10 Things That Can Make Sex Painful for Women

  • Grimacing woman holding her aching stomach
    Reasons and Remedies for Painful Sex
    Experiencing painful sex isn’t uncommon and 20 to 50% of women experience some form of sexual dysfunction during their lives. Painful intercourse, also known as dyspareunia, covers a wide range of problems with a variety of solutions. Some of these issues can be easily solved while others may take more time to heal. If you’re experience pain during sex, now’s the time to find out the cause and explore options for pleasurable and pain-free intimacy. 



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    1. Not Enough Lubrication
    The phase of your menstrual cycle, childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause can all cause a drop in estrogen and lead to vaginal dryness. Medications for depression, high blood pressure and allergies can also lower the flow of natural vaginal fluids. And we can’t forget the importance of foreplay. Not enough will leave you high and dry. Solutions? At least 20 minutes of stimulation before sex and a water-based lubricant will help things run smoothly. Post-menopausal women may also want to try vaginal moisturizers and vaginal estrogen for a lube boost.



  • Mature woman blowing dandelion flower
    2. Allergies
    Irritation makes for uncomfortable intercourse. Skin irritations in your vaginal area can be caused by a range of irritants ranging from soaps and detergents to allergies to latex condoms and spermicide. If an allergy is keeping you from scratching your itch, try using fragrance-free cleansers for your body and your clothing. Condoms may also be the culprit, so switch to alternate brands of synthetic rubber or lambskin condoms. Just remember that natural condoms may not offer as much protection against pregnancy and STDs as latex ones.  



  • Woman lying in hospital bed
    3. Surgery
    Certain surgeries can cause damage to the pelvic area that results in painful sex. Hysterectomy, vaginal repair for prolapse, episiotomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can all cause pain deep in the vagina. Fortunately, pelvic floor physiotherapy and massage are now being offered as treatment to get your pelvic muscles back in shape. For the short term, pain medications might help ease any pain your experience during sex. A healthy and fulfilling sex life is important, so talk to you doctor to create a treatment plan for your unique condition.



  • American doctor talking to woman in surgery
    4. Endometriosis and Other Pelvic Disorders
    Nearly 50% of women with endometriosis experience pain during or after sex. Other pelvic disorders like pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, cystitis, and ovarian cysts can cause sharp, stabbing pain deep inside the pelvis during sex. Since your hormones change daily and can change the way your body feels, try having sex at different times of the month to see if there’s a week or two that feels best. You can also explore different sexual positions to find one that doesn’t put pressure on areas of your pelvis that are irritated.  



  • Mother lying in bed with baby boy
    5. Having a Baby
    New moms often find sex painful during the first few months after giving birth. Changes in hormones and breastfeeding can create a dip in your estrogen, which may lead to vaginal dryness. Scar tissue from an episiotomy may also cause pain during intercourse. Take a break from sex and wait until your body is ready to fully enjoy it. Most doctors recommend waiting 6 weeks to 3 months. A low-dose estrogen cream may help with dryness in the short term, as well as a good water-based lubricant. 



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    6. Stress
    Short-term and chronic stress can wreak havoc on many areas of your body, including your vagina. Stress causes muscles to tighten in your pelvis and can make sex uncomfortable. If you are experiencing stress, try deep breathing and relaxation techniques before sex and make sure you get 20 minutes of foreplay to help your body relax and lubricate. You might even try setting aside special time for sexual activity as stress relief and focus on relaxing and enjoying how good it makes you feel. 



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    7. Emotional and Psychological Issues
    Emotions play a big role in sexual function. That’s why anxiety, depression, fear of intimacy, or relationship problems can prevent arousal and lead to pain during sex. Sexual abuse can also have a similar effect and make sex an unpleasant experience. A sex therapist or counselor can help you get to the root of your problems so that you can develop a healthy sex life that makes you happy.  



  • Mature woman sitting on bed reading information on pill bottle
    8. Menopause
    In addition to vaginal dryness caused by lowered estrogen, menopausal women may also experience thinning of the vaginal tissues and shortening of the vagina. This can make sex painful and over time, the vaginal tissues will become more irritated and may tear. Talk to your doctor about using a vaginal moisturizer or vaginal estrogen to improve lubrication. The good news is if you have sex regularly, your vagina is less likely to lose its shape or natural lubrication. 



  • woman with cramps
    9. Vaginismus
    This condition causes involuntary muscle spasms in your vaginal walls. These contractions and tightening of the vaginal muscles can make penetration very painful. Vaginismus is triggered by physical or psychological reasons, so it’s important to work with your doctor to determine the cause and find the right treatment. Pelvic floor therapy might be an option to help relax your muscles. Research has also shown that Botox injections could prevent muscle spasms.



  • woman talking to male doctor
    10. Congenital Conditions
    Painful sex is sometimes caused by a condition present at birth such as an imperforate hymen that blocks the opening of the vagina, or vaginal agenesis, where your vagina doesn’t fully form. There are surgeries that can correct these conditions, so talk to your gynecologist about your options. A pleasurable sex life is an important part of a health and wellness. No matter what causes you pain during sex, it’s essential to work with your doctor to find a remedy.



10 Things That Can Make Sex Painful for Women

About The Author

Elizabeth has been writing for Healthgrades since 2014 and specializes in articles about alternative and complementary therapies like meditation, yoga, energy work and aromatherapy. She also performs improv comedy and is a firm believer that laughter really is the best medicine.
  1. When Sex Is Painful. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/When-Sex-Is-Painful
  2. Painful intercourse (dyspareunia). Mayo Clinic.
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/basics/causes/con-20033293
  4. Pain with Penetration. The North American Menopause Society.
  5. http://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/sexual-problems-at-midlife/pain-wi...
    When sex gives more pain than pleasure. Harvard Health Publications.
  6. http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/when-sex-gives-more-pain-than-pleasure
  7. Sexual Health: Female Pain During Sex. Cleveland Clinic.
  8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_sexual-health-female-pain-during-sex

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.