- When your partner says sex hurts her, it might be a condition called dyspareunia.
- Dyspareunia affects up to 30 percent of women.
- Painful sex is caused by physical or psychological factors.
- Encourage your partner to seek professional help if she is complaining about painful sex.
- Taking care of your own sexual health reduces the risk of infections and pain during intercourse.
Sex should be a wonderful experience, connecting two people through passion and pleasure. But what if she says sex hurts? Many women experience pain during intercourse. The good news is that there’s a way back to lovemaking without suffering. And there’s a lot you can do to support her as a caring partner.
What’s Dyspareunia (Painful Intercourse)?
If your partner says that sex hurts, she might have dyspareunia. This condition affects mostly women and shows up as pain in the genitals or the pelvis. The pain can range from mild to severe and can happen before, during, or after sexual intercourse.
Painful sex affects approximately 30 percent of women. According to research, 9.3 percent suffer from long-term dyspareunia (over six months of painful sex).
Why Sex Hurts
Dyspareunia has many possible causes. When sex hurts for women, the cause will be physical, psychological, or a mixture of both.
Physical Causes of Dyspareunia
If sex hurts, it may have something to do with a physical condition, a medication or treatment she’s receiving, or trauma her body suffered — even a long time ago.
Her doctor will ask about these potential causes:
- Hormonal changes and their side effects, such as not enough lubrication
- Infections, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Skin problems
- Childbirth and related injuries
- Radiation or chemotherapy
Psychological Causes of Dyspareunia
Sometimes there is nothing going on with a woman’s body, but sex still feels painful. For many women, dyspareunia is a vicious circle. For example, if she had a difficult childbirth, she might expect pain during intercourse. That fear of pain can cause her body to get tense. That tension then increases the likelihood that sex will, indeed, be uncomfortable.
Here are some of the psychological causes of painful sex:
- Experience of sexual abuse
- Feelings of guilt and shame around sex
- Stress, for example fear of getting pregnant
- Body image issues
- Unresolved conflicts in the relationship
What Can Women Do About Painful Sex?
A woman knows her body best, and there’s a lot she can do to get back to pain-free sex. The solution will depend on the cause of dyspareunia.
Here’s some good advice to pass along to your partner.
- Find help fast. When sex hurts, the most important thing a woman can do is to seek help. Only one-third of females talk about their sexual problems with a health professional. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to treat dyspareunia.
- Lube is your friend. Sometimes using a lubricant is all she needs to avoid pain during intercourse. Some women worry that if they aren’t wet enough, it’s a sign they don’t want their partner anymore. But that’s not how it works. How much lubrication her body produces depends on hormones and other health-related factors.
- Do your Kegels. A flexible and relaxed pelvic floor (the muscles surrounding the sex organs) is the key to pleasurable sex. Regular pelvic floor exercises, often called Kegels, can help her become more aware of her body. When sex hurts, it’s more important to learn to relax those muscles than to squeeze them hard. It’s a good idea to consult a physiotherapist before beginning Kegels.
- Take your time. Many women put pressure on themselves to be ready for sex immediately when their lover gets an erection. But penetration when she’s not relaxed and mentally prepared can be painful. As a couple, you can agree that she will be the one to give the green light for intercourse. This simple guideline can help her feel that she’s in control, which is a natural stress reducer that can help her relax those tight muscles.
- Talk about it. Men often have no clue what’s going on in a woman’s body — a woman’s state of arousal isn’t as obvious as it is with men. That’s why it’s so important to communicate during intimacy. Some women feel shy to talk or they don’t want to spoil the mood. But nothing destroys a sexy mood more than having to suffer in silence while “making love.”
- Play with toys. Learning how to pleasure herself using a dildo or vibrator will help her get used to the feeling of vaginal penetration. She’s the one who holds the toy in her hand and can decide how far it goes, and how fast it moves. Vibration can also help her muscles relax. If using a larger toy is too painful, she could start with special dilators, but it’s best to discuss this with a doctor first.
How You Can Help Your Partner?
As a man you may feel helpless, not knowing how to help your partner have pain-free sex. But keep your hopes up. There’s a lot you can do to help her heal and please her in bed in a way that’s comfortable for both of you.
Encourage Her To See a Doctor
If your partner has been struggling with painful sex for some time, start by encouraging her to get medical help. If it makes her feel better, you can go with her. Depending on the type of treatment she receives, you can play a supporting role, for example, by (gently!) reminding her to do her Kegels.
Women with dyspareunia need time to ease into intimacy. Give her all the time and affection she needs. Before you try intercourse, you may want to massage her vagina with your fingers, to help her get used to the feeling of penetration. Ask her to guide your penis and control entry so that she can go at her own pace.
Making love to that amazing woman is super exciting, and you may quickly give in to the sensation. But if your lady feels pain during sex, keep an eye on her and observe her reactions. If her body moves away, don’t push too hard. If you feel her body tensing, ask her if it’s OK to continue.
Don’t Pressure Her
Your desire is a powerful force, and you naturally want to connect with your lover on a physical level. But your eagerness can cause anxiety if she’s had painful sex before.
She may feel like you’re pressuring her to have intercourse. Be patient, check in and reassure her that you can stop anytime. Yes, it’s frustrating to stop in the middle, but it’s the only way to give her the security she needs — and to produce long-term results. If you can’t continue the penetration, you can still be sexual, for example, by enjoying some mutual oral or hand play.
Sexual Health Is Key for Both
If sex hurts, you should both pay extra attention to your sexual health. If one of you has an infection or a sexually transmitted disease, it could lead to chronic pain during sex.
Getting regular checkups and STD testing when needed and treating any sexual health problems as soon as possible will minimize the risk of dyspareunia.
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Anka Grzywacz is a sexologist, reproductive health expert and Certified Sex Coach™. In her online practice she helps busy women and couples solve their intimate problems.