What Can I Do About Painful Sex?
Pain during or after sex is far more common than you might think. In fact, nearly 75% of women experience pain during intercourse at some point during their lives. For some, the pain is temporary while for others, it can be a long-term issue.
What causes pain during sex?Pain during sex is typically in the vulva, which is the area surrounding the opening of your vagina, or within the vagina. You may also feel pain in your lower back, pelvic area, uterus, or bladder during sex. There are several issues that painful sex could signify including gynecologic problems or problems with sexual response. We will break each of these down so that you can understand the specific issue you are facing and will advise you on what you may be able to do to relieve pain during sex and when you should consult a professional.
Pain during sex due to sexual response problemsSexual response problems can be due to a lack of desire or lack of arousal – the hormonal, physical, and emotional changes that occur as a result of sexual stimulation. The following are the common reasons for sexual response problems:
Problems in the relationshipIssues with your partner can often inhibit your sexual response. This commonly comes as a result of a relationship in which the partners have mismatched levels of sexual desire.
Your partner’s sexual responseIf you are with a partner that has issues with sexual response, this can often lead to you experiencing problems in this area as well. It may make you feel uncomfortable or anxious about having sex.
Your mental stateEmotions such as shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety, and fear can make it hard to relax and may, in turn, inhibit your sexual response. Stress and fatigue can also cause you to feel pain during sex as they keep you from relaxing and make arousal difficult.
Medications and medical conditionsMany medications, including some methods of birth control, have a side effect of reduced sexual desire. There are also some medical conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and thyroid conditions that have an indirect impact on your sexual response.
Pain during sex due to gynecologic conditionsPain during sex can sometimes come as a result of several gynecologic conditions which can worsen when left untreated.
Skin disordersThere are some skin disorders that can result in ulcers or cracks in the skin of the vulva. Treatment for the skin disorder will vary depending on the type of disorder. One common skin disorder that affects the vulva is contact dermatitis which is a reaction to an irritating substance like perfumed soaps, douches, or lubricants that causes itching, burning, or pain.
Changes in hormonesA decrease in the levels of estrogen as a result of perimenopause and menopause can lead to vaginal dryness which can then lead to discomfort during sex. There are treatment options out there including hormonal therapy. Using a lubricant during sex can also help.
ChildbirthWomen who experience tears in the perineum or an episiotomy while giving birth may find that they have pain during sex that can last for several months after childbirth. Treatment options can include physical therapy, medications, or surgery.
VulvodyniaVulvodynia is a pain disorder that affects the vulva. There are many treatment options available for this condition including some self-care methods, medication, or surgery in more severe cases.
VaginitisThis is an inflammation of the vagina that can be caused by a yeast or bacterial infection with symptoms including discharge, itching, and burning. This is generally treated with medication.
VaginismusVaginismus is the reflexive tightening of the muscles at the opening of the vagina that can make sexual intercourse very painful. This condition is treated with different forms of therapy.
When should you see a healthcare professional about painful sex?If you experience frequent or severe pain during sex, you should make an appointment with your OBGYN. This is an important step in determining what may be causing the pain and how to respond to it. During your appointment, you may undergo some tests that may include a pelvic exam or ultrasound that will give your OBGYN some insight into the causes of some types of pain. You may also be asked questions about your sexual history and state of mind that can lend a hand in determining the reason for pain during sex.
What you can do to help with pain during sexThere are some measures you can take yourself that can help to relieve pain during sex.
- Be open with your partner. Tell them when and where you feel pain and discuss other ways of making intercourse more pleasurable.
- Use lubrication. If you are prone to vaginal irritation or sensitivity, a water-soluble lubricant is a good choice. Do not use petroleum jelly, baby oil, or mineral oil with condoms as these can dissolve the latex and cause the condom to rip.
- Try sexual activities that do not cause pain. If you find intercourse is painful, you and your partner may focus on other sexual or even nonsexual, but sensual activities.
- Relieve pain before sex. Take a warm bath, try over-the-counter pain reliever, and empty your bladder.
- If you experience burning after intercourse, apply ice or a frozen gel pack wrapped in a small towel to your vulva.