Of course, women tend to associate sex with a variety of positive feelings: fun, happiness, and love. Unfortunately, for some women, sex can also be associated with discomfort or even pain. Some women may even try to hide or mask the pain because they fear it can be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm, excitement, or affection for their partner. In fact, pain during or after sex is a common issue for many women and can be caused by multiple factors.
Dr. Lissa Rankin, gynecologist and author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, explains that pain associated with sex “doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, but it’s clearly not as right as it should be.”
So how do we improve things under the covers? We can start by understanding why this discomfort may be occurring.
“If you’re trying to have intercourse when you’re not aroused, lack of lubrication can cause friction and lead to pain. Even if you are aroused, decreased lubrication caused by hormonal deficiencies (such as atrophic vaginitis, which can occur when estrogen levels are low after menopause or while breastfeeding) can lead to pain,” Dr. Rankin explains.
There are other, more common reasons, too. “Some other common causes of pain during intercourse include gynecologic conditions such as vulvar vestibulitis (inflammation of the vestibular glands at the vaginal opening), vaginismus (involuntary contractions of the vaginal muscles that may make intercourse impossible), and vulvodynia (non-specific vulvar pain, which is often experienced as an intense burning feeling.”
While most women experience pain during or after sexual intercourse every so often, it doesn’t necessarily have to become a fact of life. There are several over-the-counter remedies that can prove to be very effective.
“Inadequate lubrication can be remedied with sexual lubricants, such as Astroglide or KY Jelly,” Dr. Rankin suggests. Some alternative non-medical treatments that can be taken to prevent or sooth friction during intercourse include:
· Using natural lubricants like coconut oil or olive oil (Dr. Rankin notes that coconut oil should be used with caution, as it can break down condoms)
· Taking sitz baths to relieve discomfort after sex
· Trying different sexual positions
Since it takes two to tango, there are also important steps one’s sexual partner can take to alleviate discomfort during intercourse. Asking your partner to experiment with a few new methods if perfectly acceptable and could actually turn out to enhance the experience for both parties! Dr. Rankin suggests that men make sure their partners are adequately aroused before intercourse is attempted. Experiment with positions and who's 'in control.'
While the methods mentioned here may help (and we hope they do!), some more serious causes of pain during sex could warrant the attention of your friendly neighborhood gynecologist.
“If you lack lubrication because of hormonal reasons, vaginal estrogen, when used appropriately is life-saving and safe, but you’ll need a prescription, so talk to your gynecologist,” suggests Dr. Rankin. “If you’re suffering from other conditions, such as vulvar vestibulitis, vaginismus, or vulvodynia see your doctor. These conditions can be treated with things like Xylocaine jelly, antihistamines, vaginal dilators, pelvic physical therapy, and other options. Just remember, nobody should have to suffer during sex. It’s supposed to be fun!”
As most women can attest, anything out of the ordinary occurring ‘down there’ is alarming and can produce anxiety – still, it can be extremely difficult to overcome shyness or embarrassment one may feel over discussing this subject, even with a medical professional. Dr. Rankin advises that it’s truly better to be safe than sorry.
“Any recurring pain during sex should be investigated by a gynecologist. Sex is not supposed to hurt, and there’s almost always a way to improve things. So don’t be afraid to ask for help!”