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5 Reasons Why Sex Hurts

Painful sex is more common than most of us think. For women who experience it on a regular basis, embarrassment can get in the way of making an appointment with a doctor.

John Mellencamp might have been right about love when he sang “Hurts So Good.” Unfortunately, the same lyrics don’t ring true for sex. When sex hurts, it never good. There’s nothing like unwanted pain during intercourse to make you want to avoid sexy times like the plague.

Painful sex is surprisingly common. In the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, nearly 30% of women reported experiencing pain during their most recent sexual encounter. Other studies have reported that a whopping 20% of young women suffer from dyspareunia, or persistent and recurring pain during sex.

But in spite of just how prevalent dyspareunia is, it’s a subject that’s seldom broached in doctors’ offices. That was the conclusion that researchers at the University of Nevada came to after interviewing female undergraduate students who reported experiencing moderate pain during intercourse.

Some hoped that the problem would eventually go away on its own, while others worried that it signalled a more serious underlying health condition that might never get resolved. Stigma compounded with lack of faith in a medical solution prevented many of the interviewees from seeking the opinion of a health professional. Worse still, women who did speak to their doctors came away feeling that the problem hadn’t been taken seriously.

Clearly, both patients and doctors need to find a way to address and resolve this issue. Whether sex is mildly uncomfortable or excruciating to the point that the mere thought makes you cringe, pain during intercourse can wreak serious havoc on your relationship, your self-image, and even your overall quality of life.

If pain is getting in the way of your ability to get it on, read up on the five most common causes listed below before you make an appointment with your doctor.

The 5 most common reasons why sex hurts.

1. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Up to 75% of women will get a yeast infection at some point in their life. The symptoms—swelling, itching, soreness, and funky-smelling white discharge—can make the mere thought of opening your legs seem horrifying. Not to mention, you can pass yeast infections on to your partner during oral and penetrative intercourse.

Bacterial vaginosis and common STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause similar symptoms. Do not try to self-diagnose the problem and treat it at home. Go to a drop-in clinic or make an appointment with a doctor right away.

2. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

PID affects the reproductive organs. During deep penetration, you might feel pain in your lower abdomen or pelvis area. This condition can also cause in spotting between periods, fevers, and pain during urination.

PID is caused when bacteria from untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea attacks your reproductive system. It can also be caused by infections transmitted during childbirth or during the insertion of an IUD.

The best way to know if PID is causing your pain is to see a doctor for a diagnosis. The sooner you get treated, the better.

3. Vaginal dryness caused by lack of foreplay, menopause, or medication.

When the vaginal walls aren’t properly lubricated, penetration with a penis, toy, or even a finger can feel unbearable. Trying to jump straight to penetration without adequate foreplay is a common culprit. Remember it actually takes your body five to seven minutes to catch up with your brain when you’re aroused.

When lack of foreplay isn’t the issue, menopause is usually to blame. In younger women, dryness may be a side effect of certain medications. In some women, contraceptive pills can cause vaginal dryness. Yes, you read that right—the birth control pill you take so you can have sex might indeed make it more difficult for you to enjoy sex. Decongestants, alcohol, and marijuana can also make it more difficult for you to get wet.

A liberal application of lube can solve occasional dryness. For chronic vaginal dryness, talk to your doctor to find out whether medication or menopause might be the source.

4. Vaginismus.

Painful sex is usually one of the first signs of vaginismus, which occurs when the muscles of the vagina squeeze or spasm during the insertion of a penis, finger, sex toy, or even a tampon. Some women have described vaginismus as a tearing sensation, or feeling like your partner is “hitting a wall.” Pain can range from mild to severe, and tends to disappear after withdrawal, though not always.

Little is known about what causes vaginismus, though anxiety related to painful sex appears to be a factor. Talk to your doctor to eliminate other potential causes. Treatment for vaginismus involves Kegel exercises, which can help you to re-assert control over your vaginal muscles.

5. Tight squeezes.

In rare cases, a large penis can mean penetration is a tight fit—especially if you’re petite. If you think your partner or your size is contributing, try lube for a smoother entry. You might also experience a painful sensation in your abdomen or pelvis area if your partner happens to poke your cervix. Usually, changing positions can remedy this. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re in pain. Opt for a position where you’re in control of the depth of penetration and speed.

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