This is an important question for a lot of people. Did you know that 3 out of 4 women will experience pain during intercourse at some point in their life? Men can experience sexual pain too, though the statistics aren’t quite as high. Sexual pain is common, but it’s not “normal.” Sex should not be painful. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that. Women are often taught to just expect and accept that sex will hurt, but we need to let go of that lie. If you’re experiencing persistent sexual pain, please speak to a doctor (preferably someone who specializes in sex medicine)!

Here’s the good news: yes, you can overcome sexual pain. There are many different types of pain (e.g. burning, stabbing, etc.), and unfortunately, there are tons of reasons you might be experiencing it. Some are easier to treat than others. Some might be a quick fix, while others will be a long term battle. However, even the toughest cases can experience improvement.

What Causes Pain?

Like I said, there are tons of causes of sexual pain. Are you ready for a long list? Some sources include: vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy (thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls), allergic reaction, endometriosis, UTIs, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections, changing hormones, pelvic inflammatory disease, vaginismus, fibroids, problems with foreskin, prostate infection, scar tissue in the penis, sexual trauma, fear or anxiety…and many more.

This is why it’s so important to see a doctor. If there is an underlying issue that is causing you to experience pain, we want to make sure to address that issue. Your health is important. While some causes, like yeast infection or allergic reaction, can be a quick and easy fix, some issues, such as vaginismus, can require a much longer, more complex treatment.

How Do You Treat It?

As you can probably guess, treatment will depend on what’s causing the pain. A doctor will likely do a physical exam, and possibly some further testing, to determine the source and cause of the pain. Once that is found, treatment can begin.

If the pain is caused by dryness, which is one of the most common causes, try lube! I recommend lube to pretty much everyone (yes, even younger adults)! Women’s bodies are not faucets–they can only produce so much lubrication at a time. So don’t be embarrassed if you need lube, because most people do! Lube helps make sex more enjoyable. One study found that 9 out of 10 women said that lube made sex feel “more comfortable,” “more pleasurable,” and simply “better.”

If you’re in the market for lube, you need to know that there are three different types: water-based, oil-based, and silicone. It’s important to know that oil-based lubes cannot be used with condoms (it causes the condoms to break), and silicone lube cannot be used with silicone toys or condoms (it can break them down). I also recommend using lube that is pH-balanced and sugar-free to avoid any vaginal irritation.

If pain is stemming from an infection, your doctor will likely prescribe a medication to treat it. Similarly, if hormones are the cause, your doctor might recommend hormone-replacement therapy. That might sound scary, but it’s often as simple as using a cream at night. Conditions such as endometriosis or injured penis might require surgery. Pain stemming from fear, anxiety, or trauma can be treated in sex therapy (like at Emma Schmidt & Associates!).
For women who have vaginismus, they know that pain management can be more difficult and long-term. But that doesn’t mean it’s not treatable! Cleveland Clinic writes, “vaginismus is the involuntary tensing or contracting of muscles around the vagina.” It can make it difficult or impossible to have sex or even insert a tampon. Treatment can include pelvic floor therapy, the use of dilators, and sex therapy. While it can take time, many women with vaginismus have been able to have pain-free sex after treatment.

Getting Help

Sexual pain is common, but it should not be ignored or tolerated. There is hope. It is possible to have pain-free, pleasure-filled sex! Also, please know that if you experience pain, it’s not your fault. Many women tend to feel guilty or blame themselves for the pain they experience, and that should not be the case.

As always, I am not a medical doctor. If you are experiencing pain, please talk to a healthcare professional. And if that doctor dismisses your concerns or says there’s nothing they can do, please see someone else! If you need a recommendation for the Cincinnati area, or if you think you’d benefit from sex therapy, give us a call. We’re happy to help in any way that we can!