Not Only Is ‘Sitting Like a Lady’ an Outdated Concept, It’s Also Bad for Your Pelvic Floor

Photo: Stocksy/ BONNINSTUDIO
I remember the first time I was told to "sit like a lady": I was climbing (ill-advisedly) on top of the monkey bars at my elementary school, and sitting atop them in my purple and maroon skort that was part of my uniform. A teacher on duty came up to me, looking up, and telling me to a) get down and b) that I wasn't sitting very "lady-like."

Anyone raised as a girl in our culture has probably heard some form of this at some point. If ever we're sitting with our legs wide open in a dress, skirt, pants, shorts—it doesn't seem to matter—someone with an idea about how girls and women "should" behave is ready and waiting to say, "Sit like a lady" (meaning, we should be sitting cross-legged). It's like a lasso tossed at us, aiming to wrangle our posture, and by extension, our personhood, into some semblance of agreed-upon gender behavior. They likely do it because the people who raised them did it to them, and so on.

It doesn't need to be said, honestly, that this is an antiquated thing to say to anyone. But in case you wanted a stronger retort, it's also not medically sound.

That's right: According to pelvic floor therapist Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, founder of FeminaPT and Fusion Wellness in LA, sitting with one thigh crossed on top of the other is not ideal for our pelvic floor.

How crossing your legs harms your pelvic floor

"Sitting with your legs crossed creates a torsion, or oblique pull, in your pelvis," says Dr. Jeffcoat. "If you have low back or hip issues, this can exacerbate those problems."

Creating this pull on the pelvic bones creates a subtle shift in your alignment, which in turn creates a different length and tension relationship in your pelvic floor muscles. Long-term, this can contribute to changes in bowel, bladder, and/or sexual function.

The position of your pelvis affects how your pelvic floor muscles are able to contract or relax, Dr. Jeffcoat explains. Whether your hips are slumped or lopsided with one leg over the other, your pelvic floor muscles can't relax or contract as optimally as when they would in a neutral position.

So, for example, if you have stress urinary incontinence and your pelvis is in a tucked position, you're more likely to experience urinary leakage when you sneeze than if you were in a more upright posture.

it's also important to remember that our pelvic floor muscles do not live in isolation; they function together with our deep core muscles. In particular, the transverse abdominis muscles (the deepest of our abs, wrapping around our trunk), work in synergy with the pelvic floor to stabilize our core. An altered length/tension relationship and change in muscle function here can not only lead to instability, but also to low back pain.

A better seated posture

The most ideal sitting position for your pelvic floor health is one that keeps your pelvis upright (not tilted) with both feet on the floor and both knees pointing forward. People who may really need to consider practicing better sitting posture are those who have trouble with bowel, bladder, or sexual dysfunction.

It is unlikely that just sitting with crossed legs will create these dysfunctions, Dr. Jeffcoat stresses, but the habit can be one piece of the puzzle alongside other abnormal movement and postural patterns.

What should you do if you love to cross your legs?

Sitting is highly personal, just like most ways we move our body. If you really like sitting with one leg crossed over the other and it feels right, there's nothing to be ashamed of. Yet Dr. Jeffcoat recommends trying to transition to sitting with your ankles crossed instead of your thighs if crossing your legs feels best.

"This keeps your hips in a more neutral alignment and produces less of the oblique force on the pelvis," she says. "If a chair is too tall, getting a stool to support both feet and keeping both knees straight ahead, in line with the hips, is another modification to try."

Dr. Jeffcoat acknowledges that how we instinctively sit can be a difficult habit to break, so don't be hard on yourself. Sure, there are best practices when it comes to sitting in a healthy way, but there isn't a moral attachment to your posture—and sitting in a particular way definitely doesn't make you any more or less of a lady.

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