Understanding pain during sex: What is dyspareunia, why it might happen and what you can do about it

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that nearly three out of four women have experienced dyspareunia, the medical term for painful intercourse, at least once in their life

Myupchar August 21, 2020 22:22:34 IST
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Understanding pain during sex: What is dyspareunia, why it might happen and what you can do about it

While experiencing pain during sex is common, it is not normal. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that nearly three out of four women have experienced dyspareunia, the medical term for painful intercourse, at least once in their life.

Why dyspareunia occurs

But while these statistics do prove that it’s very common, it’s important to remember that no woman should have to suffer in silence. Dyspareunia (di-spuh-ROO-nee-uh) can be temporary or chronic, but understanding why it happens to you may help you get appropriate treatment in time.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the following could be the causes behind experiencing pain during sex:

  • Vaginal dryness due to lack of lubrication or breastfeeding
  • Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Side effects of medications like antihistamines
  • Medical conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids
  • Inflammation in the vagina or vulva
  • Skin diseases affecting the vaginal or vulvar areas
  • Allergic reactions to clothing, douching or spermicides
  • Psychological trauma due to past sexual abuse or trauma

Understanding pain during sex

Identifying these underlying causes behind dyspareunia is likely to provide better avenues of treatment for you, whether it’s through medications or psychological counselling. But understanding what type of painful sex you’re experiencing can go a long way in speeding up this diagnosis.

A 2018 study published in Cureus says that dyspareunia is a complex health issue, and the pain experienced during sex can be broken down into the four types. The diagnosis of the underlying health condition may depend on the type of pain you’re experiencing.

1. Superficial dyspareunia: The pain is felt around the vulva or vaginal entrance.

2. Deep dyspareunia: The pain is perceived inside the vagina or lower pelvis, and is often associated with deep penetration.

3. Primary dyspareunia: The pain occurs at the time when you have sex for the first time in your life.

4. Secondary dyspareunia: The pain starts after some time of pain-free sexual experiences, which can be any time between the first time you had sex and the rest of your life.

The silent impact of dyspareunia

Whatever the reason behind it, dyspareunia can have a huge impact on a woman’s life. The Cureus study also indicated that despite its high prevalence, a lot of women find it difficult to talk about or get treatment for painful sex. This could be due to lack of awareness, the stigma attached to female sexual and reproductive health, or due to lack of access to appropriate healthcare or medical professionals.

Decreased sexual frequency, sexual dysfunction, distressed relationship with a partner and low quality of life are all effects that dyspareunia may have on you, especially if you suffer in silence. It’s equally important to remember that dyspareunia is a pain disorder, and can have a huge impact on both your biological and mental health.

Things you can do about painful sex

Apart from getting treatment for dyspareunia, and trying out sex positions that may reduce dyspareunia, you can also use the following preventive tips:

  • Don’t wear tight, non-cotton underwear and practise good vaginal hygiene.
  • Always pee after sex.
  • Remember to wipe front to back if you’re using toilet paper.
  • Communicate with your partner about comfort, pain and try positions and acts that both of you are comfortable with.
  • If vaginal sex is too painful, try other forms of intimacy like mutual masturbation.
  • You could take a warm bath, empty your bladder and take an over-the-counter pain medication before sex.
  • If you experience pain after intercourse, apply an ice pack.
  • Use lubricants, condoms and other protective barriers for sex.
  • Visit a gynaecologist for regular screenings and any sexual health issues you may have.

For more information, read our article on Pain during sex.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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