Why Am I Having Pain During Sex?
Common reasons for pain during sex and what you can do about them.
Books, movies, songs, and friends are constantly broadcasting how effortless and mind-blowing sex is. So why doesn’t that seem to be the case for you and your vagina? Why does it hurt when your partner or the cutie you're hooking up with fingers you? Why does everything feel bruised after doggy-style? Why does it feel impossible to even insert a tampon? Is this normal? Is my vagina normal? What even is normal?
Although it’s incredibly common, pain during sex is still an indication that something is wrong.
First, here are the big words:
- Vulvodynia is the term for pain in the vulva or vagina. There’s a huge spectrum of pain—it may be present all the time, just with penetration, or only occur during particular positions or activities.
- Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles around the opening to the vagina contract and make it painful to try to insert anything.
- Dyspareunia is just the big word for “painful sex.” It is very common: almost a third of all vaginas experience pain with sex at some point.
While these conditions are not uncommon, the message that pain during sex is normal and to be expected is a false one. Some people have never experienced pain-free sex, so they just assume it’s part of the package. But, although it’s incredibly common, pain during sex is still an indication that something is wrong.
Pain is our bodies’ way of protecting us—it warns us to stop a damage-causing action, or to get help. Nerves detect potential damage or danger, alert the brain, which then creates the pain sensation. This means that using methods to desensitize the body (like drinking enough to dull the pain, or using numbing creams) will only cause more damage in the long run.
Using methods to desensitize the body (like drinking enough to dull the pain, or using numbing creams) will only cause more damage in the long run
Causes Of Painful Sex
There are many reasons you might be experiencing pain. Here are a few of the most common with some strategies to address them:
Vaginal Dryness Can Cause Pain During Sex
People of all ages can experience vaginal dryness. Stress, hormones, and even some medications can all contribute to dry vaginas. Without enough lubrication, friction in the vagina causes microabrasions/tears which are painful, as well as vulnerable to infection.
- Using a store-bought lube is a first-step! A wet vagina is a happy vagina.
- Sex is more than just penetration, so explore what else feels good. How do you like your clitoris touched? The labia have lots of nerve endings as well, so how can they be touched, stroked, licked, or kissed that make you feel good? Focus on the external before diving inside.
- What’s your emotional state? Are you relaxed, do you feel safe and comfortable with your partner? Do you even want to be having sex? Your body may be letting you know that right now isn’t the right time (so then stop and evaluate, or go back to step 2).
People of all ages can experience vaginal dryness.
Vaginismus: Overly Tight Vaginal Muscles
Vaginismus is a condition in which muscles at the entrance of the vagina contract, rather than expand, making penetration painful or impossible. There are two types of this condition: Primary vaginismus means that penetration has always been painful, while secondary vaginismus develops later, often as a result of trauma. It’s a good idea to find a doctor who understands this condition. Advocate for yourself! Many doctors don’t understand vaginal pain, so don’t settle for being dismissed.
- Ignore the “tight vagina” myths. Vaginas are usually between three and seven inches long, but when aroused they lengthen (like a slinky!). They also have muscle folds that expand (like an accordion!) to fit what’s inside. These accordion slinkies don’t get looser the more they’re used, or as a result of childbirth (childbirth can cause pelvic floor muscles to weaken, though).
- Pelvic floor physical therapy can go a long way towards healing overly tight vaginal muscles. A trained physical therapist can help determine what muscles need strengthening and what needs practice relaxing.
- Dilators are smooth cylinder objects that are often sold in a set of varying sizes. Although they look similar to smooth vibrators or dildos, they are used not by stimulating and rubbing, but simply inserting into the vaginal canal. Start with the smallest dilator in the set, and work your way up. Practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxing, while getting used to the feel of something small inside can help you gain control of those muscles again until you’re able to insert larger sizes.
Pelvic floor physical therapy can go a long way towards healing overly tight vaginal muscles
Vaginal Infections Can Also Cause Discomfort
Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and STIs can all contribute to pussy pain. Any vaginal pain warrants getting a doctor’s opinion if possible, but some conditions can only be diagnosed with a test in a medical office.
- Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis have some similar symptoms, but treatment is very different. Unless a doctor looks at a sample under a microscope, the wrong OTC medication could make things worse.
- STIs like genital herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea all cause burning vaginal pain. See a doctor to diagnose these conditions and receive treatment.
- Dermatitis is the skin’s reaction to irritants. Soap, douches, or washes should never be used inside the vagina. Many of the products marketed as vulva cleaning products contain ingredients that can be irritating to the delicate skin. Wash your vulva with just warm water and your hand, and avoid tight-fitting underwear for a while.
Some Sex Positions May Not Work For You
As mentioned before, most vaginas are between three and seven inches long. Depending on your body, some positions may be more uncomfortable than others. Experiment to figure out what feels best for you. Doggy style tends to go deeper, and if the cervix gets bumped, it can be painful! Deeper doesn’t always feel better, so experiment to find out which sex positions feel the most comfortable for you. And remember, sex isn’t limited to just penetration!
Experiment to find out which sex positions feel the most comfortable for you
If you’re experiencing pain during sex—whether that’s all the time, or once in a while, you are not alone. Don’t settle for painful sexual activity. Although taking it slow, with lots of lube and creativity, may do it for some, listen to your body. If things still hurt, find support—whether that's a doctor, therapist, friend, or partner. You're worth it.
- "When Sex Is Painful - ACOG." https://m.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/When-Sex-Is-Painful. Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
- "Explainer: what is pain and what is happening when we feel it?." 18 Nov. 2015, http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-pain-and-what-is-happening-when-we-feel-it-49040. Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
- "Female genital appearance: 'normality' unfolds - Wiley's Obstetrics and ...." 12 Jan. 2005, https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2004.00517.x. Accessed 14 Feb. 2019.
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Is Period Sex OK?
Is it ok to have sex on your period? It sure is! So if you want to, go for it. Read on for tips on comfort, pleasure, and mess management.
It seems like menstruation is slowly becoming more talked about and normalized. It’s about time! Most people with a uterus menstruate at some point in their lives, so why not discuss it? The days of being embarrassed to buy tampons and pads are over. Now there are many more choices like cups and sponges and everything in an abundance of sizes and styles.
Sex On Your Period Is A-Okay!
Speaking of choice, it’s high time we discussed period sex. Here’s the bottom line, if you want to have period sex, there is no reason not to. If you don’t want to, well then don’t. If you might want to but have some questions, then read on.
If you want to have period sex, there is no reason not to. If you don’t want to, well then don’t.
It’s a lot more fun talking about sex than about cramps, and some people’s libidos are super charged during period days so wanting to have sex while you’re menstruating is a common thing. If this is you, go for it with a few tips on communication, safety and, of course, pleasure.
Start By Discussing Period Sex With Your Partner
Let’s say either you, or your partner, wants to try period sex. Anytime you want to try something new in the bedroom, it’s a good idea to begin with a conversation. Don’t assume - discuss!
Be kind and always talk about how you feel, not how your partner should feel. Listen. If you just quiet down and listen, you’ll be surprised at how much information you are able to receive from your partner.
What Sort Of Period Sex Are You Comfortable With?
Decide on your comfort levels for period sex. Just touching, yes or no to oral, penetration with fingers, or with a toy or penis? Then you have a guide and you will be able to push the envelope through agreement and not surprise.
Safer Sex When Menstruating
Just like other body fluids, your menstrual blood will carry STI’s. It’s always a good idea to make sure you and your partner have been tested. During your period your cervix is higher and more open, so bacteria flows more freely.
Decide on your comfort levels for period sex. Just touching, yes or no to oral, penetration with fingers, or with a toy or penis?
Why Am I Horny When I’m On My Period Anyway?
Remember, it’s normal to feel extra horny after you begin menstruating. Progesterone, which has been building up to help fertilize an egg, is at a low point when you don’t need to fertilize that egg and you get your period. Progesterone lowers libido so your libido builds when progesterone is low. It’s science.
Estrogen and testosterone will soon kick in and put your libido at its high point around week two of your cycle. That’s when you’re most likely to conceive. Get it?
How To Deal With The Blood During Period Sex
Worried about the blood? Did you know that during your entire period, you only release 3-4 tablespoons of blood? It doesn’t all come out during sex either.
During that communication part you may find that neither of you are really bothered by the blood and you’ll both enjoy the added lubrication from more fluids in your vagina. In which case, just put a dark towel underneath you and go for it.
Or, if you want an easier clean up, shower sex is a great option! Let the blood wash straight off down the drain.
Just put a dark towel underneath you and go for it... Or, if you want an easier clean up, shower sex is a great option!
Still not convinced but want to try? Using a menstrual disc or a sponge that sits up high, closer to your cervix, will absorb most of the blood before it flows out of you. These methods are different from a tampon FYI - you do not want to leave a tampon in during penetration! A tampon is great for external play or oral sex though.
Best Sex Positions When On Your Period
Try out different positions to see what feels best when you have your period. Since your cervix moves up a little bit higher during menstruation, the feelings may be different. If doggie style is normally painful, it may not be because of the extra lubrication and higher cervix. Also, missionary style or anything where you’re on your back will result in less blood on the sheets.
Orgasms Can Help Ease Cramps!
There is no biological reason to avoid sex during menstruation. In fact, if you have cramps, sex may be just the thing to lessen them since orgasms release endorphins and help to relax the uterus. Period sex may be a whole new adventure for you. Remember to stay safe, try different positions and use a dark colored towel. The rest is just another sexy exploration. Enjoy!