What Can You Do When Sex is Painful?

7000 women in the United Kingdom were asked if they had ever felt pan during sex – a condition with the medical name dyspareunia. The poll, findings of which were published in the British journal BJOG, found that sex is painful for almost 1 out of every 10 women.

10% of women may not sound like this condition is all that typical. However, painful sex is unfortunately an experience of fully three-quarters of women at some point during their lives, per the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians.

We all want simple answers to health challenges, especially ones that are painful and are compromising our quality of life. However, the answer to solving painful sex is not always straightforward because the problem arises from multiple sources.

Writing about the study in Cosmopolitan, Hannah Smothers urges readers to speak with their gynecologists when experiencing painful sex. "[M]any of the women who reported having painful sex weren't letting their doctors know out of embarrassment," she said. "[I]t's important to keep your gyno in the loop if sex is too painful for you to enjoy."

The shame & secrecy of painful sex

Until recently, the medical community has been slow to take women's sex-related pain seriously, to strive to understand it, and to find treatments to alleviate it.

Part of the problem with painful sex is that it has simply not been prioritized in medical school programs. Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. Elizabeth Stewart is understanding with the lack of attention paid toward this women's health issue: "The curriculum is jammed with the explosion of knowledge," she said, "so there's very little room to put [painful sex] in."

The good news is that, within the last few years, dyspareunia has now become a more serious topic for doctors. Plus, there are steps you can take on your own to stop the pain – which make up many of the below 8 ways to stop painful sex.

8 ways to alleviate sex pain

Here is advice to treat painful sex:

1.) Use lubricant.

Licensed sex therapist Lisa Thomas, LMFT, recommends that you should be redundant with this substance, since it is the easiest possible solution. Put a few drops on yourself, and have your partner use a substantial amount as well.

2.) Make sure that you are engaged in foreplay.

Indiana University sexual health researcher Debra Herbenick, PhD, notes that avoiding painful sex can be about improving foreplay – by figuring out what arouses you. That could mean kissing and cuddling, viewing pornography, or oral sex, she suggests. Whatever you do, don’t skip it. You need your body to catch up to your brain: once the mind is aroused, the vaginal tissues typically need another 5 to 7 minutes to get fully lubricated for penetration.

3.) Try self-massage over time.

Self-massage of the vaginal opening using the lubricant, daily for a couple weeks, can help to make the region less sensitive.

4.) Leave behind that stress.

It is easy to bring the stress of the day into the bedroom. You have to be calm and undistracted to feel sexually excited. One way to let go of the stress of the day, says Herbenick, is a massage with coconut or lemongrass oil. Other options she suggests to de-stress are yoga and meditation.

5.) Explore other positions.

The issue of genital fit can actually be a problem for some couples. In those cases, the man is simply oversized for the woman. Lube may help. However, Herbenick advises that you may need to try different sexual positions. If you are on top during sex, you may find that you have sufficient control to keep it from becoming painful.

6.) Buy 3 dilators.

Dilators can also be of use in treating painful sex. Get three sizes, with the largest about as large as a penis. Begin with the smallest one. "[A]pply lubricant to it and use it on yourself for penetration at least every other day until you can insert it comfortably," says Ms. Thomas – at which point you can begin attempting the next size.

7.) Get tested for infection.

Yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes can all lead to pain during sex, as can other infections. The vagina or vulva can be influenced, bringing about pain, even when women are otherwise asymptomatic. It is typically simple to test for infections; management and treatment is also usually straightforward. The most important thing, according to Indiana University sexual health professor Dennis Fortenberry, MD, is to communicate with your doctor and get treated for any infections you might have.

8.) Seek medical guidance.

Seeking medical help is critical because your urogynecologist can help identify and address the conditions causing your pain during intercourse. At Southeast Urogyn, we can identify the conditions that may be responsible for making sex uncomfortable and help you enjoy sexual intimacy again. See our painful sex Q & A.

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