Life is full of little pains and stressors. If there’s one place where stress and pain should melt away, it’s in the bedroom. Sensual pleasure is one of the few free, healthy rewards we can give ourselves and our partners, but when sex becomes the cause of pain, our mental and physical states can suffer. Vaginal or vulvar discomfort can range from a slight chafing or burning sensation to tear-inducing, excruciating pain. No matter the intensity, your body is trying to tell you that something isn’t up to health standards.
The best way to diagnose the cause of painful sex is with a visit to a gynecologist. Always get a professional opinion on your health before attempting to cure yourself at home. Often the solution is simple and effective, but involves a round of medication or a change in diet or lifestyle that are better left to the discretion of a medical doctor.
Before you assume the worst, check out our list of some of the most common causes of pain during sex (and then get your doc on speed-dial).
STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are illnesses of the genitals or reproductive organs that are contracted through unprotected partner sex and usually curable with medication. They’re generally spread through contact with another person’s genitals or sexual bodily fluids, but this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you avoid a partner’s penis or vagina.
Some STIs can be spread from mouth-to-genital contact, or from your partner touching their genitals with their hands and then touching you. STIs contribute to painful sex by irritating the tissue inside the vagina and around the vulva. A prescription of pills coupled with a topical cream are usually enough to clear up infections.
There is scarcely a vagina that hasn’t battled with excess yeast or unwanted bacteria, and the same goes for urethrae and urinary tract infections. Similar to STIs, a visit to a health professional and a prescription are usually enough to kick the itching and pain within a couple weeks. Bacterial Vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections all disrupt the sensitive balance of good bacteria and pH levels within your body.
The achy or itchy tissue are telling your brain to take action. Your local Planned Parenthood can usually fix these issues in a pinch with a walk-in appointment if your regular doctor is overbooked.
Sometimes sexual pain isn’t as easy to diagnose. Vaginismus can be a more deep, complicated issue that may require a psychological health regimen to remedy. During any type of penetration, ranging from tampon insertion to sexual intercourse, a woman’s vaginal muscles tightly contract, causing intense pain and a tearing sensation.
The potential causes are broad, and can be the result of sexual trauma, life changes such as childbirth or menopause, or intense fear or anxiety about sex. Mental and physical factors together are usually the cause. The affliction is rare, but often requires counseling or sex therapy in conjunction with kegel exercises and vaginal dilators.
Sexual Positioning & Lubrication
If your doctor issues a clean bill of health, a lack of good lubrication or awkward sexual positioning could be to blame. Even if it feels like your vagina is properly lubricated, it might not be enough to fully reduce the friction created during intercourse. In short, it never hurts to add a little extra lube. Sexual positioning is also a big comfort factor, especially during certain times of the month.
Right after your period and immediately following ovulation, the sensitive cervix will harden and hang lower inside the vagina, making it more susceptible to being bumped during penetration.
Some women are born with a tilted cervix that might make deep thrusting consistently uncomfortable. Getting in at least 20 minutes of foreplay can help remedy cervix pain since the entire uterus lifts with proper arousal in a phenomenon called ballooning or tenting. However, if something feels not-quite-right even after you’re warmed up and well-lubricated, try a sex position that allows for more control over penetrative depth, such as woman-on-top.
Please note that advice offered by Intimina may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners.
Colleen began her sexual wellness career as a sex toy educator in manufacturing and retail. She has since branched out as a writer and marketer, covering all facets of sexual health and anatomy. At Intimina, she specializes in women’s medical care and health concerns, menstruation, sex and pregnancy, and birth control. Colleen frequently confers with top sex educators and intimate wellness experts to stay on top of the constantly changing sexual wellness space.