Most of us will readily admit to loving sex. Or, at the very very least, liking it. It can be a wonderful, healthy, fun, exciting, bonding activity—and sometimes, we really can’t get enough of it.
Unfortunately, it’s also not always fun and doesn’t always feel good.
Pain during sex is an extremely common phenomenon. Especially for women. If you have a vagina, chances are you’ve experienced pain during sex at some point over the years (though it certainly also happens to men sometimes!). The good news is that, oftentimes, pain during sex doesn’t indicate any underlying issues. Though it sometimes does, and it’s important to know when to be concerned. And regardless of whether it’s indicative of something else, pain during sex is never fun—unless, of course, that’s what you’re (consensually) into.
Read on to find out some of the reasons behind painful sex in women—and what to do about it.
The Wetter the Better
When it comes to “diagnosing” painful sex, generally the first thing to check is whether everything is just too damn dry. In a perfect world, genitals lubricate themselves sufficiently to prevent discomfort during sex (not to mention enhance pleasure). But, as we all know, this is far from a perfect world.
Being not quite wet enough is a totally normal and totally common thing to experience. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, and it also doesn’t always mean you aren’t turned on.
Factors including medication such as birth control, stress, breastfeeding, menopause, autoimmune disorders, body image struggles, yeast infections, dehydration, smoking, hormones, and more can all contribute to vaginal dryness. Some of these causes are a little more serious and worth looking into if you suspect that they could be the culprit. For the less serious culprits, make sure to destress, stay hydrated, do your best to relax during sex, and find ways to connect with your body and sexuality. For the times when there’s really just no reason behind your vaginal dryness, keep a bottle of lube handy to add a little wet to your wild.
Wetness is always a good place to start when figuring out why sex is causing discomfort or pain.
Position, Angle, Intensity, and Speed
Next up in “diagnosing” pain during sex is paying attention to how you’re having sex. Not all positions, angles, intensities, and speeds work for everyone. Every body is different, and even the same body won’t always tolerate all kinds of sex the same. Maybe your anatomy doesn’t jive well with doggy style. Maybe being aggressively fingered causes all pain and no pleasure for your vagina. Maybe certain speeds just rub you (pun intended) the wrong way.
Communicate with your sexual partner(s) about the pain you’re having during sex. Explore whether there’s something that you can change during intercourse or other forms of sex that would reduce discomfort. Get comfortable checking in with your body, sharing where you’re at with your partner, asking for what you need, and adjusting accordingly.
Take Your Damn Time (or Make Sure Your Partner Does)
One of the most common culprits of pain during sex is rushing it. Too often, we don’t focus enough on foreplay. But the reality is that taking our time is often one of the biggest “secrets” to good, satisfying, pain-free sex.
Spend time kissing, touching each other, and getting aroused before any penetration happens. Play around with tongues, hands, and anything else you can think of. Make sure that, by the time the penetrative parts of sex happen, you’re amply ready and wet (or lubed) to ensure that sex is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Irritation or Injuries
The skin on and around the vagina and vulva can be very delicate and sensitive. While it can sometimes withstand a lot, other times it can get bruised, torn, scarred, or otherwise damaged.
Pelvic trauma, surgery, giving birth, previous sex injuries, and other causes can be the reasons behind vaginal or vulval injury. In these cases, it might be best to check in with your OB/GYN and wait to have sex until you get the green light from them.
If you’ve ruled out all of the above reasons (dryness, irritation, injury, not enough foreplay, position, angle, intensity, and speed) and pain during sex is still an issue, then it might be time to look elsewhere.
There is no need to be alarmed until you gather more information. But there are some medical conditions—varying in seriousness—that can contribute to painful sex. Some of these include vaginismus, genital herpes, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, gonorrhea, vulvodynia, vestibular vulvitis, [endometriosis](https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354656#:~:text=Endometriosis%20(en%2Ddoe%2Dme,the%20tissue%20lining%20your%20pelvis.), Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), and fibroids.
Many of these causes are super easy to treat (antibiotics, for example). Others may require more patience, more care, and more involved treatment.
Regardless of what your suspicions are, it’s really important to go see your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. Finding out what’s going on will not only help you look out for your health but will also help you figure out what you need to do to get back to enjoyable, pain-free sex.