What to do when sex hurts

If sex is more agony than ecstasy, don’t just put up with it. There are ways to get your sex life back on track…


You’re not alone

Painful sex takes the fun out of passion and can have a devastating emotional impact, but sadly it is very common. Nearly three out of four women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives. For some women, the pain is only a temporary problem; for others, it’s a long-term issue. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to accept it.


Get help

See you GP or go to a sexual health clinic (you can find your nearest one online). The pain may be a sign of a gynaecological problem, such as ovarian cysts, fibroids or endometriosis. It may be caused by problems with sexual response, such as a lack of desire, or a lack of arousal (the physical and emotional changes that occur in the body as a result of sexual stimulation). Painful sex usually has a cause, and once it’s identified, it’s likely treatable.


Too dry too often

Dryness is one of the most common causes of painful sex, and it will often occur during perimenopause and menopause, it can happen in any woman at any age and can also be triggered by birth control and breast-feeding. Personal lubricants will help, but you should pay attention to the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t cause an irritation. Dryness can also throw off the vagina’s balance of good bacteria, which can result in further infections that contribute to painful sex.


Could it be in your head?
There’s often some emotional element to this problem. Painful sex is distressing, and this distress may well make you tighten up below. And the tightening up will only make the pain worse for you the next time. The emotional impact of this on a relationship can also be huge – another reason to sort the problem out as soon as possible.


Work out where the pain is

As yourself whether the pain is deep inside or near the outside. This is important as it can help sort out what’s wrong, and your doctor will want to know. Try to identify if you’re feeling pain in your lower back, pelvic region, uterus, or bladder.


Do you shut down?

Does the pain kick in at the start of sex, and does it almost feel as if your vagina clenches so much that penetration is just not possible? Is it difficult to insert a tampon or have a pelvic exam? If so, you may have a condition called vaginisimus, which can be treated with kegels, vaginal dilators and CBT.


Relax your mind

This is easier said than done but try. Make sure that you feel totally comfortable and have no distractions. Don’t even try having sex when you’re tired or stressed.  Give yourself plenty of time. A quickly will only leave you in more pain. Most importantly, do what makes you feel happy in the build up – cuddle, watch TV and so on. The relaxation can only be a good thing for your body.


Pre-empt the pain

Empty your bladder, take a warm bath (don’t stimulate your genitals with soap or chemicals). Try an over-the-counter painkiller before you have sex.

Warm up

That means foreplay and lots of it. So ask for it. If you take it slow, you’ll start to feel good about having sex and your body will adjust accordingly. If penetration is particularly painful, start off with your fingers, or use sex toys before getting to the real deal.



Every woman is different but find a position that allows you to have the most amount of pleasure with the least amount of pain. And once you’ve found it, resist the urge to feel guilty about sticking to it. Chances are your partner case more about pleasing you than having porn-star sex!


Talk about it

Tell your partner where and when you feel pain and the activities you find pleasurable. Talk to the experts. You don’t just have to put up with this and it can be treated – successfully.


Men get it too

For men, painful sex can be caused by penile disorders such as peyronie’s disease, or priapism, which causes painful erections. Any damage to the foreskin can lead to pain, as can untreated sexually transmitted infections.


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