Feb. 12, 2008— -- High heels may improve a woman's sex life, a new study has found — but not in the way you might imagine.
The effect of heels on the male libido is well-known, but this research looked at the physical benefits of high heels for women. Dr. Maria Angela Cerruto, a urologist at the University of Verona, Italy, found that the tippy-toe posture of heels can tone a woman's abdomen and pelvic floor.
If true, not only will a nice high-heeled shoe attract the man, it may keep him, too.
While high heels are more commonly linked with problems of posture and bunions, Cerruto defends one of her own favorite articles of fashion.
"Like many women, I like high-heeled shoes; they make you appear more slender and taller," she says.
And she is pleased to have shown they can be good for you, too.
In a study to be published in the journal European Urology, Cerruto presented the results of her tests on 66 women under the age of 50.
She found that if they stood with their feet at a 15-degree angle to the ground (the equivalent of a 3-inch heel) the electrical activity in their pelvic muscles was less — indicating the muscles were more relaxed with higher heels, thus improving their strength and ability to contract.
"We now hope to prove that wearing heels during daily activity may reduce the need for pelvic exercises," says Dr. Cerruto.
That would be great news for most women, who not only struggle with regular exercising, but who are also supposed to remember to do their "Kegels" — named after the doctor who first established the regimen in 1948 — or pelvic floor gymnastics.
According to the Mayo Clinic Web site, "pregnancy, childbirth, excess weight, chronic coughing and just getting older can all take a toll on your pelvic floor muscles." The guide recommends regular exercise of those muscles, adding that this can also be "helpful to women who have persistent problems" reaching sexual gratification.
If wearing heels is enough to keep your pelvic floor toned, many lovers of flats might consider stepping up. Marina Sapia, a new mother in Rome, lit up at the news that wearing heels would do it. "I don't wear heels, because I am so tall, but I might start, if this is true," she told ABC News.
And designers of high-heeled fashion welcomed the news that their creations might finally be considered healthy.
Manolo Blahnik, a shoe designer specializing in sexy high heels, told the Daily Mail that this was "wonderful news."
"When you put on a high heel, it makes life more exciting," Blahnik claims.
"It's a way to appeal to the male species, to attract," he added, "and it works. I have men who tell me that heels have saved their marriage."
He complains of being "hounded for years" about how bad it was for the posture, but found it puzzling. His mother wore them until she was 87 with no ill consequences.
But even Blahnik admits that there is such a thing as a heel that is too high.
"I think there's a limit, though. Anything over four-and-a-half inches is just too much. You can't walk properly; it's no longer elegant."
But in fact, even four-and half inches is too high to be healthy. A limited height — practical — is the key. "Moderately high heels," Cerruto calls them.
The news of high-heel benefits for the pelvis intrigues Sabrina Saudelli, a Rome beautician.
"It makes sense that heels are good for abdominal and pelvic muscles," she thinks. "To counter the lean forward, you tighten the abdominal muscles and push the pelvis under."
An advocate for wearing heels in general, Saudelli claims "a small heel is actually good for the posture, much better than ballerina flats." But truly high heels, and especially a wobbly stiletto, is bad for the back and a risk for twisted ankles.
"Once you go over three inches regularly," she adds, "your posture and back are going to suffer."
So for all their sex appeal, stilettos, sadly, don't count.