Painful sex sounds like an intuitive enough thing to pinpoint and put a stop to, but the truth is that putting into words the pain commonly experienced during penetrative sex can be tricky. What's "normal" in a culture which devalues women's pain so routinely that we're taught to expect pain during intercourse? How do you know if something is serious enough to talk to a physician or therapist about? Does your partner even care? How experts define sexual pain can be useful information to know, so you can broach the subject with some concrete language.
"Your level of arousal affects whether something feels pleasurable or painful," licensed marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney tells Bustle. "Some kinds of rougher touch like pinching or spanking that might feel awesome when you're intensely aroused can hurt when you're not. This can confuse a partner who knows you liked it last time and doesn't see why you wouldn't now — but that's just the way bodies work."
If you find yourself white-knuckling through sex because it seems too daunting to express what you're feeling, here are a few specific ways experts define sexual pain.