Can Sex Therapy Help Painful Intercourse?

woman with abdominal acheHave you ever experienced pain during sex? If so, you are not alone. According to a Huffington Post report from a National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior study, 30% of all women ages 18 to 50 experienced painful sexual intercourse during their last sexual encounter.

What Causes Painful Sex?

Painful sex can be attributed to variety of possible reasons. Some women experience pain after giving natural birth due to scar tissue that forms after tearing or cutting of the vaginal walls.

Other women develop a condition of vaginal muscle atrophy or atrophic vaginitis According to Medical News Today, up to 75% of women will experience this problem after menopause. The conditions involves vaginal dryness, irritation, painful sex, and changes to the appearance of the vagina.

If you are experiencing painful sex, there are many other potential causes of pain that can be assessed with proper treatment. Ideally, the best treatment option is a combination of medical treatment, physical therapy, and sex therapy.

Medical Treatment

Initially, it is helpful to get assessed by your primary care physician, gynecologist, or urologist. One challenge women face when seeking medical treatment is working with a doctor who is not familiar with the available options for painful sex.

It is important to seek a medical professional who specializes in the area of sex. Doctors who know about this field are more likely to collaborate with other potential resources and offer more specific medications that are designed to help in this area.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

In addition to medical treatment, many women seek the help of a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor work. You can find these specialists at the Women’s Health website.

Physical therapists help women in several ways. First, they spend more time assessing the entire area including potential problems with the hips, groin, and urinary tract. Second, they offer specific exercises women can use to strengthen their vaginal muscles both in and out of sessions. Third, they teach internal stretching exercises that help sex become less painful over time.

Sex Therapy

As a final option, sex therapy can be used to help incorporate partners into treatment. Some women have difficulty transitioning exercises from the physical therapy room to the sexual relationship.

In sex therapy, clients are taught how to make exercises a more fun part of their sexual experience. It also helps women transition treatment from a solo endeavor (she is fixing her sexual problem) to a partnership (the couple is developing a better sex life).

Sex therapists can also help women who are burdened by psychological anxiety as a result of painful sex. Women report feelings of anxiety about potential pain that could happen, even when the pain is not present. If you are experiencing pain during sex, please don’t wait to get help.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Lee Skurtu, MEd, LMFT, therapist in Ballwin, Missouri

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dottie

    Dottie

    March 14th, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    Please don’t ever brush this off as if this is something going on in a woman’s head because there are so many times that there is something physical going on with her body and many times she is going to be embarassed and ashamed to say anythign about it This is hard for many of us to talk about and wehave been made to feel like it is either something that we are doing wrong or something is wrong with us mentally that we just can’t stand sex! If you have never been through this then you can’t understand that there can be times that having intercourse can feel excruciating and until you are checked out by your ob gyn you can’t know exactly what to make of all of this. I hope that all women know that this isn’t your fault, and even though there are some things that sex therapy can help with this isn’t always the case and that there are other times that only a medical doctor will do. Please don’t ignore this problem because sex can be such a wonderful thing even though it may not feel that way to you now.

  • Angela Skurtu

    Angela Skurtu

    March 14th, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    An Author’s quick clarification-I absolutely agree that pain during sex is a physical problem that is important to be addressed with a doctor and physical therapist. What is meant by “anxiety that some women face” is that AFTER treatment with a doctor or physical therapist, some women will report “Even though I know I can now have sex without pain, I still sometimes worry about it being potentially painful.” Due to this, some women still avoid sex after treatment. This type of anxiety can be addressed in sex therapy.

  • Dottie

    Dottie

    March 15th, 2014 at 7:07 AM

    Thanks for that clarification Angela. I didn’t mean to sound catty about it, but you have to know that there have been SO many times that I have been told to brush this off and as you well know it’s not that simple.

  • melissa Anderson

    melissa Anderson

    March 17th, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    I know now that the pain that I have been feeling with sex for many years has nothing to do with anything physical but instead stems from abuse that I suffered when I was a child. All of those emotions and feelings of a child would always come flooding back even when I was having sex with someone that I loved and that made it very hard for me to have a full relationship with anyone for a long time. My doctor helped me get in touch with a therapist who is helping me work through much of this and while I won’t say that I am better, I can say that I am getting better and that’s a pretty good start for me. I am angry that this person took so much away from me, but I also know that for me to get anywhere with my own self I must now be able to forgive and move on.

  • Angela Skurtu

    Angela Skurtu

    March 17th, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    Trauma is another condition that can be addressed in sex therapy. Clients who experienced trauma at some point in their life will typically struggle with sex at some point as well. Clients with trauma history will report experiencing triggers and/or pain during sex. A good resource for books is Wendy Maltz who wrote “The Sexual Healing Journey.”

  • Britt

    Britt

    March 18th, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    It is important in cases like these to leave no stone unturned. If one thing does not turn up an answer then look to another provider, another direction to get some answers. Whether you understand it or not, sex is a valuable and integral part of everyone’s life, and to live with agony while engaging in what should be so pleasurable goes against what the body is designed to do. There is help for you out there even if you don’t get the answers at the first door that you knock on. I think that there are many women who become very easily discouraged because they have been told that this is imaginary or that it will go away but in most cases there is something very real behind the pain and once you find the right person to hear you the two of you can work on this together to make sex enjoyable for you again.

  • Petra

    Petra

    March 19th, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    even if i did hurt i don’t think that i could talk to anyone but my husband because i would be mortified to talk to anyone but him about it

  • lynn

    lynn

    March 20th, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    But Petra, there could be something really serious going on that your husband wouldn’t know how to treat. If you were having a problem you should at least go to your doctor about it.

  • Tim

    Tim

    March 22nd, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Does anyone have any thoughts on whether sex therapy is something that a couple should do as individuals or that they should do together? I tend to think that it should be a little bit of both but my wife wants it to all be together. What if there are some things that I want to share with the therapist that I am not quite ready to share with her yet? I might need a little time for myself for that and she doesn’t seem to be too willing to accept that. I am hoping that an answer here can give me what I am looking for and I am willing to go with whatever the majority thinks because this is causing some real problems between us.

  • Angela Skurtu

    Angela Skurtu

    March 24th, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Typically, a sex therapist will combine both couples and individual sessions as a part of treatment. We do this because we can do more assessment for individual sexual problems and it gives us a chance to make a relationship with each client on their own.

    However, most of your sessions will likely be couple sessions since sex is something you share with your partner. It helps when you both learn the same skills as a team.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    November 19th, 2018 at 5:28 PM

    You got me when you said that it’s important to seek a professional’s help when you’re experiencing painful sexual intercourses to be provided with more specific medications. My sister has been complaining about painful sexual intercourses since last month. To be honest, I also don’t know how I can help her since I never experienced what she’s going through. I will help her find a pro that can treat her right.

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