The steamy sex scene is about to pop onto the big screen as you sit there with your girlfriends in the movie theater. But while your friends smile knowingly, you feel angry. Or ashamed. Or embarrassed. Because while everyone else gets to enjoy the dirty deed, you have to suffer. For you, sex hurts… and not in a good way.
There are many causes of painful intercourse. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that one in four women experiences chronic vulvar pain at some point in her life. This type of unexplained pain is called vulvodynia.
Back in 2010, vulvodynia became somewhat of a celebrity condition when Dr. Oz wrote an article about it titled “When Painful Sex is Something Serious.”
According to the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), vulvodynia has no identifiable cause. A few possibilities might include pelvic floor muscle weakness or spasm, an injury to the area around the vulva or an increase in nerve fiber density in the vulvar area.
Vulvodynia is just one cause of painful intercourse, however.
6 Reasons why sex can hurt
Did you know that painful sex in women has its own medical term? That’s right. It’s called dyspareunia and can be found in articles from WebMD to the Mayo Clinic. According to Harvard Health Publications, millions of women experience pain before, during or after sex.
Experts agree that painful intercourse can cause many issues besides physical discomfort: problems in your relationship, low self-esteem and poor body image. It can also dry up your sexual desire.
- Menopause: An article from Harvard Health Publications reports that lower estrogen levels after menopause can thin vaginal tissue. This may result in dryness, burning and pain.
- Yeast or bacterial infections: According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these infections can cause something called vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis is a top cause of pain during sex.
- Problems with the cervix, uterus or ovaries: Both WebMD and the ACOG list one possible cause as cysts on the ovaries. Fibroids in the uterus can also prompt pain during deep intercourse.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): According to WebMD, examples of STDs may include genital warts, herpes or sores, among others.
- Not enough lubrication: Whether you didn’t enjoy enough foreplay (c’mon girl, have some fun!), or you recently gave birth, the Mayo Clinic reports that insufficient lubrication can cause pain during sex.
- Emotional problems: Feeling stressed lately? Maybe you’re suffering from depression or anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, “emotions are deeply intertwined with sexual activity and may play a role in any type of sexual pain.”
Can sex feel good again?
That depends on your condition. Talk to your doctor about treatment options, as they may vary for different conditions. The ACOG makes a few suggestions to help improve your sex life:
- Use a lubricant, preferably a water-soluble one.
- Set aside time for sex with your partner when neither of you is stressed.
- Try sensual activities like massage or foot rubs.
- Take a warm bath or over-the-counter pain reliever before intercourse.
- Apply ice, wrapped in a towel, to the vulvar area after sex.