Three out of four people with vaginas will experience pain during sex at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, although it’s incredibly common, it’s not something that many of us talk about with our friends or healthcare provider.
We’re here to erase that stigma and help you get back to enjoying sex again. You deserve a naughty, slippery, more comfy romp in the bedroom, and we want to give it to you.
Why Do I Feel Pain During Sex?
Pain during sex (also called dyspareunia) is your body trying to get your attention, especially if your pain doesn’t go away when you change position. Think of it as a big red flag your body is waving in your face so that you can take it seriously and not blow it off.
Many of us are taught from a young age to push through the pain or that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” We’re here to tell you that your pain is valid and that you should always listen to your body's signals.
What Are Common Causes of Pain During Sex?
Our bodies are all made up of the same basic combination of parts, but we’re also all beautifully unique. If you polled 100 people with a vulva who experience pain during sex, you’d likely find that no two people experience the same pain for the same reason. That’s why knowing the most common causes of painful intercourse is essential.
As you’ll see, many of the common causes have some overlap. After all, we’re whole, complex human beings, and physical and mental factors can both come into play.
While you’re reading the list, make a note of anything you think could be triggering your pain during sex. It can help you (and your gynecologist) more easily figure out why your body is responding the way it is. Knowledge is power.
Vaginal dryness is the number one cause of pain during sex. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an issue that only impacts postmenopausal women, or that it’s something you’re doing wrong.
Vaginal dryness can happen to anyone because it’s usually a symptom of another issue. It certainly shouldn’t be the source of any shame or judgment.
Luckily, there’s also an easy way to counteract vaginal dryness — the magic that is lube. Lube reduces friction with vaginal penetration, a major source of pain during sex. Appropriate vaginal lubrication can really change the playing field, and you shouldn’t be afraid to rub on the lube before getting it on.
Health Conditions or Medications
A few medical conditions can also cause or contribute to painful sexual problems. This pain can often result from gynecological issues like endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
These conditions must be diagnosed and managed by a health care professional. Other medical conditions contributing to painful sex are urinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginismus, vulvodynia (which causes chronic pain at the vaginal opening), and STIs like herpes and chlamydia.
In addition, some of the medications we have to take for other health conditions can also impact our body’s ability to respond to arousal. Hormonal birth control is a frequent culprit, as are certain antidepressants.
As much as we’d like to disconnect our brains from our bodies, that isn’t possible (or healthy). Your partner might be super hot and incredible in bed, but if you’re not in a good place in your relationship, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get aroused enough to find sex enjoyable.
For many people with vulvas, our minds are connected to our hearts and bodies. It can put the brakes on when we have tension in our relationships or unease in our minds.
Sex is just as much mental as physical. You probably don’t lay in bed and get yourself off with a blank mind, right? Getting your head in the game makes sex fun and pleasurable, but that can be far more difficult if you’re experiencing struggles with your mental health.
If you’ve noticed that you’ve been feeling off or dealing with more anxiety or depression lately, put your sex life on the back burner and get help. Mental health struggles are far more common than you think, and getting yourself back to a positive headspace can improve your life in every way possible.
Hormones impact every facet of our lives at nearly every stage — it isn’t just menopause. Changes in certain hormones, especially fluctuating estrogen levels, can make physical arousal much more challenging. Your OB-GYN or primary care doc can help figure out what’s going on and suggest ways to counteract it.
Lack of Desire
Are you feeling like you just don’t feel like having sex? While the reasons you might feel this way can vary, a lack of sexual desire can be a major hurdle to enjoyable sex.
You’ll likely need to explore mental and physical causes to find a solution. If your issue is physical and your mind is ready to go, try an arousal oil to help get your body in the mood.
How Can I Help Ease Pain During Sex?
Now, for the part you’re really here for — how can you help ease pain during sex, so you can start enjoying it again?
Our number one suggestion for anyone experiencing pain during sex is to use lube to help ease pain during sexual activities. We can’t stress the importance of lubrication enough, not just to help relieve painful intercourse.
Sure — being properly lubricated helps make everything more fun, but it also protects your delicate vaginal tissue. Lube is crucial for those with hormonal imbalances, especially people in menopause.
Any good relationship hinges on communication. If you don’t feel safe talking to your partner, especially regarding soreness or sexual dysfunction, that’s a huge problem.
You need healthy communication with your partner to have fulfilling sexual intercourse and foster a sense of trust. If you feel like your relationship is lacking in this department, it may be time to seek counseling.
Set a Date
In a perfect world, all sex would happen when you find yourself spontaneously hot and bothered. Unfortunately, that’s not really how life works.
We’re all victims of our busy schedules, and, when left to chance, sex may not happen at all. Admit it, at the end of the day, you're usually exhausted when crawling into bed with your partner, and sex is often the last thing on your mind.
As unsexy as it may sound to set a date for being intimate with your partner, it’s sometimes the jumpstart you need to re-light the spark. Now, we’re not talking about treating it like one more thing on your calendar that you have to do — you want this to feel special (AKA, don’t just block out 10 minutes and call it a day).
Make sure you have enough time and privacy to explore each other’s bodies like you used to, or even focus on foreplay and sensual touch without having it lead to full intercourse.
When Should I See a Doctor About Painful Sex?
In general, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor anytime you experience new or concerning symptoms. Even though most of the causes of pain during sex are relatively benign, some of them will need to be treated by a healthcare professional.
Your provider can do a pelvic exam and help to rule out issues like sexually transmitted infections (STIs), uterine prolapse, yeast infections, and other health issues. You are worth it.
The Bottom Line
Pelvic pain during sex is always a red flag, especially if that pain happens every time you’re intimate. When sex hurts, it takes all of the enjoyment out of an activity that should be a fun, bonding experience between you and your partner.
Don’t put up with sexual pain and try to tough it out — take steps to resolve it so you can get back to that good, good loving you deserve.
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