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Sex Doesn’t Have to Hurt. Here’s What To Do if It Does

October 04, 2022

Sex can be boring or it can be glorious. But painful? Yes, that too. Some women have discomfort — or worse — during intercourse. You don’t have to accept that it’s just your fate in life to have painful sex.

What Causes Painful Intercourse?

All kinds of issues can make penetration hurt. And the pain can be near the tip of the vagina (the vestibule), along the side of the vaginal wall (the perineum), or further back in the hymenal ring. The sensation can feel like burning, throbbing, roughness, rawness or aching, and it might last for up to a few hours afterward.

Painful intercourse, called dyspareunia, can be caused by any number of things, including:

  • Dryness. Women’s bodies self-lubricate when they’re ready for penetration, so you may be dry if you are not fully aroused. Outside elements like medications and certain ailments can also cause vaginal dryness.
  • A hymenal ring. Your “cherry” might not be fully “broken,” even if you’ve had intercourse before.
  • Physical issues. Fibroids or ovarian cysts in certain locations, endometriosis and other medical conditions might cause painful intercourse.
  • Skin problems. Maybe your new bubble bath or scented body wash is irritating your skin in that area.
  • Vaginitis. Bacterial and yeast infections can inflame your genitals and make them ultra-sensitive.
  • Scars. If your vagina or perineum ripped when giving birth, or was sewn up after an episiotomy (these are now uncommon), it might hurt when a penis rubs against the healed tissue.
  • STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and gonorrhea might make your insides sensitive, causing sex to hurt.
  • Fear. Our minds have minds of their own, so to speak. Maybe you feel guilt about having sex, experience phantom pain from subconsciously recalling a past physical pain, or are dealing with having had sexual trauma or abuse in the past.
  • Stress. If you’re overburdened for any reason, your body might protect itself by clenching the vaginal muscles shut, essentially creating a wall against penetration. This is called vaginismus. If you’re not feeling keen about your relationship, that can be the to blame, too.
  • Hormones. Breastfeeding and perimenopause might affect natural lubrication.

How To Stop Intercourse from Hurting

You can’t buy a magic wand at the pharmacy that will POOF! make your hurting halt. Sometimes simple solutions work. Other times, you’ll need to seek out answers about the cause of your issue more aggressively and keep trying new possible solutions.

Here are suggestions that may solve your problem.

  • Prolong foreplay. You might simply need more time canoodling and caressing before your cervix and Bartholin glands release enough of the fluid that will coat you inside so you’re not too dry for intercourse. In other words, keep enjoying foreplay until your body says, “Go.”
  • Change positions. If sex hurts in the missionary position, try being the one on top, spooning, or having your partner enter from behind while you’re on hands and knees.
  • Use lube. You can buy manmade lubrication at any pharmacy and find yet more options online and in stores that sell sex paraphernalia. They can be made primarily with water, silicone, aloe or oil. If one product doesn’t help, try another type. Avoid oil-based lubricants—or a natural alternative, cooking oil — if your partner is using a condom, as it can weaken the condom.
  • Apply pressure. If a physician finds that all or a remnant of your hymenal ring is still intact (in fact, inserting tampons might hurt in this case), you might be able to break it down by massaging the area open with your finger. A prescription cream can help, too.
  • Go to counseling. Talk to a therapist if doctors find no physical reason for your pain. Sometimes a  support group of women with similar issues can help.
  • Try medication. When a phantom pain is the cause, certain anti-depressants might ease the problem.

How To Treat Your Painful Intercourse

A problem this varied is tough to tackle, but you can do it. You are not alone. Ten percent or even 20 percent of women are experiencing this challenge. What’s more, it’s common for doctors to brush it off. So, first, make sure you are heard. If one doctor dismisses your concern, find another.

And you might start with the basics. Buy new over-the-counter lubrication products. Frolic between the sheets for as long as you need, explaining the reason to your partner. Mix it up position-wise. If those don’t work, speak up. Become your own advocate. The right solution is out there, and you are entitled to find it.

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