If you have pain during sex, you’re not alone, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. About 75% of all women have pain during sex at some point in their lives. Pain during sex even has a medical name: dyspareunia.
While pain during sex is common, that doesn’t mean it’s normal. It can be a sign that something is wrong. Here are some problems that cause pain during sex — and the best treatment options.
What Can Cause Pain During Sex?
Many conditions can cause pain during sex. The intensity may range from mild discomfort to sharp pain during sex or even stomach pain during sex.
Here are some of the most common reasons women feel pain during sex.
Physical and medical problems that cause pain during sex
Many medical conditions can make sex painful.
- Endometriosis. In this condition, tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus and results in pain during sex.
- Vaginal dryness. During perimenopause and menopause, decreasing estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness.
- Medicines. Some medicines and other drugs can reduce sexual desire and natural lubrication.
- Childbirth. Women who’ve had an episiotomy or tearing during childbirth may have pain for months.
- Vulvar disorders, such as lichen sclerosus or vulvodynia, may cause painful sex upon insertion.
- Infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or urinary tract infection.
Relational and emotional reasons for pain during sex
Sometimes the problem has relational and emotional roots, such as:
- Not allowing enough time for a sexual response. Without enough time for foreplay, your body may not feel aroused enough for sex.
- Relationship problems. Psychological and emotional problems go hand in hand with sexual response.
- Worry over pain. If you’re worried about pain, your vagina may tighten involuntarily. That can lead to a vicious cycle of more pain during sex.
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When Should I Talk to My Doctor About Painful Sex?
Pain during sex is not normal. If you have painful sex on a regular basis, you should call your doctor and make an appointment.
Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Painful Sex
Talking to your doctor about intimate pain can feel embarrassing. But rest assured your doctor has heard your questions before. Make an appointment with your ob-gyn rather than your primary care doctor.
Some tips for talking to your doctor about pain during sex:
- Message your doctor first. Use the online portal before your appointment to give them a heads-up. The more information your doctor has in advance, the better.
- Bring your partner if they’re willing.
- Don’t wait until the end of the appointment to bring up the problem.
- Bring a list of your symptoms and questions.
- Don’t leave anything out. It’s your doctor’s job to try to make you feel better, but they can’t do that without all the facts.
- Remember that your doctor wants to help you. Part of their job is to ask questions about sex. So don’t feel embarrassed talking about personal issues.
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Diagnosing and Treating the Cause of Painful Sex
Your doctor will want to diagnose and treat the exact cause of your pain, if possible.
Diagnosing the cause of painful sex
To accurately diagnose the cause of painful sex, your doctor may do one or more of the following:
- Complete pelvic exam
- Pelvic ultrasound
- Diagnostic laparoscopy
- Urine test
Your doctor will also want to know about other medical conditions you may have. They will also ask about psychological factors that may affect how you feel about sex. (For example, do you have a history of sexual abuse?)
Treating the cause of painful sex
Your treatment will depend on what’s causing your pain. It may be a mix of medicine and at-home remedies. Treatment might include:
- Medicine to make sex less painful.
- Sexual lubricants for dryness.
- A different type of birth control.
- Antibiotics for infection.
- Pelvic physical therapy.
With the right treatment, you should be back on your way to a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship.
Virtual Specialty Care Services for Women
Starting your care with a video visit for endometriosis or vulvar disorders in the UPMC Magee-Womens Virtual Care Center lets you connect from anywhere with an expert about your condition and treatment options.
These video consultations provide expert specialty care to address pelvic pain, chronic vulvar and vaginal conditions like vulvodynia or vulvar pain, and the impact they can have on your quality of life.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, When Sex Is Painful, Link
American Academy of Family Physicians, Dyspareunia, Link
NHS, Why Does Sex Hurt? Link
The North American Menopause Society, Pain With Penetration, Link
American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Why Does it Hurt When I Have Sex? Link
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