When we talk about sex, for the most part, what we're focusing on is the pleasure of it. You know, the big O. We talk about how to have orgasms, how to make them bigger, and, of course, more frequent. But what we talk about less, despite it being just as important, is painful sex. No, I'm not talking about that Fifty Shades-style sexy pain. What I am referring to is when just having sex hurts. Yes, that's a thing, and if it's something you've experienced, you're no doubt left wondering why sex is painful for some women.
As it turns out, it's not uncommon to experience pain during intercourse. A recent survey of 7,000 women in the UK found that almost a tenth of women reported having experienced pain during sex, according to Cosmopolitan. The likelihood of painful sex was especially high for women between the ages of 16 and 24. So if painful sex is something you yourself have experienced, just know you are definitely not alone.
But why is sex painful for some women? As it turns out, there are many potential causes for pain during intercourse, ranging from medical issues to psychological happenings. If that sounds scary, don’t worry. These issues are all treatable. However, the first step in treating the pain is to understand the various underlying causes for the pain in the first place, and their symptoms.
1. Lack Of Lubrication
A common cause of sexual pain is simply not enough lubrication. Dryness can increase friction that can be painful for women. "Some women may just be dry — particularly women who are menopausal, and even for some women on the birth control pill," Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, an OB-GYN, tells Elite Daily. If this is the cause of the pain, it may just mean slowing down, engaging in more foreplay, or getting some good lube.
If the pain is located deep in the pelvis with deep penetration, Minkin suggests that the cause may be endometriosis, which is when the tissue that lines the inside of you uterus (the endometrium) begins growing outside of the uterus. Typically, it grows around the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and in the lining of the pelvis. If you're experiencing the above symptoms, Dr. Minkin advises a visit to the gynecologist for diagnosis and so they can prescribe medication for treatment.
3. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Another potential cause of painful sex is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which is a bacterial infection in the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or cervix, according to WomensHealth.gov. It can be caused by the bacteria associated with gonorrhea and chlamydia, but can also happen without the presence of an STI. So if you are experiencing pain in your abdomen, fever, discharge, and painful sex, it’s time to make an appointment with your OB-GYN, even if you aren't sexually active. According to Dr. Minkin, PID can also cause scarring, another possible source of sexual pain, which is treatable with surgery.
Unlike the previous causes, vulvodynia doesn't have a known cause, according to the National Vulva Association (NVA). It’s actually chronic vulva pain. When it occurs during intercourse (or after sitting for long periods of time), the NVA reports it’s known as Provoked Vestibulodynia (PVD), because it is caused by pressure being applied to the "vestibule," or "the tissue surrounding the vaginal opening." Typically, these symptoms can last for months or even years, but there are some treatments available to help alleviate the discomfort.
Pain during penetration may also be a sign of vaginismus, which, according to Vaginismus.com, is an involuntary spasming and tightening of the pelvic floor in response to penetration. It can make penetrative sex really uncomfortable or even impossible. Vaginismus.com reports that causes for vaginismus vary from physical issues, UTIs, or side effects from medication to more psychological issues, such as trauma and anxiety. Treatment may include both a trip to the gyno to rule out any serious medical triggers, in addition to psychological treatments (like therapy) to address any emotional triggers that may be affecting you.
In addition to the above medical issues, things like an allergic reaction to something (i.e. latex in condoms, the type of lube you're using, a certain sex toy, etc.) may be causing you pain or irritation during sex. If you notice this might be a problem, you should visit your OB-GYN as soon as possible. (Of course, if the reaction is causing you immediate problems, doesn't subside, or is causing more serious symptoms, you should visit the emergency room.) Additionally, it may be that whatever your partner is penetrating you with (their penis, a sex toy, etc.) is on the larger side. If that's the case, proper lubrication, foreplay, and taking things extra slow can help. Still, should the pain continue, you should always visit your OB-GYN to let them know what's going on and to seek proper treatment should you need it.
Minkin also suggests tracking the pain and taking notes. Track where the pain is, when it occurs, and any other factors that contribute to it. This will be invaluable information you can take to your gyno. "The key is keeping good notes, to help your provider figure out with you where the pain is coming from, and then fixing it," she says.
Ultimately, the most important takeaway is that sexual pain is a real, valid issue, and is more common than you may have thought, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. There are strategies and treatments available that can help make your sex life a healthy and pleasurable one.
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