Nearly three out of four women have experienced pain during sex, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Yet despite how common this experience is, women don’t always talk with their doctors about it.
There are a number of reasons that you might be experiencing painful intercourse, or dyspareunia. Some of these reasons could be psychological; for example, if you’re feeling embarrassed, awkward, scared, or ashamed, your body won’t necessarily prepare itself for intercourse. Moreover, if you’re having problems with your partner, such as different levels of desire for sex, that can affect how your body reacts.
Pain during sex is a common sign of endometriosis. Endometrial tissue – or tissue from the lining of the uterus – migrates outside of the womb and adheres to nearby body parts. This causes an uncomfortable inflammatory response, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
Inflamed vagina (vaginitis)
A change in yeast or bacteria causes inflammation of the vagina, according to ACOG. Itching and burning are signs of vaginitis and can contribute to pain during intercourse.
Vaginismus is a spasm or contraction of muscles around the vagina during sex, while inserting a tampon, or during a Pap test, according to Cleveland Clinic. While uncommon, psychological factors can cause it such as fear, anxiety, or other negative emotions associated with sex.
Before and during menopause, decreasing levels of estrogen can cause vaginal dryness, says ACOG. Hormone therapy or vaginal lubricant can help treat this reaction.
Chronic pain in the vulva, or external genital area, is called vulvodynia. There are a number of potential causes for this, including damage to the vulva, inflammation, certain genetic disorders, food sensitivities, and problems with the muscles around the vagina. You can find relief from this pain by wearing cotton underwear during the day (and sleeping without it), avoiding perfumes and deodorants for the vagina, and regularly cleaning your genitals with warm water and soap.
Problems with the cervix and/or uterus
If you’re feeling pain during deep penetration, there might be problems deeper into your reproductive organs than the vagina. One potential condition might be uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous growths in the uterus during fertility.
Having sex too soon after childbirth may cause discomfort in women, according to Cleveland Clinic. Childbirth may also be the source of other causes for dyspareunia, says ACOG, such as episiotomy (tears in the perineum during childbirth) that can cause pain for several months.