What Causes Painful Sex, What to Do About It

Health Topics

Though there are some things we might feel more comfortable leaving behind closed doors, it’s important to be open and honest with your physician about any health problems you might have. Even problems in the bedroom.

Painful sexual intercourse is a common problem that affects about three of every four women at some point in their lives, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

For some women the pain is short-lived. But for other women, the pain can happen over and over again.

When sex is more painful than enjoyable, it can cause problems in your physical relationship with your partner and also with your own emotional wellbeing. So, it’s important to talk openly about any pain you have so you can start to make it better.

Why Does Sex Hurt?

A variety of issues can cause sex to be painful or uncomfortable for you. 

Some problems that can cause painful sex include:

  • Childbirth. Pain during sex can go on for a few months after giving birth. This is even more likely if you had to have an episiotomy or had a tear in your perineum while giving birth.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. When a fertilized egg grows outside your uterus instead of inside, it’s called an ectopic pregnancy. It can cause sharp, sudden or achy pain in your abdomen.
  • Endometriosis. With this condition, the endometrium (the tissue that lines your uterus) grows outside the uterus. It can cause bleeding, inflammation, and scarring, which can all lead to pain.
  • Hormonal changes. Menopause and perimenopause can cause your estrogen levels to drop, which can lead to vaginal dryness.
  • Insufficient lubrication. Also called vaginal dryness, this is when the tissues in your vagina are not making enough lubrication to stay healthy and comfortable.
  • Ovarian cysts. These pouches fill with fluid or tissue and can grow in or on your ovaries. They are common and usually non-cancerous. Some ovarian cysts cause sharp pain or dull pain.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease. Also called PID, this infection of your reproductive organs is fairly common. PID can cause long-lasting pelvic pain. 
  • Skin disorders. Cracks and ulcers in the skin on your vulva are symptoms of some skin disorders that can cause painful sex.
  • Vaginismus. This is a painful tightening of the muscles at the opening of your vagina.
  • Vaginitis. This is an inflammation of your vagina that can be caused by a yeast infection or a bacterial infection. Both your vulva and vagina can become painful and itchy. 
  • Vulvodynia. This is a disorder that affects your vulva, specifically the area around the opening of your vagina. The pain usually lasts for more than three months. For some women, the pain is constant and for others it comes and goes. Pain from vulvodynia can include burning, stinging, rawness, aching, soreness, throbbing, and swelling.

How Can Sex Become More Comfortable?

Painful sex is not something you have to live with. Sex between you and your partner should be enjoyable, not hurt or cause you stress.

Start off by visiting your health care provider. Your visit will likely include a pelvic exam or ultrasound and a talk about when and how exactly you feel pain. 

Some conditions might need medication, medical procedures, physical therapy, or help from medical specialists to be taken care of.

But, there are many things we can do on our own to try to relieve pain during and after sex. 

  • Be open with your partner. Talk about when and where you feel pain. Also talk about what feels good and is enjoyable.
  • Go sensual instead of sexual. Take a break from sex if it is causing too much pain and connect physically with – for example – a massage.
  • Plan ahead. Setting aside time for sex can help both you and your partner avoid feeling anxious or being tired. Being in the mood and feeling relaxed can make a huge difference.
  • Relieve burning after sex. Wrap ice in a small towel and keep it on your vulva for the cold to ease the burn.
  • Relieve pain in advance. Before you have sex, try preparing yourself by emptying your bladder, soaking in a warm bath, and taking over-the-counter pain medicine – such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
  • Use lubricant. Water-soluble lubricants can help with vaginal irritation and sensitivity. Silicone-based lubricants last longer and are more slippery.

Most of us experience painful sex at one time or another. But, with the help your health care providers you can move past the pain and back to a pleasurable experience.