Why is sex painful for me?

This is the first in a three part series on how to deal with painful sex.

Nearly every woman feels pain at some point, in some circumstance in her life, during intercourse. We’ve all let out an ‘Ouch!’, delivered with an accusing glare, if our partners thrust a little too deeply, hitting the cervix.

That’s easily fixed by changing position and shallower thrusting.

Constant, persistent pain is something completely different.

Pay attention to it. Never ignore pain anywhere in your body.

I’m one of the many women who associate pain with sex: it’s better now but intercourse will never be as comfortable as it used to be.

For me, it’s a boring age-related thing. But there are many other reasons why sex can hurt.


Dyspareunia is the name for any pain associated with intercourse but there are many things that cause it and an accurate diagnosis is key to treating it effectively.

Don’t kid yourself the pain will just go away with time. It won’t. Don’t tell yourself you’re imagining it. You aren’t.

Even if it’s not acute pain you’re feeling, it’s still pain. Which means something you used to look forward to – sex – becomes something you dread.

This list of possible causes isn’t for self-diagnosis – your first step is a doctor’s appointment – but it might help you pin down the type of pain you’re experiencing so you can explain it clearly to your GP.

Remember: Dr Google is not a reliable source for solving health problems. Only a qualified doctor can do that.

Ageing and menopause cause vaginal atrophy of the lining of vagina because hormone levels drop to make the vaginal walls thinner and dryer. The canal narrows, shortens and becomes less elastic. The dryer your vagina, the more irritated it feels and the more vulnerable you are to UTIs and other infections.

Vaginal dryness. This is a BIG problem for lots of women.

A Durex survey found 73 per cent of women in UK feel uncomfortable during sex because of a dry vagina.

Researchers (for Vagisil) spoke to 2000 women between 40 and 61 and found a major cause of painful or uncomfortable sex is vaginal dryness. They estimate it’s something half of women over the age of 40 experience in their lifetime – with high impact on their sex lives.

Of those that do, fifty-two per cent said they felt they’d let their partner down by being dry and 33 per cent said their partner was frustrated with them because of it.

Twenty five per cent said they’d made up an excuse to avoid sex and 24 per cent said they had sex anyway, ‘suffering in silence’ and just hoping it would get better.

There’s a whole lot wrong with all the reasons given (why do we think it’s our fault/something to be ashamed of/something men should be allowed to get annoyed about!) and it’s clearly a top cause of sexual angst.

Tense vaginal muscles can also cause pain. Sometimes, it’s because you’re not fully aroused and need more foreplay. Sometimes it’s because you’re feeling anxious because sex has been painful in the past. Sometimes it’s because you feel angry at your partner and don’t want to have sex at all. For other women, it’s due to trauma in their past – like having been sexually molested or assaulted.

Vaginismus is an involuntary tightening of the outer third of the vagina that makes penetration difficult or impossible.

High-tone, pelvic floor dysfunction is different. This happens when the muscles that support the vagina, bladder, and rectum become tense and can’t relax.

Yeast infections make our vaginas feel sore and irritated.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) do the same.

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection that produces a thin smelly discharge caused by an imbalance of vaginal ecosystem.

Pelvic pain is caused by adhesions, endometriosis (scar tissue), fibroids and cysts.

Hysterectomy and other pelvic surgery can sometimes end up making intercourse painful. As can some cancer treatments.

Vulvodynia produces a burning pain in the vulva and vagina.

Provoked vestibulodynia also causes a burning pain at entrance of vagina when touched.

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder health issue that causes inflammation in the bladder’s lining. It makes you want to pee urgently and frequently and feels like you’re peeing razorblades when you do. (Ah yes, personal experience with that one, too.)

This week’s blog was about helping you identify what may be causing you to experience pain when you have penetrative sex.

Part two talks about practical solutions to dealing with it. Part three suggests two solutions that could be an instant fix.

I’ve just released a new sex toy range, designed especially for women who find sex uncomfortable.