Missionary holds a special place in my heart: It’s the first sex position I ever tried, and whether you do it with a new fling or a long-term partner, there’s something deeply profound about having sex mere inches away from another person’s face. But Missionary sex, a penetrative position where one partner lies on their back and the other on top, can also be intense, and not in the “this sexual tension is too much” sense. In fact, Missionary can be straight-up painful. Sometimes, one stroke can just hit the wrong spot. To get to the root of why Missionary can be more irritating than intimate, I spoke to Dr. Samantha DuFlo, or Dr. Sam, a pelvic floor therapist, to get some answers about why Missionary isn’t always as pleasurable as the movies can make it seem.
Why Missionary Sex Can Be Painful
If you’re having sex in the Missionary position, it is crucial that you’re well lubricated. According to Dr. Sam, sex can be painful if vaginal tissue is dry or thin. If your vagina is dry, and you continue to have penetrative sex with a penis, sex toy, or fingers, you can experience feelings ranging from slight discomfort and tightness to severe pain. This is because dryness and thin tissue can lead to issues like vaginal tears. There are many reasons behind why the tissue around your vagina feels dry, but it boils down to one root cause: your hormones.
Dr. Sam says that when your estrogen levels are low, it can be difficult for your vagina to get wet enough to make penetration feel good. “Estrogen helps keep the tissue around the vagina lush, plump, and lubricated,” she says. She goes on to say that the reasons why your estrogen levels may be low can vary. “If you’re a competitive athlete and have a low body weight, or if you’ve just had a baby or are about to go through menopause.” Even stress can mess with your estrogen. Of course, vaginal dryness isn’t always 100% due to a hormonal issue — If you’re not fully aroused before having sex in the Missionary position, it can also lead to pain. Dr. Sam says that when you’re not fully turned on, your vagina can’t handle penetration the way it normally would, but you’re at “peak horny,” your vagina can increase in size up to 200%. So, if you’re not fully turned on, it may feel especially tight and downright painful when something or someone tries to enter you. Another reason? Your partner might just be too deep inside of you. “If your partner or toy is too long and bumping your cervix, that can be really uncomfortable for people,” Dr. Sam says.
Additionally, Missionary pain could be pelvic floor-related. Contrary to the belief that you have to tighten your pelvic floor muscles in order to have the best sex possible, Dr. Sam says the main culprit of pelvic pain is often that your pelvic floor muscles are either spasming or too tight. When these muscles are too tight, trying to insert anything in your vagina is going to be painful because your muscles will be resistant to penetration. The best way to address pelvic floor issues is actually working with a pelvic floor therapist like Dr. Sam, who will be able to work with you on a treatment plan and exercises that correct any problems related to over-tightened pelvic floor muscles.
How To Make Missionary More Comfortable
Dr. Sam says it’s important that you focus on foreplay and getting turned on prior to penetration, taking time to make sure your vagina is well lubricated. When in doubt, add more lube! There are tons of different lubes out there: oil-based or water-based, scented or unscented. Pick the one that works best for you, your body, and your partner’s needs (but remember, if you’re using latex condoms, oil-based lube will degrade them down and make them more susceptible to breaking).
Moreover, you can try changing the position of your hips, either by moving your body to create a tilt in your pelvis or putting a pillow down under you. And if the root cause of pain is coming from penetration being too deep, that may not mean Missionary is off the table for you. “You can use your hands to control the depth when your partner is hip thrusting” Being in the Missionary position means you have more access to your partner physically, and it may be easier to communicate with them than in other positions. Dr. Sam recommends verbally communicating with your partner to let them know that they’re going too deep or using your hands to control how deep your partner is penetrating you. To that end, it’s important that you’re having sex with a partner that you can communicate with and that you trust. That way, it’s easy to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.
If you’re having sex with a partner with a penis, Dr. Sam also recommends trying a wearable intimate called Ohnut. The Ohnut is made up of four stackable, soft rings that your partner can put on the base of their penis. These rings help control the depth of penetration without sacrificing pleasure for either of you.
Other Positions You Can Try
If none of the above works for you, and Missionary is still painful, Dr. Sam recommends relaxing your pelvis by laying on your side or on your stomach, which slackens your pelvic floor muscles and allows more room for penetration. A position that gives you more control over how far your partner is inside of you can be helpful as well. You can try having sex Doggy Style, which allows you to move away or closer to your partner depending on how intense you want them to be thrusting into you.
If none of these suggestions work and Missionary continues to be painful for you, consider seeing a gynecologist or pelvic floor therapist (or both!) to investigate the root causes. Additionally, pain during sex can be incredibly stressful, especially when you’re trying to pinpoint the problem or solution. In conjunction with seeing a doctor or specialist, it may be worth it to consider seeking out a therapist as well.
For many people with vulvas, it can be difficult to feel like healthcare professionals really hear you, so take time to find a doctor that spends time with you, hears you out, and works with you to find a solution.
Dr. Samantha DuFlo, or Dr. Sam, pelvic floor therapist