Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)
Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)
Painful intercourse can be difficult to talk about. If you're experiencing painful intercourse, you may wonder if the pain is all in your head or the result of something you're doing wrong in bed. After all, sex is supposed to be pleasurable, right?
The truth is that sex isn't pleasurable or pain-free for all women all the time. In fact, many women experience painful intercourse at some point in their lives, for a variety of very normal reasons. The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia (dis-puh-ROO-ne-uh) — which is defined as persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse and that causes you personal distress. And painful intercourse is worth talking about, because there are treatments that can help eliminate or reduce this common problem.
Researchers estimate that up to 1 in 5 women experience episodes of genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse. But the location of pain and frequency of pain varies greatly. If you experience painful intercourse, you may feel:
Most women with dyspareunia complain of superficial pain, which occurs upon penetration.
When to see a doctor
Causes of painful intercourse vary by the location of the pain.
Causes of entry pain
Causes of deep pain
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell whether psychological factors are associated with dyspareunia. Initial pain can lead to fear of recurring pain, making it difficult to relax, which can lead to more pain. As with any pain in your body, you might develop a tendency to guard that area of your body and even avoid the activities that you associate with the pain.
Preparing for your appointment
If you have recurrent pain during sex, talking to your doctor is the first step in resolving it. Primary care doctors and gynecologists often ask about sex and intimacy as part of a routine medical visit, and you can take this opportunity to discuss your concerns. Your regular doctor may diagnose and treat the problem or refer you to a specialist who can.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Questions your doctor may ask
Tests and diagnosis
A medical evaluation for dyspareunia usually consists of:
Treatments and drugs
Painful intercourse used to be viewed primarily as a psychological problem that required psychological treatment. Fortunately, that view is outdated. Researchers and doctors now understand the many causes of dyspareunia and recommend an integrated, multifaceted treatment approach. Your particular treatment depends on the underlying cause of your pain.
Sexual techniques and counseling
Medications and therapies
Coping and support
Until vaginal penetration becomes less painful and bothersome, try broadening your bedroom repertoire. You and your partner might find other options to be more comfortable, more fulfilling and more fun than the same-old routine. Sensual massage, kissing and mutual masturbation can all be good alternatives to intercourse. Besides, trying different things can do more for your sexual relationship than clinging to a narrow view of what does or doesn't constitute good sex.
Make some changes to your hygiene habits to help minimize pain or discomfort during sex. Avoid scented bath products, such as body washes and shower gels. These products can irritate your genital area and impair your natural lubrication, particularly if you overuse them. Skip douching as well.
Last Updated: 2009-12-08
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