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Painful sex is more common than you think and it’s time we talked about it

If you’re experiencing pain during sex, you probably think it means there’s something wrong with you. However, it’s much more common than you think, it’s just that no one’s talking about it.

To be clear, we’re not talking about super painful sex that makes you shiver at your significant other’s touch. If you feel like you might cry out (and not in the good way) from pain during sex, then it’s definitely time to see your doctor, because you might have a vaginal infection. It could just be a common yeast infection, or it could be something a bit trickier. Either way, if it’s at all close to unbearable, have your ob/gyn get to the bottom of it.

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The pain I’m talking about is the more mild discomfort, burning, or chafing that more than a third of women experience regularly during sex, according to the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. While it may not be enough to trigger any health alarms, it negatively impacts an experience that’s supposed to be fun, intimate and relaxing (hopefully).

Debby Herbenick, PhD, a sexual health researcher at Indiana University in Bloomington, told Prevention, “Pain during sex not only ruins the moment, it can have much greater consequences: fear of sex, lowered sex drive and overall loss of intimacy.” So while it’s not abnormal, it has the potential to put a major spoke in your relationship with your sexual partner.

Thankfully, there are many simple reasons for painful sex that are equally easy to solve. One of the most common causes of pain during sex is vulvodynia, which feels similar to a yeast infection but can be caused by simple friction during sex. This can be treated with creams from a doctor and by just letting the area heal over time.

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Another culprit of dyspareunia, which is the clinical term for pain during or after sex, is if you have given birth recently. However, the biggest reason women keep experiencing painful sex is their reluctance to bring it up with their partners, and even their doctors.

Actress Virginia Madsen, who has spoken publicly about Dyspareunia often, thinks it has a lot to do with women not wanting to come across as complainers. She told CBS News, “Sometimes women will say they don’t want to seem like they are complaining. They’ll downplay symptoms so they can just get on with things and concentrate on everybody else except them.”

Women don’t like calling attention to something negative about the sex they’re having, even if it’s with a longtime partner. It’s difficult to blatantly call out a bad effect of an act that’s so intimate, and relies so heavily on a man’s anatomy having to perform. The last thing you want to do is create stress around an event that is often severely hindered by just that. Thus, it becomes easier to just grin and bear it.

However, in the long run, that’s not fair to anyone. Waiting to bring it up will just make the problem feel that much bigger — which, in the general scheme of things, really isn’t. So, do yourself and your relationship a favor — be open about painful sex. It might be a slightly uncomfortable conversation at first, but no more so than the less-than-enjoyable sex you’ve been experiencing.

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