What is Dyspareunia?
Have you ever asked yourself, why does it hurt when I have sex? Pain during sex, but also pain before or after sex, is called dyspareunia. This is an issue that can affect both males and females; however, this is far more common in women.
There can be a wide variety of reasons for painful sex, so it is best to make an appointment with your doctor to find the root cause. In addition, it is crucial to work toward finding a resolution if you are experiencing painful sex, because it can affect your relationship.
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Why Does it Hurt When I Have Sex?
Dyspareunia is a general term for pain before, after, or during intercourse. Finding the cause of the pain can be difficult. There are numerous reasons people experience pain during sex.
Your doctor will need to determine where and how you feel the pain. Consider the following questions to rule out causes of your dyspareunia:
- Is the pain during sex localized to one specific spot/area that you can point to, or is it a more general pain?
- Do you have bleeding after sex?
- What does the pain feel like–stinging, ripping, throbbing, burning?
- Is the pain toward the surface, or is it a deep pain?
Describing how you feel the pain during sex adequately will help your doctor narrow down causes and provide the best possible resolution for the dyspareunia.
Common Causes for Pain During Sex
Below are some of the most common reasons for painful sex among women. Use this list to compare your current symptoms, and see if any of the suggestions are likely to help your dyspareunia.
- Vaginismus is when the muscles in the vagina squeeze or spasm when something is inserted (this includes things like tampons) into it. This can cause a burning or stinging pain during sex. Pain typically subsides after withdrawal–but not always.
- What to try: Vaginismus is often caused or exacerbated by anxiety or fear of having sex. If that is the cause for you, psychosexual therapy can help change your mindset about sex. In addition, relaxation techniques such as breathing, mindfulness, and gentle touch can help relax the vaginal muscles. Finally, pelvic floor exercises can also be beneficial, allowing you to gain better control over the muscles in your vagina.
- Infection is one of the most common causes of pain during sex. Vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina, can be caused by bacteria, yeast overgrowth, and sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, etc.). Infections can not only cause dyspareunia but also bleeding after sex.
- What to try: An infection is best treated by a doctor. They can provide you with the proper diagnosis, medication, and treatment. Yeast infections are very common and very likely to cause dyspareunia. There are over-the-counter remedies for yeast infections and prescription treatments that your doctor can call in.
- Gynecological Issues, such as endometriosis, an overgrowth of the uterine lining outside of the uterus, can cause deep, persistent pain with sex. Another issue likely to cause pain is uterine fibroids. Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus. PID, ectopic pregnancy, and ovarian cysts are also gynecological issues that can lead to painful sex.
- What to try: Experimenting with different sex positions can help you narrow down the positions that cause less pain. The angle of the pelvis in certain positions can put less pressure on sensitive areas. Positions allowing for more shallow penetration are often better for dyspareunia.
- Vaginal Injury due to childbirth, surgery, or trauma can cause pain well after the event. Vigorous sexual activity can also cause vaginal tears.
- What to Try: Most tears heal over time with little intervention; however, consult a doctor for excessive bleeding and dyspareunia that worsens over time. Avoid sexual activity while the pain persists to give the vagina a chance to heal. You can also wear loose-fitting cotton clothing to provide the vagina an ideal environment for healing.
- Vaginal Dryness causes burning, itching, and irritation. Menopause, medications, hormonal changes, skin disorders, and prolonged periods without sex can cause the vaginal tissue to become dry and prone to pain with sex.
- What to Try: Lubricants and moisturizers can help with vaginal dryness. There are also hormone treatments in the form of pills, creams, and vaginal rings. You should also rule out ingredients in your routine that could be causing irritation or allergy–like lube, latex, or soap.
Treatments for Painful Sex
Narrowing down the cause of dyspareunia is very helpful in resolving the pain. However, many women rule out the common reasons for painful sex through exams and tests, but the pain persists. If you are still experiencing pain during sex, experiment with the following ideas to see if you can reduce your pain through one of these methods.
- Lubrication: Decrease the friction during sex by using a lubricant. However, not all lubes are created equal. Try out different types to see what feels best for you. For example, many doctors recommend coconut oil because it is natural, safe, and very moisturizing. We highly recommend Coconu lubricants!
- Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy: If you have not found a resolution for the pain you feel during or after sex, consider finding a physical therapist specializing in the pelvic floor. A professional will work with your vaginal muscles to solve underlying issues that contribute to painful sex. If your pelvic floor muscles tighten in response to stress, then it can make sex more painful. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help. Many describe this therapy as life-changing.
- Check Your Hormones: Sometimes, you just know something is “off.” If you are continually having pain associated with sex, it could be a good idea to make sure low hormone levels are not contributing to the problem. A doctor can check the levels of a variety of hormones. Some services allow you to mail in a sample from home and access your results online.
- Take Your Time: One of the best ways to overcome painful sex is to take things slow, and allow your body to prepare for sex naturally. Don’t just dive right in. Instead, start with gentle touch and slow movements. Progress at a pace that feels comfortable, and communicate with your partner when the pain creeps in. If it does, slow things back down to the point that you are comfortable and enjoying the intimacy again.
- Seek Therapy: Dyspareunia is very likely to respond to psychological therapy. Whether you realize it or not, painful sex causes anxiety over intercourse. Stress triggers the tightening of vaginal muscles that causes further pain. Distress over intercourse is not only painful but harmful for a relationship. Finding a trained professional you trust can be the bridge you need to overcome the underlying sexual conflict that manifests as actual pain.
Unfortunately, painful sex is highly prevalent in women. Pain leads to disinterest and lack of satisfaction in sex. Both partners must address the pain for the relationship to thrive. Finding a solution for dyspareunia can directly improve your relationship.
Additionally, marital issues can be caused by dyspareunia. Women suffering from pain during sex have been found to have sex less, have less sexual desire, and have fewer orgasms. Therefore, both the husband and wife should problem-solve the cause of pain, because this issue directly affects the relationship as a whole.
If you or a loved one is suffering from dyspareunia, try the treatments listed above. If you do not find relief, consult a doctor to rule out diagnosable causes. Consider having you and your partner go to therapy together to talk through the ramifications of constantly dealing with pain during sex.
In the end, we could not recommend more investing time in resolving the issue of painful sex before it damages your relationship.