Updated: Aug 2
For women, sex may hurt the first time, but sex that's regularly painful shouldn't be accepted as normal. The occasional soreness after a particularly "enthusiastic" session is okay, however persistent pain during sex is not only a passion killer, but a signal that something's up down there.
Unfortunately, despite studies showing that as many as 75% of women experience pain at some point during intercourse, most neglect to inform their doctors. Either because they're self conscious and ashamed, or just don't think anything can be done about it because they're ignorant. If not discussed and treated, painful sex can lead to resentment amongst couples.
There are myriads of reasons why people experience pain before, during or even after sex - including lack of lubricant. We're going to start this article by offering a proper definition of painful sex, before moving into the various causes and possible solutions. Let's begin!
What is it?
The medical terminology for painful sex is dyspareunia (pronounced dis-pah-ROO-nee-uh), meaning "badly mated" in Greek. Even though it's more commonly associated with menopausal women, it is quite normal for younger women to experience painful sex. The pain felt can be excruciating or mild, stinging or burning and it can be felt either on the outer walls of the vagina, or deep inside. Though it's expected that 75% of women would experience some form of dyspareunia during their lifetime, experts suggest that at any given time about 22% of women experience it. So if you are surrounded by 4 other sexually active women, chances are, one is experiencing painful sex, even if they are saying nothing.
How is Dyspareunia Diagnosed?
It's possible for it to develop later in life, but some women may have been experiencing it since their first sexual encounter. It's very unfortunate for the latter, because they won't know any better until they finally open up to someone. If the pain in your nether regions doesn't subside after a few days, contact your ob-gyn or any other health professional.
They'll ask when the pain began, when and where it hurts, and what the pain feels like; sharp knife-like pain, tenderness, burning or stinging sensation. They'll also want to know what self care remedies you've administered and what your sexual relationship is like. If you use ladies vibrator, say it. You've already taken the first bold step, don't get shy now and leave anything out. If you've had surgery recently done in the area, state that as well.
The examination will be very thorough; including pelvic, vulva, vaginal, rectal examinations and tests. Because of the nature of these exams - cotton swaps and gloved hands in your girly bits - it's normal to get uncomfortable. Speak with the doctor before it starts. They will try to allay your fears by giving you a detailed account of what to expect during the examination.
What Causes Painful Sex?
Dyspareunia is a complicated medical problem with many different causes. In fact just one factor can have a cascading result. For now, we'll focus on two main causes, physical and psychological.
Psychological Causes of Painful Sex
Women, especially those raised in extremely conservative homes, are more likely to develop a medical condition known as vaginismus. It manifests itself as chronic pain in the vagina's opening during sex. What happens is that the muscles become tightly contracted - often involuntarily - preventing penile entry. Because this probably started out because of a female's fear of sex, the best way to treat it is reorientation of the mind through therapy.
Other emotional or psychological factors such as stress, guilt, a bad gyno experience, or even sexual abuse can manifest as physical pain during sex. While there might be physical symptoms that can be treated, it's important to know that they can keep recurring until the underlying psychological trauma is dealt with.
Physical Causes of Dyspareunia:
- dryness of the vagina accounts a lot for lack of lubrication in women. And while this dryness is often associated menopausal women - as a result of their vaginal walls thinning - this isn't always the case. Lack of arousal in women, resulting from stress or anxiety, can cause the brain to send the wrong signals down there. But that's not all. Some women simply do not produce enough lubricant to make the sexual process smooth - even while they're young. Taking some types of contraceptive pills can also slow down the body's ability to lubricate itself. If you notice this while in your 20's, it's normal, and there are steps you can take to get more fluids down there.
- if you experience pain during EVERY sexual encounter, you might want to check with a doctor to make sure things look alright down there. Sometimes, women are born with an abnormal hymen that makes things 10 times more painful than they should. Trauma from childbirth or even female circumcision can change the structure of the vagina. Once this is changed, very rarely will pleasure be derived from sex.
- thrush is an extremely common yeast infection that causes a stinging or itchy sensation even when you pee. It's also easy to misdiagnose it, so even if you treated "something" that wasn't thrush, it'll keep giving you troubles. If you've engaged in unprotected sex, make sure you inform your doctor, so they know to check for sexually transmitted diseases.
- or unprovoked pain. There are no concrete causes, but it can happen to any vulva owner. Like the name suggests, pain is limited to the external vulva region of the vagina - it could either be localized to one specific area or the entire vulva. The thing with vulvodynia is that the pain will be felt even without penetrative sex. Something as simple as inserting a tampon or sitting in one spot for too long can trigger pain.
- fluid filled sacs and non cancerous growths on a woman's uterus can cause immense pain during intercourse. A cyst might not manifest any symptom, while fibroids might lead to heavier menstrual flow. A regular ob-gyn checkup should be able to detect this early.
- not to him per se (semen allergies exist), but to a product you or him is using. The vagina's an extremely sensitive area, that needs a balanced pH at all times. It isn't asking you to do anything fancy, just wash it with water. Even latex products, like condoms, can trigger allergic reactions that dry out your natural lubricants or irritate the walls of your vagina. Make sure all sex toys, including bullet vibrators, are cleaned so dirt isn't transferred from one session to another.
- it doesn't happen often, but skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema can migrate to the vagina and be a pain. If you notice a persistent skin disease, make sure you check and treat EVERYWHERE.
How to Treat Painful Sex
Again, if you notice the pain/soreness after a particularly rigorous session, you might just need time to heal. If the pain persists, your doctor may prescibe some of these options to manage the condition.
The best vaginal lubricants have a balanced pH and are non hormonal. They help with friction, and can reduce the resulting pain. When choosing lubricants, beware of the ones that weaken condoms. Check out these lubricants that give the right vibes to your nether region and toys. Lubricants can help with dryness, but won't if dryness is just one symptom of a bigger problem. If the pain still persists after trying a lubricant, you should see a doctor.
Try Different Sexual Techniques.
Women like to be wooed. If something's not working out, you might want to change your game. Extended foreplay can increase the vagina's responsiveness, creating natural lubrication. For women with psychological conditions like vaginismus, the best vibrator for women might seem less daunting. In fact, most sexual therapies feature some sort of ladies vibrator and lubricant to promote comfort with "that" part of her body. Use it or you'll lose it - try masturbating alone to increase personal comfort.
Giving birth to a child shouldn't be the end of your sexual exploits. If you're experiencing pain in the vagina after child birth, you might want to put it out of commission for some time - after all it has completed a very tasking job. Get some lubricant for anal sex and give your back door a shot.
Structural problems can be salvaged with the help of expert surgeons. An abnormal hymen can be removed in a relatively uncomplicated surgical procedure, while fibroids will need to be taken out so they don't grow bigger. If you're pregnant and have a growth, most doctors anticipate that the fibroid will shrink as the baby grows. So you can delay any procedure until the birth of the child.
Women with weak or tight vaginal and pelvic muscles will benefit from floor physical therapy. While those with psychological issues should seek counseling.
In all things, try to take very good care of your lady bits as a preventive measure. Self-love is highly encouraged (both mental and physical), and don't be afraid/ashamed to ask for help.