Painful Sex. Why Does It Happen?


Painful sex is an uncomfortable experience many endure. While both the female and male sex can suffer from this, the majority are female. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report nearly 3 out of 4 women disclosed they experienced pain during sex. This pain can occur occasionally to frequently before or after intercourse and differs from person to person. The feelings can vary from but not exclusive to an achy pelvis, burning, soreness, stinging, rawness, and pressure in or around the opening of the vagina.


There are many misconceptions about why sex is painful. Most are aimed to normalize this discomfort and or devalue the one experiencing the pain. Unless you are intentionally seeking pain for pleasure similar to BDSM or other practices, the pain felt during intercourse should not be normalized. Common myths include, sex should hurt by nature, when you “lose your virginity” it will hurt, pain is to stop women from being promiscuous, the penis is too big, the hymen is still intact, and this insane list continues. Virginity is a problematic social construct and correlates to the hymen myth. Sex is not defined the same way for all. For instance, having oral or anal can be considered sex. In the instance of the penis (or dildo) to vagina intercourse, your first time is not always painful. Your hymen does not “break.” The hymen is a thin piece of tissue that covers the opening of the vagina. There is an opening usually big enough for menstrual blood to be released or a tampon to be inserted. This thin tissue can stretch from many activities including exercise, bike riding, tampon use, intercourse, etc. Once stretched it does not go back into place. The look of the hymen varies for each person with some being born without one. There is no way to determine if someone has had sex before based on the look of the hymen. 


Dyspareunia is the medical definition of painful sex. The cause for it can be determined readily by a professional. Once the cause is identified it is possible to begin to solve or help the issue. Some causes can stem from situations such as lack of desire to be intimate, not enough lubrication, lack of arousal, gynecologic conditions, and stress. The vaginal canal is 3 to 6 inches long and can expand up to 200% during intercourse as well as childbirth.

Foreplay can build up the sexual tension in a good way and allow your body to relax for intercourse. Fun games, a steamy makeout session, teasing, etc. can help you become relaxed to aid in both the lack of desire as well as arousal. Repeated rubbing on or insertion into the vagina, as well as a decrease in estrogen, can cause friction and dryness. Using a good lubricant will help with dryness to lessen friction and increase pleasure. When you don’t focus on the moment, desire can diminish which can interfere with lubrication which leads to pain or discomfort. Having a clear mind will allow you to focus on the moment rather than outside of it. Try to set the mood by playing softer music, dimming lights, or any other way you like to relax. There are medical conditions that can cause pain during vaginal sex.

Some conditions if not treated by a professional can lead to further issues. Skin disorders can itch or burn and include ulcers or cracks of the vulva. This normally stems from reactions to perfumes, soaps, douches, and some lubricants. Vulvodynia symptoms include burning or rawness at the opening of the vulva. Avoiding skin irritants as well as rough physical activity may help with this. Yeast or bacterial infections cause itching and burning of the vulva known as Vaginitis. This can be treated with medication and wearing clean loose-fitting clothing around the vaginal area. Involuntary tightening of the muscles around the opening of the vagina, known as vaginismus can be treated with different therapies such as vaginal trainers or relaxation techniques. Other causes of painful sex can be from surgeries, childbirth, and other medical conditions. 


Sex should be enjoyable for all who partake. You should never feel embarrassed or wrong for expressing displeasure. Understanding the signs of pain and communicating them to your partner or medical professional can help and prevent future issues. Our body has receptors specifically tuned to pain to alert us of a problem. While there are products out there like numbing lubricants and pain medicine available, it is not beneficial to use to cover up natural pain signals. Further damage can be done if these agents are used versus treating the cause of the pain. If safe home remedies do not help with pain during sex, go to a doctor for further help.

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