Pain during sex: 8 possible causes and solutions
If sex hurts, there’s usually a good reason for it. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something serious, and it’s definitely not cause for panic. For 9 out of 10 cases, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Don’t forget; you’re not the only one! It’s actually quite common, and not only for older women. Young women tend to struggle with this as well.
What could be the cause of your pain? We’ve listed the different possible causes for vaginal pain during intercourse (called dyspareunia); from the simple causes to the more serious ones that possibly have underlying medical reasons. We’ve also listed some tips to help prevent painful sex in the future as much as possible.
You have to be in the right mood if you want good sex. Mentally but also physically. Sounds a little strange, but all we’re trying to say is that you need to be wet enough. Are you not quite in the mood or do you feel pressured to put out (which should never be the case, by the way), the glands in your vagina won’t produce as much fluid. In simple words that pretty much means you won’t get wet enough for a penis to glide in and out smoothly. You can try using lube, but keep in mind that you still need to feel aroused in your mind before going for this option. Usually your body is trying to tell you that you’re not aroused enough if you’re not wet. So, listen to your body everyone! And remember: Sex is more than just penetration!
Would you like to learn more about vaginal dryness, and what to do about it? Here’s a great article with various practical tips.
Some people with penises think “the bigger the better,” and yeah sure, big is great. But sometimes having a longer and harder penis can cause quite the ache. When the penis hits the cervix during penetration, for example. This can hurt for quite a bit after sex. It’s almost like an internal bruise. A good solution is to communicate with your partner. Ask them to tone it down just a little and not to push so deep. Or try to find a position that makes deep penetration more difficult. It may seem obvious but make sure you’re aroused enough as well. If you’re aroused your vagina will make more room and will be wetter, which makes pentrative sex feel much better. Slow and steady wins the race.
There are also these so-called bumpers, which will help make penetrative sex a lot more comfortable and enjoyable. It keeps the penis from pushing in too deep, and thus prevents the feeling of internal bruising. Ohnut is an example of such a bumper, which you can find here. It can help keep off the tension and your partner doesn’t have to pay constant attention to trying not to push too deep. It works like a charm but it’s no miracle. It’s never a bad idea to visit your GP if penetrative sex hurts. Also remember, once again, that sex is so much more than just penetration. Take your time exploring what other things you and your partner like.
You can get bruising on the inside of the vagina thanks to rough sex as well. Similarly to sex with a penis that’s too large for its own good. The only way to prevent rough sex is to just take it a little easier next time. You can soothe the pain a little with an ice pack if your pelvis hurts. Just make sure to wrap the ice pack with a tea towel or something along those lines for hygienic reasons. Not sure if we have to warn you not to use an ice pack on the inside of your vagina, but here you are…Please don’t.
Lots of people are allergic to latex. And of course most condoms just have to be made of latex (ugh). Do you feel like it starts itching or burning down there (a few days) after sex? You might be one of the lucky people with such an allergy. Your body sometimes develops allergies you’ve never had before. It’s like a surprise in an itchy package.
You can get tested for allergies. Usually your GP will refer you to a dermatologist or to an allergist. If it turns out that you do have a latex allergy, there’s always the option of latex-free condoms.
STI or STD
Do you feel
Itchiness in and around your vagina;
A burning sensation;
More discharge than usual, does it have a different color or odor;
Pain in your lower back or belly;
Pain or blood when peeing?
You might be dealing with an STI or STD. One is worse and more harmful than the other (from an innocent STI like candidiasis, a UTI or thrush to STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes etc.). Keep in mind: use a condom, especially if you’re the type who doesn’t stick to the same sexual partner.
It’s also always wise to pee after having sex. The friction from sex (also when you’ve used a condom) causes bacteria to make their way into your urethra, which could lead to infections. Peeing after sex ensures that those pesky bacteria are washed out. Post-sex showers are great too, but not always feasible.
Do you tend to struggle with UTIs after sex? You can read more about causes and solutions here.
The first DIY tip for when you’re dealing with an itchy or burning sensation around the vulva (especially on the labia) is to cool it from the outside. You can do so with an ice pack, a wet flannel or even a bag of frozen veggies (as long as you wrap it in a clean towel).
But the most important thing is probably: look for help! Contact your GP as soon as you can if you think you may have an infection. They can test and see what kind of infection you’re dealing with. Depending on what you have you may need a pill, a cream, or antibiotics.
Don’t just ignore your symptoms because STDs can have serious consequences. Certain STDs may even lead to infertility. Better safe than sorry, is what we always like to say!
Avoid trying to fix things with at-home “remedies” like apple cider vinegar baths, vaginal steaming kits or vaginal douching. These tend to do more harm than good, and may even affect the pH-levels of your vagina so much that it leads to lasting damage. Here’s more on how to best take care of your vagina.
People and hormones: a(n unfortunate) match made in heaven. Hormonal balances are interrupted way too easily and aren't always as stable as we’d like. If you have a hormonal imbalance it may be that your body doesn’t produce enough estrogen and in turn your vaginal tissue will become thinner. Thinner vaginal tissue makes for a more sensitive and drier vagina and leads to less elasticity of the vaginal walls as well. All this combined is a sure path to infections and feelings of pain during sex.
Do you suspect your hormones are out of balance? Contact your GP or gynecologist.
There are also several medical causes that may lead to pain during sex. Think of constipation, a tilted uterus, uterine prolapse, cysts, endometriosis… Are you experiencing any (constant or returning) pain and/or stitches around the area of your uterus, near your ovaries, in your vagina, your lower back or lower stomach? Are you experiencing bleeding between your periods or spotting, extreme period symptoms or other serious symptoms? Please contact your GP so you can get referred to a gynecologist who can help you to get to the bottom of what you’re dealing with. And no, you’re not overreacting or worrying unnecessarily. These doctors are here to help you and it’s only for the best if you know what you’re up against.
Finally but not unimportantly, there are many emotional causes that lead to feelings of pain during sex as well. Such as stress, nerves, no appetite for sex, or traumatic (sexual) experiences. This may cause so much tension before, during and after sex, that you’ll develop vaginismus. A sexologist or psychologist might be able to help you if you struggle with pain during sex due to vaginismus. This does not mean that you’re ‘emotionally broken’ or anything. It simply means that there is probably an obstacle that prevents you from enjoying sex; and sex is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. It should be exciting or relaxing and it should make you feel like you can tap into your intimacy safely. There are many amazing specialists who can help you, if you feel like this is not the case for you (anymore). You deserve to enjoy sex.
People who are going through perimenopause tend to experience pain during sex as well. We have an article that focuses on this subject specifically. You can read it here.