Our bodies are fallible, and aches and pains are going to happen. But if that pain mostly tends to occur when you’re trying to be intimate with your partner, it may impact more than just your physical comfort.
Pelvic pain and sex may be unfortunate bedfellows, but there are ways that you can find relief and not let it stop you from having pleasurable, fulfilling, hot sex.
What Are Common Symptoms of Painful Sex (Dyspareunia)?
Painful intercourse is an unfortunately common occurrence, especially for people with vulvas. According to organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 75 percent of AFAB people experience pain during a sexual activity at some point in their lives.
Common symptoms of painful sex (known medically as “dyspareunia”) include:
- Pain or burning with penetration
- Deep, aching pain in the pelvis with thrusting
- Throbbing pain that can last for hours after intercourse
- Sharp or deep pain in the vagina or the pelvis
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, especially more than once, it’s worth looking into how to find relief. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
Is Painful Sex Normal?
A little discomfort during intercourse can happen sometimes, but chronic pain during sex is never normal. If you have pain at any point while having sex, your body is likely trying to tell you something.
Note where you’re feeling the pain and what you’re doing when it happens. That can help you figure out what may be causing it.
What Causes Pelvic Pain During Sex?
Pelvic pain and sex can occur for different reasons, so it’s crucial to narrow them down, so you know how best to approach finding relief. There’s also a lot of crossover between the common causes of pain, so don’t be surprised if you have more than one thing impacting your ability to enjoy having sex.
If you have a vagina, you’re probably going to experience vaginal dryness at some point. Although how wet we get is often tied to how aroused we are, that’s not the only factor at play. For people with a hormone imbalance or on certain medications, even an experienced partner or the best sex toy in the world can’t get those juices flowing.
Vaginal dryness is normal and more than okay. Unfortunately, pelvic pain due to friction is far more likely to occur without lubrication.
Age is another factor in the war against pelvic pain and sex. As our bodies naturally age, our vaginal tissues begin to thin out (likely due to a decline in the amount of estrogen we have). Thinner vaginal tissue is also more sensitive, and up to 45 percent of postmenopausal people report they find sex more painful.
People often talk about how hormones impact sex as something that happens to pregnant or menopausal women, because these are the times when hormone imbalances are more common. However, that’s not the only thing that can impact your hormones.
If you’re an AFAB person capable of getting pregnant, you might be taking hormonal birth control to reduce that risk. While these methods are highly effective, they can also mess with your hormones (especially progesterone and estrogen levels). Talk to your healthcare provider and see if there may be a different option for you if you’re struggling.
Just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you don’t want to get down and dirty with your partner (when you have time and energy). If you’ve chosen to breastfeed, you may notice that it’s harder to get physically aroused or that you have more pelvic pain during sex than before.
Again, hormones come into play. When breastfeeding, your body produces less estrogen and more oxytocin to help supply and letdown. Estrogen is key to arousal, so, like with menopause, a lower hormone level can impact your ability to get wet. Oxytocin, on the other hand, can stimulate the contraction of the uterus, which can be uncomfortable.
If you have had any pelvic surgeries or have been diagnosed with endometriosis, scar tissue can also impact your pleasure level during sex. Unfortunately, this isn’t something a bottle of lube can fix, so you’ll need to see your doctor to discuss treatment options.
If you’re one of the roughly 81 percent of AFAB people who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma, there’s a possibility that some of that emotional trauma can create physical pain. Known as vaginismus, or the involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles, this unconscious reaction can definitely impact your enjoyment of sex. Therapy can help, as can talking to your partner about what’s happening—when you’re ready.
How To Find Relief
There are a lot of reasons that pelvic pain can happen during sex. However, the good news is that there are also ways to find relief. Once you have a better idea of what may be causing your pain, you can find the right solution and get back to having all the naughty sex with your partner you want.
The cause of pelvic pain during sex is often linked to a lack of natural lubrication. Luckily, while you can’t always talk your body into producing more on its own, lubricants are available that feel just like the real thing—and sometimes even better!
Try our Intimacy Sex Oil to make everything as wet and slippery as you need, or pair it with other ways to increase arousal. Our Awaken + Lube Bundle comes with our favorite arousal oil, which can amp up sensation alongside your increased lubrication.
In addition to lubrication, you can find other complementary ways to help your body loosen up. Our Intimacy Melts are a great place to start, as they can help release tension when inserted vaginally up to 60 minutes before sex.
Focus on Foreplay
When we say foreplay, we do not just mean the lead-up to penetration. Foreplay can be the star of the show. But if you experience sexual pain with penetration, ensuring you are warmed up can help.
Feeling tense can tighten the muscles in your vaginal opening, leading to pain. Take deep breaths, lay back, and enjoy some steamy foreplay. Be sure to communicate with your partner about what brings you the most pleasure and relaxation.
Is it oral with light licking and kissing? Or it could be teasing with a new sex toy. Mix it up and see what works—it’s your sex life; make it your own.
Try Pelvic Floor Exercises
The pelvic floor muscles play a significant role in your sexual pleasure. If these muscles are too tight or too relaxed, you may have trouble enjoying sex or even notice urinary leakage (which can take you right out of the mood).
Visiting a pelvic floor therapist (basically physical therapy for your pelvic floor) for an evaluation can help. They may recommend exercises to help tone your pelvic floor muscles to avoid cramping and pain. Pelvic floor specialists are trained to address sexual dysfunction and can help pinpoint the cause of painful intercourse.
People who have had children, especially vaginally, are especially at risk for pelvic floor dysfunction. The specialist may also recommend dilators, which can reduce genital pain over time by loosening the vaginal wall muscles.
Prioritize Your Sexual Health
Take care of your sexual health with the same dedication you take care of other components of your health and wellness. Every part of our mind and body is linked, so giving your body what it needs in one way (like sleep or water) can improve the performance of other things.
Put a priority on being intimate with your partner, and even take the time to explore yourself sexually. That way, you can have an even deeper understanding of what turns you on and what gets you off.
When To Talk to Your Doctor
Pelvic pain during sex can be just a side effect of vaginal dryness, but it can also be related to other medical conditions that need to be treated by a doctor. Don’t overlook health issues or potential health conditions; even if it’s nothing, you’ll be happy to have peace of mind! If you’re having any new pelvic pain, or if it seems to be increasing in severity, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
Your doctor will want to rule out pain from infections (including sexually transmitted infections like herpes or bacterial or yeast infections). There is no shame in infections that cause painful intercourse, but it is in your and your partner’s best interest to address them.
Your OB-GYN will also be able to check for other concerns like ovarian cysts (growths on your ovaries) and fibroids through a pelvic exam. You deserve to live your best life pain-free.
Don’t take pelvic pain and sex lightly. Although many of us will experience discomfort during intercourse at some point, it doesn’t have to become our new normal. Once you have a better idea of what may be triggering your pelvic pain, you can take the necessary steps to manage it, get relief, and get right back to having the best sex of your life.
Pain with Penetration, Sexual Side Effects of Menopause | The North American Menopause Society
Sexual Assault Statistics | NSVRC
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