If your Oooooooos are more Owwwws, you’re not alone. According to Emily Sauer, founder of the Ohnut, painful sex affects up to 75 percent of all women at some point in their lifetime.

Let’s say that again: Up to three-quarters of all women experience painful sex at some point in their lives. For some, the pain is temporary, the result of childbirth or vaginal dryness during certain times in their cycle – for others, it’s chronic. Many women's pain can be solved with a good vaginal lubricant or intimate moisturizer; some may require a little more help.

Women who have pain or fear pain may start avoiding sex, which can be hard on intimate relationships, and they miss out on all the physical and emotional health benefits of a fulfilling sex life.

Sexual health is part of overall health and well-being, and pleasure during sex or intercourse shouldn’t be considered just a “nice to have.” So why does pain happen, and more importantly, what can we do about it?


What causes pain during sex?

According to pelvic physical therapist Rachel Gelman, “Pain with sex can be due to many factors, and a person usually has several factors at play. They can be anything from hormonal dysfunction to myofascial restrictions. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I address the musculoskeletal piece that may contribute to pain with sex, but a patient may need other providers on board to address the other elements that may be driving their symptoms. Those providers may include a sex therapist, OBGYN, urologist, naturopath, or acupuncturist. The process can be frustrating but know that there are providers out there who can help!”

So be aware that you may need help both zeroing in on the cause and choosing the right solution.

  1. Vaginal dryness is very common among women who are perimenopausal or post-menopausal, breast-feeding, receiving cancer treatment, or taking oral birth control pills, all of which can affect hormone levels. When hormonal changes like estrogen declines, so does vaginal moisture and resiliency. The drier, thinner tissue may tear more easily in penetrative sex or play, causing pain and leaving the vagina more vulnerable to infection. Possible solutions include lubricants and moisturizers, topical estrogen creams or a low-dose vaginal estrogen ring. Or for women who can’t have or don’t want hormones, laser treatments such as the Mona Lisa Touch offer a possible alternative.
  2. Vaginal tightness can happen when a woman isn’t feeling relaxed and ready, if she’s nervous or fearful, or if she hasn’t had sex in a while. In many cases, extended foreplay and/or conversation may be all she needs. If the woman is suffering vaginismus, an involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles, she may need to get outside help from a doctor, pelvic physical therapist, or sex specialist.
  3. Vaginal infection or irritation can certainly take the fun out of sex. Yeast infections can cause pain, even without the added friction of penetration, and irritation from contraceptives (foam, “flavored” condoms), lubricants that contain fragrances or “warming” qualities, harsh soaps or detergents, or douching can also make sex uncomfortable. In the case of infections, waiting until the infection is gone is best (and also reduces the risk of transmission); in the case of irritation, identifying and banishing the irritant should take care of the pain.
  4. Basic biology. A pain in the lower abdomen could mean your partner is actually bumping up against your cervix, the lower part of your uterus. Or if your uterus is tilted backwards, you can also have pain from too-deep penetration. You can change position to limit thrust; being on top gives the woman greater control. We’re also really excited about the launch of the Ohnut, a customizable wearable that allows you to control penetration depth in any position. Comfortable, interlocking rings placed on the penis determine how far in your fellow can go, so you can relax and enjoy the moment.
  5. Endometriosis causes a lot of women a lot of pain, including during sex. In endometriosis, the tissue that should stay inside and line the uterus grows outside as well and can involve the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and pelvic tissue. When it comes time for the tissue to slough off as it would during a normal menstrual cycle, there’s no exit, and this can cause considerable pain. Treatment for endometriosis may require surgery or pain medication, though some women find relief from hormones such as birth control pills.
  6. UTIs. Because urinary tract infections make the area sensitive and painful already, adding intercourse can increase the discomfort. Antibiotics are usually required to clear up a UTI; for recurrent issues, it might be time to consult a urologist or ob/gyn.

Don’t endure painful sex or give up intimacy entirely. Devices like the Ohnut can be part of the fun, if you keep minds and lines of communication open. And introducing a toy or vibrator like the smart Lioness Vibrator sex toy can extend foreplay, help you feel more ready (and thus more relaxed and possibly more lubricated), and bring the fun back to a potentially stressful time.

When should I talk to my doctor about painful sex?

Don’t wait. According to Rachel, “If a person is experiencing pain with sex, they should consult their healthcare provider. I know many people report their providers don’t ask about sexual function, and it can be intimidating or embarrassing to bring up, but no one should have to suffer in silence and there are many treatment options for someone experiencing pelvic pain.”

In short: If it hurts, start talking. If your doc doesn’t ask about your sex life, tell her. Because there are so many possible issues, getting properly diagnosed means identifying the right solution and getting your better sex life back that much faster.

If you need support in managing painful sex, a menopause-certified physician can be helpful. Book a visit with a Gennev doctor.

Have you experienced painful sex? What did you do or are you doing to deal with it? We’d love to hear from you, so please share in the comments below, on Gennev's Facebook page, or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, Gennev’s closed Facebook group. 



Shannon Perry

May 16, 2018
Director of Programming & Media

Medically Reviewed By

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