Ask Dr. Laura Berman : What Can Pain During Sex Mean?

Ask Dr. Laura Berman

What Can Pain During Sex Mean?

Q: At least once every three or so times that my partner and I have sex, it starts to hurt after a couple of minutes. It hurts so much that he can't even insert the tip of his penis. What does this mean? What could possibly be wrong?
— Liz
Dr. Laura Berman A:  Painful intercourse, otherwise known as dyspareunia, can have either physical or psychological causes. Sex should be enjoyed by both partners at all times, so I'm sorry you are experiencing this disruptive problem.
You mention that the pain occurs about every third time you have sex, which could mean that your vagina is sore from the previous experiences. If this is the case, you might consider taking a day or two to heal between your rendezvous.
Vaginas can get sore, or even bruised, if intercourse is too frequent and rough!
Another suggestion is to use plenty of lubricant during sex to ensure smooth and easy penetration. Sometimes women are unable to produce enough natural lubrication in the vagina, which results in painful sex. A lack of sexual arousal can also cause discomfort: The vagina and uterus need to become responsive before you and your partner jump right in — so taking the time for foreplay is a necessary step.
There are also a couple of health conditions that I recommend you look into. One is vaginismus, a condition in which the vaginal muscles are extremely tight. It is usually a reaction to nervousness or anxiety, so again, foreplay is key. However, sometimes vaginismus is severe enough to require medical intervention or gynecologic physical therapy. Another extremely common but unfortunate cause of pain during sex is known as vulvar vestibulitis, which is characterized by severe pain at the attempt at vaginal entry, and even at the mere touch. Since you experience pain only every three times, this is probably not the case.
If it is a matter of your vagina feeling inflamed when you engage in sex, definitely make an appointment with your gynecologist. Your pain could be the result of an infection — possibly as treatable as a common yeast infection — but it may be much more complicated. Immediate evaluation and treatment of your discomfort is needed, so give yourself a break — stop having intercourse as soon as pain occurs. It is essential that people listen to their bodies! You may be preventing further damage when you stop, depending on the cause of your suffering.
Finally, a healthy mind is important for healthy sex. Negative emotions from past sexual experiences can sometimes create barriers to enjoying one's sexuality for years. If this is the case, it can be helpful to see a sex therapist, who will provide guidance on the way to good health and great sex!

Learn more in the Everyday Health Sexual Health Center.

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