Sex, Exercise, and Stress Incontinence

Medically Reviewed by Stuart Bergman, MD on August 26, 2015
2 min read

Stress incontinence refers to when you leak urine during movement that puts pressure on your bladder. It can happen when you least want it -- like in the middle of a workout or during a romantic evening. But you can take steps to prevent it from happening again.

"The problem, whether [it] occurs during exercise or sex, has a common denominator," says Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, professor emerita at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"Stress incontinence is related to the strength of the pelvic floor muscles," Whipple says. These are the ones you use to stop your urine midstream. The weaker they are, the more likely you are to leak.

Several things can weaken your pelvic muscles over the years, including:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Age
  • Extra weight

When incontinence happens during intimate moments, women can feel anxious, says Amy Rosenman, MD, a gynecologist at UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica. This can lead to sex problems.

The most important thing you can do is to talk to your partner about it. You may find it's a relief to get the problem out in the open, says Rosenman, co-author of The Incontinence Solution.

Likewise, don't let chance of a wet spot on your yoga pants stop you from working out altogether. Use these tips before sex or exercise:

  • Go to the bathroom beforehand to empty your bladder.
  • Cut back on fluids in advance (but not so much that you get dehydrated).
  • Experiment with new positions or exercises that don't put pressure on your bladder.

In the bedroom, you can use rubber sheets or towels to keep your mattress dry. At the gym, be prepared with pads or panty liners to protect your clothing. If your leaks are light, over-the-counter pads and liners that fit in your underwear can absorb extra urine.

There are things you can do at home to manage stress incontinence. Options include:

  • Kegels. These exercise for your pelvic muscles. Start with 3 sets of 10 squeezes a day. No one will even know you're working them out.
  • Vaginal weights that you hold in place with your muscles. As you get stronger, you'll use heavier weights.
  • Bladder training, including keeping a bladder diary. The diary will help to determine the best times to go.
  • Weight loss. Being overweight can make incontinence worse, so dropping pounds may ease your symptoms.


Stress incontinence may happen to everyone at some point or another. But if it starts to mess up your daily routine or happens often, talk to your doctor. He may refer you to a urogynecologist (a urologist or a gynecologist who has done a fellowship in pelvic floor reconstructive surgery and specializes in urinary incontinence). She will do a physical exam and some tests. If your incontinence doesn't respond to at-home therapy, you may need medical treatment or surgery.