Pain during sex is a common problem for women.
As many as 75% of women will experience pain during sex at some point, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For many women, the pain is rare or happens only once, but for others it’s persistent.
“Women tend to blame themselves or blame their symptoms on something they did, when it’s not their fault they’re having these problems.”
“Some women will stop dating or stop being intimate with their partners because it hurts too much,” says Dr. Jennifer Anger. “It’s important to talk to your doctor and get that pain diagnosed, because it is treatable.”
Here’s what Dr. Anger wants women to know about painful sex:
Sex isn’t supposed to hurt
Just because painful sex is very common, that doesn’t mean you should accept it as “normal.” The occasional minor soreness may be nothing to worry about, but you shouldn’t be dealing with intense chronic pain.
Sex should be a pleasurable experience, and if it’s not, speak up to your partner—and your doctor, Dr. Anger says.
Dryness is the most common cause
Dryness is common in menopausal and post-menopausal women, though younger women can experience it as well. Dryness can not only make sex painful, it throws off the vagina’s balance of good bacteria, which can result in infections that contribute to painful sex.
Try using a lubricant if dryness is causing you pain during sex.
Many conditions may cause pain during sex
Dryness is the most frequent reason, but there are many other reasons sex might become painful. Some conditions that can be at the root of the problem:
- Pelvic floor dysfunction: The pelvic floor muscles—the ones you tighten when you want to stop passing urine quickly—can become painfully tight. It can cause an achy pelvis and pain with any kind of insertion.
- Vaginismus: The muscles at the opening of the vagina become tightly contracted, causing pain during sex.
- Vulvodynia: Chronic pain at the opening of the vagina, including burning, stinging, soreness, itching, rawness, and pain during sex.
- Infections: Bacterial, yeast, or sexually transmitted infections can cause pain during sex and usually have other symptoms, like discharge.
- Ovarian cysts: These fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries often have no symptoms. When they rupture, they can cause pain and bleeding.
- Fibroids: These non-cancerous growths on the uterus can cause heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pressure, pain, and painful intercourse.
Treatments are available
Treatments often include oral medications or suppositories. Estrogen therapy may be used to help some conditions. Physical therapy is also a go-to treatment, especially if the pelvic floor is the main cause of pain. Laser treatments are also helpful for some women, especially those with dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls due to aging.
Don’t suffer in silence
If sex hurts, and especially if it hurts to the point you’re avoiding it or want to stop, it’s time to see a doctor. Dr. Anger recommends seeing a gynecologist about problems related to sex, as they’re more likely to be able to accurately diagnose the cause of the pain.
Dr. Anger notes that many women are reluctant to talk about any issues they’re having in the pelvic region, whether it’s a prolapse, incontinence, or painful sex. Many don’t open up to friends or loved ones about these issues, and as a result, these problems seem kind of mysterious to the average person.
“Women tend to blame themselves or blame their symptoms on something they did, when it’s not their fault they’re having these problems,” Dr. Anger says.