For women: Here's why sex is painful and how to treat it

Painful sex can affect body image, relationships, and even plans to conceive.

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Sex can be a pleasurable and fun part of life, providing a way to explore intimacy with someone else or alone. However, many people experience pain during sex.

Dyspareunia is the medical term used to refer to genital pain that occurs before, during, or after sex. It’s very common and affects 75 percent of the female population at some point in their lives.

Painful sex can affect body image, relationships, and even plans to conceive. In some cases, dyspareunia can make a person avoid sex entirely.

While it’s usually possible to determine what causes sex to be painful, some people are reluctant to talk about it with their health care providers.

Symptoms of painful intercourse

Symptoms of painful intercourse can include:

  • Sharp, shooting pain
  • A burning sensation
  • Cramping pain
  • Difficulty achieving orgasm due to the pain
  • Low libido
  • Some conditions can have other symptoms such as genital itching or pain during urination

Causes of painful sex

Some of the most common causes of painful sex include:

  • Vaginal dryness

This is common after menopause because of the hormonal changes that can decrease the vagina’s ability to produce lubrication. Other causes of vaginal dryness include oral contraceptives, breastfeeding, insufficient foreplay, and stress.

  • Infections

Different infections can cause pain during sex. Yeast infections, for instance, are characterized by an itchy, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge. Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections because yeast is part of the normal microbiome and isn’t usually contagious. Candidiasis can be associated with oral contraceptives or recent antibiotic use, and some people are more prone to it than others.

How to stop the pain

Treatment for painful sex will depend entirely on its cause. After the cause of the discomfort is discovered, a health care provider should be able to recommend appropriate treatment to make sex pleasurable again.

  • Communication

Communication is an important factor in every relationship, and it can be helpful to talk to your partner about any discomfort you’re experiencing. Repeatedly trying to have sex while in pain can lead to emotional repercussions and negative associations in the future. Discussing what you’re feeling with your partner can take a big weight off your shoulders.

  • Home remedies for painful sex

If discomfort is caused by insufficient lubrication, it can be helpful to spend more time on foreplay and use lubricant. This is often enough to make intercourse stop hurting.

Keep in mind that oil-based lubricants can damage condoms and make them ineffective. It’s best to use water-based lubricants with condoms.

People who are experiencing allergic dermatitis can switch to unscented products and wear cotton underwear to help the skin heal.

If painful sex is only an occasional experience without any other symptoms, certain sexual positions or deep penetration may be the cause of the issue. Gentle intercourse and a change of position can be helpful.

When to see a health care provider

You shouldn’t try to diagnose the cause of your dyspareunia yourself or self-medicate. Douching can also irritate the vagina and lead to infections.

Gynaecological check-ups are recommended for women who are over 21 years old or sexually active, whether or not they’re experiencing dyspareunia.

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