your wisdom to the next generation.

Tighten ... hold ... release.