Even though painful sex is frequently performed, you shouldn't have to put up with it.
Sex should never hurt; if it does, your body may be trying to warn you that there is a major problem.
You're not alone if you experienced a painful pinch, pressure, tightness, soreness, or cramping during your most recent romp: A 2015 study that was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that about 30% of women report experiencing pain during vaginal intercourse.
Problems with pain might arise outside of the bedroom as well. "Pain during sex not only ruins the moment, but it can have much greater consequences: fear of sex, lowered sex drive, and overall loss of intimacy," explains Debra Herbenick, PhD, professor, director, and researcher at Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
It doesn't follow that you should have to put up with discomfort just because it's common. Speaking out might feel difficult, but if you ignore it, you're hurting yourself.
Professor of pediatrics at Indiana University's School of Medicine and expert in sexual health Dennis Fortenberry says that women need to understand that suffering is real, regardless of its underlying cause. There are many factors that could be interfering with your time spent in bed. Here are 10 reasons why you could experience discomfort during sex, along with steps you can take to make it feel nice once more.
You skipped foreplay
There is some validity to the cliché that women require more foreplay since they take longer to become aroused than men, but finding what works for you is half the battle.
"Foreplay needs to be exciting to you," advises Herbenick. This could entail oral sex, giving and receiving kisses and rolls, or even watching porn with our partner. Everyone is unique, so what motivates you might not always be effective for someone else.
Understanding what feels nice is essential to triggering your body's natural vaginal lubrication process, which is necessary for pain-free sex. Herbenick notes that some women don't actually recognize their level of arousal, which can be a significant barrier. In this situation, it may be beneficial to maintain present-moment focus. She counsels, "Notice how it feels to touch and be touched by your partner."
You didn’t use lube
Even if you're prepared, penetration will hurt if you're not adequately slick. Additionally, when your brain has already entered the game, your vagina doesn't become lubricated for another 5 to 7 minutes.
Vaginal dryness can also be caused by other things, such taking specific drugs. As with other mucous membranes, allergy medications (such as antihastimines) have the same impact on vaginal tissues, and low-dose hormonal birth control tablets can also make you feel dry, according to Herbenick. Antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, and sedatives are some additional medications that may impair your capacity to lubricate naturally.
The remedy? Make sure you are prepared with a personal lubricant. Even if you rarely need it, having it on hand prevents you from having to go looking for it in the middle of an emergency, which would undoubtedly sour the situation.
You’re super stressed
You have a million things to do in a day, and you take that tension to bed with you. “Relaxation is an important part of feeling ready for and interested in sex,” explains Herbenick.
The best thing you can do is de-stress before you get busy. Herbenick suggests that couples give each other massages. If rub-downs aren’t your thing, there are other ways to help your mind—and thus your body—prepare for sex. “Try a yoga class—a lot of people also find meditation or mindfulness useful,” she says.
Your partner is too big
For a small number of people, “genital fit” can be a cause of pain during intercourse—meaning your partner’s quite large, and you’re extra petite.
Lube can help in some cases, but “in situations where the penis is hitting the cervix, or causing an uncomfortable level of stretch, it can help to change sex positions,” says Herbenick. “A lot of times women don’t feel confident saying, ‘slow down’ or ‘be more gentle.’” Try switching things up with positions like woman-on-top, since it gives you more control over the speed and depth of thrusting.
You have some kind of infection down there
A number of genital infections—most commonly, genital herpes, trichomoniasis, and yeast infections—can make intercourse painful. Even women who don’t experience any symptoms or are unaware of their infections can have small changes in their vulva or vagina that can contribute to pain.
The good news is, most genital infections are easily controlled or curable, and the tests are simple. If you’re experiencing pain, the most important thing is to communicate with your doctor and get tested appropriately, advises Dr. Fortenberry.
You have endometriosis
This condition, where the tissue that lines the uterus starts growing in other areas, affects an estimated 200 million worldwide, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America. “It can lead to pain with intercourse and vaginal penetration, and can be really intolerable,” says Dr. Fortenberry.
Unfortunately, endometriosis may require laparoscopic surgery, but identifying the source of pain is a big part of the battle. If you have painful periods, pain during sex, or have female relatives who have experienced similar symptoms—you should ask your doctor for an ultrasound screening.
You’re experiencing IBS complications
True, very few people like to contemplate sex and poop in the same thought, but IBS is another common but sneaky possible cause of pain. Dr. Fortenberry suggests that if you have the most common signs of irritable bowel syndrome—periods of intestinal cramping, and cyclic constipation, or diarrhea—in addition to painful sex, the two might be linked.
Talk to your primary care physician about how you can manage your IBS—there are many ways to reduce symptoms, including changing your diet, medication, stress reduction, and behavioral therapy. “No one knows why, but it appears that when IBS is treated, vaginal pain during intercourse gets better as well,” says Dr. Fortenberry.
You’re going through menopauseChanges in the vagina during menopause involve more than just lubrication, especially after menopause is completed. “Parts of the vagina and vulva may become additionally sensitive,” says Dr. Forteberry, which can explain why something that used to feel good can now just plain hurt.
“There are many ways to mitigate the unwanted symptoms of menopause,” says Dr. Fortenberry. “Start by having a conversation with your primary care provider or your gynecologist about the possible causes and treatments that may help.”
You have a skin disorder
About 30 percent of the population has some form of eczema, an umbrella term for several skin diseases. In some cases, eczema can strike down there, leaving your vulva itchy, red, and inflamed—and intercourse painful as a result. The good news is, vulvar eczema is highly treatable. Often, it’s as simple as switching out your soap or laundry detergent or wearing looser-fitting clothing. Your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid cream or an antihistamine while your skin heals up.
You have vaginismus
Vaginismus is a rare condition characterized by spasms and contractions of the vagina during intercourse (it can also happen when you try inserting a tampon or getting a pap test at the gynecologist’s office). It’s thought to be a psychological condition stemming from things like a fear of sex, past abuse or trauma, or anxiety. If you experience pain during sex or even while trying to insert a tampon, talk to your doctor ASAP to ensure an accurate diagnosis.