November 21, 2017
Couple sleeping back to back and ignoring each other
Claim Check

Painful Sex: How Common Is It?

by Gina Shaw  

The claim: Pain during sex is rare.

The facts: Actually, it’s quite common, especially in women.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nearly three out of four women will experience pain during intercourse at some point in their lives. Known as dyspareunia, it can be caused by a number of things:

  • Gynecologic conditions, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, vulvodynia (a pain disorder of unknown cause affecting the vulva, labia, and vagina), and vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina).
  • Hormonal changes that occur in perimenopause and menopause.
  • Medical or surgical problems that may indirectly affect sexual response, like arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid conditions.
  • Medications you may be taking that can lower sexual desire or make intimate contact uncomfortable.
  • Emotional issues such as fear, shame, or guilt about sex that can make it difficult to relax.
  • Difficulties in the relationship itself, such as when one partner wants sex more often than the other.

Don’t assume that painful intercourse is something you just have to accept. If you experience frequent and severe pain and it is interfering with having a satisfying relationship with your partner, it’s important to see your health care provider, who can perform tests such as pelvic exams and ultrasounds to find the underlying cause, or can refer you to specialists.

For almost all causes of painful intercourse, treatments are available that can bring the pleasure back to your sex life. For example, declining hormone levels related to menopause can cause vaginal tissue to become less elastic, leading to itching or burning pain. Local low-dose estrogen—in the form of a cream, an insertable tablet, or a vaginal ring—can be used to treat this.

If discomfort during sex is mild and occasional and you don’t feel the need to see a doctor about it, you can try some things on your own to take the pain out of intimacy:

  • Lubricants to help reduce friction and discomfort.
  • New sexual techniques, such as longer foreplay and different positions.
  • Communication. Talk to your partner about what does and doesn’t feel good.
  • More frequent intercourse. This may seem counterintuitive, but having sex more often can increase blood flow and lubrication to the area.

Also see Double Condoms = Double Protection?