7 Types Of Pain During Sex & How To Deal With Them
A woman lying down and holding her hands between her thighs because of pain during sex
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Everyone has to right to experience pleasure during sex, but for all too many women, sex is not only pleasure-less but painful. Pain during sex is an epidemic among women, with one in 10 reporting it in one study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The causes of sexual pain range from medical conditions to inadequate stimulation, but no matter what's causing it, there are workarounds.

One solution that should help pretty much anyone experiencing pain during sex is to get super turned on before you start. "If the vagina isn't aroused enough, it has received insufficient extra blood flow to get as cushy and stretchy as it is likely to get during high arousal," Good Vibrations resident sexologist Carol Queen tells Bustle. "So [pain during sex] can happen to people who start intercourse sooner than the insertive partner is ready for." Make sure you don't feel rushed or pressured into sex; only do what you truly desire.

But since pain during sex can come from so many different sources, the solution isn't one-size-fits-all. The first step is to figure out where it's coming from. Once you know that, here are some expert solutions to each root issue.


A Medical Condition

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The first step if you're experiencing pain during sex is to talk to a doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition. This is especially important if you're having other symptoms like painful periods or pelvic pain outside sexual situations. "Without a pelvic ultrasound and expert gynecologic care, you may be ignoring a serious issue," OB/GYN Aimee Eyvazzadeh tells Bustle.

Conditions that can cause painful sex include endometriosis, vulvodynia, and interstitial cystitis. If you suffer from one of these conditions, it's important for your partner to understand it's not your fault and to be patient as supportive as you figure out treatments and ways to make sex more comfortable. Here are some tips for reducing pain during sex from women who experience pelvic pain, and here's a list of products made to help women with these conditions enjoy sex.


Overly Deep Penetration

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Many people experience pain during sex because their partners are penetrating them too deeply, says Queen. "Some people just find thrusting against their cervix to be irritating or painful, so when they have intercourse with a too-long-for-comfort partner, it's an issue," she says. Fortunately, there are a number of products that help with this. The OhNut, which consists of three donut-like rings so you can customize the length, goes around the penis to effectively shorten it during sex.

Queen also recommends putting a sex sleeve like the Apollo Max Masturbation Penis Sleeve, Good Head Sleeve Mini Stroker, or Jackits Throttle Stroker around the base of the penis. "The point is basically to prevent some part of the penis length from entering, and of course it's a big plus if whatever you use for that purpose feels nice to the penis in question," she says. "Plus, whatever you use this way, choose a shape or material that will feel nice on the vulva too. Best-case scenario it actually stimulates both partners more."

Spending more time on foreplay might also help with this, since the vagina elongates as arousal increases, says Queen. And another solution is to change positions, says Eyvazzadeh. Positions that let you control the depth of penetration include reverse cowgirl and standing doggy style. "Suggest to your partner that you want sex to continue to be enjoyable so you need to switch positions," Eyvazzadeh says. "Let them know that the penetration is too deep, and by finding a new position, you'll both be able to enjoy sex."


Tight Pelvic Floor Muscles

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The pelvic floor is the set of muscles around the vagina, anus, bladder, and other organs in the pelvis. When these muscles get tight, anything that puts pressure on them can become painful. Chronically tight pelvic floor muscles can lead to vaginisumus — squeezing of the vaginal muscles when something tries to enter it, says Queen. Its causes can range from sexual trauma to physical injury.

If you're experiencing vaginismus or other symptoms of tight pelvic floor muscles, a pelvic floor physical therapist can loosen the muscles and teach you exercises to do so yourself. "There are many wonderful physical therapists who specialize in this area of the body," says Eyvazzadeh. "Talk to your gynecologist about who they recommend." In addition, she adds, some women use dilators to loosen their pelvic floor before sex.


Skin Irritation

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Penetration can sometimes irritate the skin of the labia or vagina, especially if it's dry, says Queen. If the issue is dryness, lube and lots of foreplay can help. If you're already using lube, try switching to a different kind to make sure that's not the issue. (Here are some lubes that generally aren't irritating.) Other things that come into contact with your genitals, like lotions, underwear, and soap, could also contribute, says Eyvazzadeh.

Sometimes, vaginal irritation can result from an infection like an STI or yeast infection, so if there's a lot of discomfort, you'll want to see a doctor. "Your partner should be treated, too, or else you run the risk of ping-ponging an infection back and forth," says Queen.

You can also prevent genital irritation by staying clean. Eyvazzadeh recommends having both of you shower before sex, cleaning your genitals with a peribottle afterward, and peeing both before and after sex.


Non-Genital Pain

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Some people experience pain during sex in their backs, joints, and other body parts outside their genitals. This can stem from musculoskeletal issues and diseases like fibromyalgia that make touch uncomfortable, says Queen.

If this is happening to you, finding the right position is crucial. You may even want to buy sex furniture like Liberator's products to help you get comfortable. "Also, a person troubled with this kind of pain needs to be aware of what things trigger it or make it worse —positioning your body a certain way, a partner's weight on you, etc. — and look for alternate positions," says Queen. "Pain meds can sometimes help."


Feeling Like You Have To Pee

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Feeling like you have to pee during sex could stem from a number of things, from tight pelvic floor muscles to female ejaculation to actually having to pee, says Queen. It's also common to feel like you have to pee after you orgasm, since your uterus and vagina contract around your bladder.

A simple way to avoid this issue is to pee before sex, says Eyvazzadeh. You should also be peeing after sex to prevent UTIs. And if you feel like you have to pee during sex, you should do that as well. "It's really important to listen to your body," says Eyvazzadeh. "If your body is telling you to pee, listen and go pee. Not peeing could lead to a urine infection."

If the feeling is strange but not uncomfortable and it persists after you pee, it could be a sign that you're going to squirt, says Queen. As long as it's not hurting you, you may want to try continuing through it to see what happens.


Pain During Ovulation

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"We often get calls from the ER: 'I have a woman here who is having pelvic pain.' The first question we ask is: 'Where is she in her menstrual cycle?'" says Eyvazzadeh. Sometimes, ovulation can trigger pain during sex because your partner is pushing on your ovaries. Pain during ovulation, whether or not it's during sex, is sometimes called "mittelshmertz," and it's usually not serious, Eyvazzadeh adds. "But if it continues, see your doctor for an evaluation because it could be a sign of a cyst that isn't going away."

No matter what's causing your pain, you deserve to have sex without it, so enlist the help of a doctor, sex therapist, physical therapist, sex toy, or anything else that will help you find relief and have the sex life you desire.