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Why does it hurt when I have sex?

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Sexual Health

Sex can be a very enjoyable part of our lives, but in some cases, it can cause discomfort and even pain. Many men and women have experienced painful sex at some point, but that doesn’t mean that this is something that you need to get used to. 

If you’ve ever wondered why it hurts when you have sex, keep reading this article to discover some of the possible causes of painful sex, and what you can do about them. 

Why does it hurt when I have sex?

Dyspareunia is the medical term used to refer to recurrent or persistent painful sex. According to the Mayo Clinic, dyspareunia is defined as genital pain that happens before, during, or after having sex.

There are many possible reasons behind dyspareunia. Its causes can range from psychological worries surrounding sex, past traumatic experiences, and anatomical or physiological problems. Sex shouldn’t be painful, and it’s very important to seek professional help to relieve or eliminate painful sex. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, painful sex can be divided into different categories, including:

  • Entry pain: also known as intraorbital or superficial dyspareunia, the pain happens during initial penetration. It can be caused by lack of lubrication or arousal, genital injury, or an infection.
  • Deep pain: also known as collision dyspareunia, this type of pain happens during thrusting. It’s more commonly associated with medical conditions or previous surgical procedures.
  • Primary dyspareunia: this term describes painful intercourse that has been constant since you started having sex.
  • Secondary dyspareunia: this refers to dyspareunia that develops after experiencing pain-free intercourse.
  • Complete pain: the pain happens every time you have intercourse.
  • Situational pain: the pain only occurs occasionally.

Painful sex in women

Dyspareunia is more common among women. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 3 out of every 4 women report having had pain during sex at some point in their lives. Women can feel pain externally (from the labia to the opening of the vagina) or internally (at the cervix, uterus, or abdomen).

Some of the causes of painful sex in women include:

  • Vaginal atrophy: this condition occurs when the lining of the vagina becomes thin, dry, and tender. Vaginal atrophy is more common in postmenopausal women, but it can affect women of all ages due to different conditions.
  • Endometriosis: the endometrium, which is the innermost layer of the uterus, grows outside of the uterus and becomes inflamed during intercourse.
  • Ectopic pregnancy: in this type of pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterine cavity (usually in the fallopian tubes), which causes pain and bleeding.
  • Vulvodynia: chronic vulvar pain due to different reasons.
  • Psychological issues: different mental health problems, such as low self esteem, body dysmorphia, and anxiety can lead to dyspareunia. This is also frequent in women who are survivors of sexual abuse and trauma.
  • Having intercourse too soon after childbirth or a surgical procedure.
  • Vaginal infections, such as STDs.
  • Ovarian cysts.
  • Anatomical variations.
  • Skin disorders affecting the skin around your genitals.

Painful sex in men

Men can also suffer from painful sex due to several causes. However, sex shouldn’t be painful for men, either. According to Planned Parenthood, some of the causes of painful sex in men include:

  • Phimosis or paraphimosis (tight foreskin)
  • Latex allergy
  • Allergy to spermicides
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Anatomical variations
  • Irritation from a previous activity
  • A history of sexual abuse or trauma

How to prevent painful sex?

There are different steps you can take to prevent or relieve painful sex. It’s very important to communicate with your partner about what you’re feeling, your boundaries, and tell them if you’re feeling discomfort before, during, and after sex. Consent is an incredibly important part of sex, and you should feel comfortable saying “no” at any point during intercourse — even if you’ve already started to have sex.

In some cases, simple techniques such as using more lubricant or switching positions can relieve painful sex. But it’s necessary to identify the underlying cause behind dyspareunia in order to be able to treat it successfully.

You should talk openly about painful sex with your healthcare provider. In order to diagnose the cause of the problem, your doctor could suggest doing a thorough physical examination, and they may order laboratory and imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, it will be much easier to determine what the next step should be.

The treatment for dyspareunia will vary depending on its cause. Infectious conditions, such as STDs, may be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Other causes, however, can be more complicated to treat. Your doctor could recommend therapy to help you cope with dyspareunia, or to discuss past traumatic experiences.

The good news is that most cases of dyspareunia can be solved or managed through the right treatment. You shouldn’t rush into having sex until you feel comfortable with yourself and with your partner. You can learn more about other sexual health topics at STDWatch.com.


Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) - mayoclinic.org

Dyspareunia (Painful Intercourse) - my.clevelandclinic.org

When Sex Is Painful - acog.org

Is sex painful for guys the first time? - plannedparenthood.org

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Mar 25, 2022

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