Why Your Vagina Sometimes Hurts When You Get Turned On

Pain during arousal is more common than you think.

Here's why your vagina hurts when you get turned on.
İsmail Eren Yalçın/Moment/Getty Images

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 — like a burning sensation when turned on, for example — is worth addressing. So, I decided to investigate: Why does my vagina hurt when I’m turned on?

Here's how it happens: Occasionally, when my partner starts to touch me, 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 of painful arousal like mine, as well as some different ones. A number of discussions and articles from scientific journals explore complaints like pain during arousal, vaginal pain when aroused, ache in the 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.

Why Your Vagina Hurts During Arousal

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Sex researcher Nicole Prause, Ph.D., 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 (but totally harmless), and so are “blue walls.” When you gets aroused (whether you have a penis or vagina), 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 or burning sensation when you get turned on. 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.

You May Experience Pain During Or After Orgasm

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.

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 10 people with vaginas 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 or impedes your ability to enjoy sex, talk to your doctor about it. Sex is for pleasure, and it most definitely should not be painful (unless you're into that).

Studies referenced:

Clayton AH, Valladares Juarez EM. Female Sexual Dysfunction. Med Clin North Am. 2019 Jul;103(4):681-698. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2019.02.008. PMID: 31078200.

Brauer, M., Laan, E. & ter Kuile, M.M. Sexual Arousal in Women with Superficial Dyspareunia. Arch Sex Behav35, 187–196 (2006).

Heim LJ. Evaluation and differential diagnosis of dyspareunia. Am Fam Physician. 2001 Apr 15;63(8):1535-44. PMID: 11327429.

Mitchell, KR, Geary, R, Graham, CA, Datta, J, Wellings, K, Sonnenberg, P, Field, N, D, Nunns, Bancroft, J, Jones, KG, Johnson, AM, Mercer, CH. Painful sex (dyspareunia) in women: prevalence and associated factors in a British population probability survey. BJOG 2017; 124: 1689– 1697.


Nicole Prause, Ph.D., licensed psychologist

Aimee Eyvazzadeh, M.D., OB/GYN