When you're a sex writer, you start to really analyze every weird thing that happens to you during sex — even the things you usually don't even notice. Toward that end, I recently realized I'd been overlooking something that often happens to me: pain upon sexual arousal. The pain I experience is minor, which is why I overlooked it, but any pain during sex is worth addressing. So, I decided to find out what it was.
Here's how it happens: Occasionally, when my partner starts to touch down there, I get an aching sensation. It fades after just a few minutes, but while it's present, it can get pretty distracting from the task at hand (no pun intended). I googled "vagina hurts when I get turned on" and found a few experiences like mine, as well as some different ones. A number of discussions in online forums include complaints like "pain during arousal," "vaginal pain when aroused," "ache in vagina when aroused," and "sharp pain in the vagina when aroused" (though mine is more like a dull ache). So, clearly, I'm not the only one this is happening to.
Sex researcher Nicole Prause, PhD validates that this is a common phenomenon. "Absolutely, the vagina might ache during sexual arousal," she tells Bustle. In fact, if you've experienced this, you probably know what "blue balls" are like — because it's the same idea. When you start to get turned on, all the blood flows there, which can lead to pelvic congestion.
Yup, that's right: Blue balls are real, and so are blue walls. When both men and women get aroused, the blood rushes to the genitals, and if you don't orgasm, it can stay there for up to an hour. The blood left there might cause a dull throbbing. And apparently, this can happen during the process of arousal even if you do eventually reach orgasm.
On top of that, the blood rushing to your vagina makes the walls stretch when you get turned on, and since it's covered in mechanoreceptors that pick up skin stretching, you can feel when your vagina's expanding. "It makes sense that the vagina provides feedback to the brain that it is engorging and stretching and, sometimes, experiences this process with some initial discomfort, especially in the form of an aching feeling," says Prause.
Others may instead experience pain during or right after orgasm, OB/GYN Aimee Eyvazzadeh, M.D., tells Bustle. This usually comes from the muscular contractions that accompany climax. "Vaginal contractions are generally an involuntary muscular response to sexual stimulation, including sexual arousal, and are commonly most intense during sexual intercourse and culminating in orgasm," she says. Pain after orgasm can also result from cramping or pressure on your uterus during sex.
Don't worry — that doesn't mean you're forever fated to find sexual arousal painful. If you want to reduce the discomfort, you may want to focus on foreplay — like, foreplay to your foreplay. Kissing, above-the-belt touching, and even just flirting can get the blood flowing down there slowly instead of all at once, as it might if your partner just reaches into your pants.
If the pain is severe or lasts beyond those first few minutes of arousal or those last few minutes following orgasm, it may be something else entirely, though. Almost one in ten women experiences pain during sex, according to a study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the reasons can range from endometriosis to vulvodynia to inadequate arousal. If any discomfort gets distressing, talk to your doctor about it. Sex is for pleasure, and it most definitely should not be painful (unless you're into that).