Woman in bedAccording to leading research, the prevalence of women who experience va..." /> Woman in bedAccording to leading research, the prevalence of women who experience va..." />

When Sex Hurts: 3 Options for Women Who Experience Pain

Woman in bedAccording to leading research, the prevalence of women who experience vaginal pain is 9.3%, but the figure is even higher (up to 13%) for women between the ages of 20 and 30. For some, this will be a temporary gripe. For others, it may be a longer-lasting condition.

Painful sex, also known as dyspareunia, may be the result of any number of things—a new detergent, a new partner, an infection, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, anxiety, and other issues can all change a person’s sexual response. Genital pain may be caused by hormonal issues, physical issues, emotional or psychological concerns, and/or relational issues.

Women need not suffer alone. In many cases, they need not suffer at all. Here are some steps you can take to get the relief you need:

  1. Find a gynecologist who specializes in genital pain. This is key. Numerous women have told me that they went from gynecologist to gynecologist and heard the same advice: (1) just relax, (2) have a glass of wine, and (3) use lubricant. Though these clinicians mean well, for some women, this just doesn’t cut it. A gynecologist who specializes in genital pain will evaluate for vestibulodynia, vaginismus, deviated septum, intact hymen, hormonal imbalances, infections, scar tissue, cysts, and a number of other potential issues. For some women, something as simple as a specific cream may resolve their issue. Finding a gynecologist who specializes in genital pain can be difficult, so I recommend scouring hospital bios and looking for those who specifically list a specialty in genital pain, vulvovaginal disorders, or female sexual dysfunction. A competent sexual health evaluation will provide referrals if pelvic floor physical therapy is necessary.
  2. Contact a sex therapist in your area. You can find a certified sex therapist by searching GoodTherapy.org’s directory. Carefully read each clinician’s bio to find out where he or she received training in sex therapy; you may need to contact the therapist to solicit this information. Some therapists list it as an area of expertise, but do not have advanced training in the area. A sex therapist can help you address the emotional, psychological, and relational reasons behind the pain you’re experiencing. He or she can also help address any conflict or difficulties arising from this issue within your romantic relationships, as partners may also be affected emotionally and/or physically. If you have trouble finding a gynecologist whose specialty is genital or sexual pain, a sex therapist may be able to help with that, too; sex therapists often have connections with experts in this area.
  3. Discontinue having sex until the issue resolves. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop doing what you’re doing. If you touch a candle flame, your finger sends a rapid signal to your brain that it hurts. Your vagina is telling you something. Speak to your partner about your wish to not have sex until the issue is resolved. Enjoy the other aspects of intimacy. You might consider trying extended foreplay (45 minutes to an hour) to give you more time than usual to become aroused. Enjoy kissing and other activities that do not cause pain. Although artificial lubricants can help, give yourself sufficient time to try to get lubricated on your own. Listen to your body if it is telling you that it is not ready for penetration. If other sexual activities are making you nervous or anxious, hold back on those activities and do only what you are comfortable with. You are in control of your body and do not have to engage in anything that causes discomfort.

Seeking help from a gynecologist, a sex therapist, and/or a pelvic floor physical therapist can help you address the physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and medical aspects of your issue. Working with this team of professionals, your genital pain can be lessened or eliminated altogether, allowing you to enjoy sexual activity free of any anxiety or worry. Get the help you need today.


Danielsson, I; Sjoberg, I; Stenlund, H; Wikman, M. (2003) Prevalance and Incidence of Prolonged and Severe Dyspareunia in Women: Results from a Population Study. Scand J Public Health. 31(2):113-8.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • hereinthesouth

    October 16th, 2014 at 6:15 PM

    How do you tell your husband you are having pains? I find it very difficult to talk with him about these issues and fear he may want to go elsewhere if I let on that it isn’t working for me anymore and I am experiencing pain? He has before and I don’t want to risk it again…

  • Dillon

    October 18th, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    you can’t just stop having sex if you don’t have any answers… you know that there will be too many relationships that won’t be able to withstand that type of move.

  • Rivka

    October 18th, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    Hi Hereinthesouth, I would find yourself a sex therapist and discuss your individual case with them. Since I do not know you, I do not want to advise anything that could make matters worse. I hope that helps.

  • norah

    October 21st, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    It can’t be an easy topic to talk about so it would be best if you are working with an ob gyn who understands what the problems could be and has some real suggestions for helping you come to terms with this pain and also helping you find some solutions. I definitely wouldn’t go to some old school doctor who told me that everything was in my head and that I just ahd some hang ups about sex, this happened to a friend of mine and it made her feel worse about the whole thing!Like it was her fault! It is best to find someone who feels some actual compassion for what you are going through and who can help you find the solution that is going to work. It might take a combination of different things but you don’t have to give up or be made to feel likee you have to give up on finding an answer

  • Jason

    October 30th, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    @hereinthesouth sounds like you need to go to a therapist like Rivka as soon as possible. I’m recently married and my wife was suffering from painful sex. Being a guy I thought we could just muscle through the pain. That was counter productive. Sex should be enjoyable for both of you and he’ll enjoy it more if you are. You owe it to yourself and your husband to seek help and yes I would highly recommend Rivka. She’s helping us to see the big picture. One more thing. I agree with Dillon in the sense that just because you’re having painful sex doesn’t mean you can’t have sexual relations. Sex is very important for men. It’s how we connect with our partners on every level and ultimately it’s how we feel the greatest love. It’s absolutely vital. So think outside the box and of course see a therapist even if that means going by yourself.

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