Revealed: Causes of Painful Sex & How to Treat It

Revealed: Causes of Painful Sex & How to Treat It

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By Steve Page

Vaginal pain during sex is a common problem that can be difficult to discuss and embarrassing to talk about. This guide is here to help those who may be experiencing vaginal pain to better understand the causes and treatments available. We’ll cover the anatomy of the female reproductive system, how it works and how it relates to vaginal pain during sex. We’ll also explore common causes as well as less common causes, differences between different age groups, treatments, and self-care techniques. It’s important to remember that with the right information and support you can find relief from vaginal pain during sex.

Vaginal pain during sex is often caused by an underlying issue. In order to identify and treat the issue, it’s important to understand what causes vaginal pain during sex. There are a variety of causes that range from physical conditions to psychological factors and everything in between. We will discuss common causes such as STIs, endometriosis, vulvodynia, certain medications, abnormal pH levels, medical devices, and more. We will also be exploring less common causes such as dryness, allergies, pelvic floor dysfunction, and trauma.

We will take a look at what vaginal pain may be like for different age groups. Young women may experience pain related to the texture of the skin or structure of the vagina. Menopausal women experience pain due to thinning of the vaginal walls. Postmenopausal women may find that their vaginal walls become weak and thin, leading to pain during sex.

Finally, we’ll discuss treatments and self-care techniques to help relieve symptoms and reduce the likelihood of future pain. Treatments range from over-the-counter lubricants to pharmaceutical therapies, and even surgery in some cases. As well as physical treatments, there are lifestyle changes that can be made to help reduce pain. For example, reducing stress, improving sleep hygiene, and incorporating gentle stretching into your daily routine can all help to ease vaginal pain during sex.

By the end of this guide, readers will have the necessary knowledge to speak confidently and accurately with health care professionals in order to get the best possible treatment and start their journey to finding pain-free sex.

What is Vaginal Pain During Sex?

Vaginal pain during sex, also known as dyspareunia, is a condition that causes discomfort or pain in the vagina during sexual activity. It is estimated that nearly 3 in every 10 women of reproductive age experience some form of discomfort or pain during sex. This can range from mild to severe, and can be felt on the vulva, inside the vagina, or deep within the pelvis.

There are three main types of pain experienced during sex: superficial pain, deep pain, and a burning sensation. Superficial pain occurs at the entrance of the vagina and is usually due to inadequate lubrication. Deep pain is felt deeper within the vagina, sometimes accompanied by cramping, and it can be caused by conditions such as endometriosis. The burning sensation is caused by many factors, such as inflammation or irritation.

The discomfort or pain associated with vaginal pain during sex can be acute (sudden, short-term), or chronic (long-term). In some cases, it may also be concluded by pelvic exam or imaging. While this condition can affect any woman, it is most common among people who have had multiple partners, are post-menopausal, or have had a history of pelvic surgery.

Anatomy of the Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive system is made up of several organs, each of which plays an important role in hormone production, fertility, and sexual pleasure. The most notable organs are the uterus, vagina, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

The uterus is a muscular organ that is located between the bladder and the rectum with a thin neck known as the cervix extending into the vagina. It is connected to the ovaries by the fallopian tubes and also houses a fertilized egg until it’s ready to be birthed.

The vagina is a tubular passage that connects the cervix to the outside of the body. It is lined with elastic muscles that expand and contract during sexual arousal and during childbirth.

The ovaries are two almond-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus. They produce eggs and hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle.

The fallopian tubes are passageways for fertilized eggs to move from the ovaries to the uterus. They are also responsible for carrying unfertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus during ovulation.

These organs work together to produce hormones, carry eggs, and provide a space for fertilized eggs to develop. However, they can also be a source of pain during sex if something goes wrong.

Physiology – Exploring Normal Anatomy and How it Contributes to Pain During Sex

It’s important to understand the physiology of sexual intercourse and the female reproductive system in order to know why vaginal pain may occur during sex. The female reproductive system includes the cervix, uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This system is responsible for menstruation, childbirth, and sexual pleasure.

The vagina itself is a tube-like organ that stretches from the cervix to the vulva. It is made up of three layers of tissue including the mucosa, muscularis, and adventitia. The mucosa is the innermost layer, which is moist and contains glands that help to lubricate the vagina. The muscularis is the middle layer, which is composed of smooth muscles that contract and relax. This layer helps to keep the vagina closed and regulate pressure within the canal. The adventitia is the outermost layer, which is made up of connective tissue that helps to protect the vagina and support the walls of the vagina.

There are two main functions of the vagina during sexual activity: lubrication and sensation. Lubrication helps to reduce friction and make penetration more comfortable, while sensation helps to provide pleasure. When the right amount of lubrication and sensation is present, vaginal intercourse will typically be enjoyable for both partners. However, when there is a lack of lubrication or sensation, or too much of either, vaginal pain can occur during sex.

Vaginal pain can also be caused by development issues in the female reproductive system, such as endometriosis (when tissue from the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body), adenomyosis (when endometrial tissue grows into the muscular wall of the uterus), uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths in the uterus), and pelvic inflammatory disease (an infection of the reproductive organs). All of these conditions can cause inflammation, irritation, or scarring of the vaginal tissues, resulting in pain during intercourse.

Common Causes of Vaginal Pain During Sex

Vaginal pain during sex can be caused by a variety of conditions and issues. The most common causes are as follows:

  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): STIs can cause a range of symptoms including pain during sex. Common STIs that can cause pain include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and trichomoniasis. It is important to get tested regularly for STIs.
  • Endometriosis: Endometriosis is when the tissue normally found inside the uterus grows outside the uterus which can often lead to pain during sex. Endometriosis is often treated with medication, surgery, or a combination of the two.
  • Vulvodynia: Vulvodynia is a chronic condition where there is unexplained pain in the vulva/vagina that can last for months or even years. Treatment may include medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.
  • Vaginal Dryness: Vaginal dryness can be caused by inadequate lubrication, menopause, and certain medications. If your partner is using spermicide or a lubricant that irritates the vagina, this could also be the source of your discomfort. Using a lubricant or moisturizer can help alleviate this symptom.
  • Infection: Certain infections such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or urinary tract infections can lead to pain during sex. You should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Allergies/Sensitivities: Allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain products or materials can also cause pain during sex. Products that come into contact with the vagina, such as condoms and lubricants, might be possible sources of irritation.

These are the most common causes of vaginal pain during sex, but there are other less common causes that can also be the source of your discomfort. In some cases, the cause of the pain may be unknown.

What are the Less Common Causes of Vaginal Pain During Sex?

Vaginal pain during sex can have a range of underlying causes, some more common than others. Some of the less common culprits include certain types of medications, abnormal vaginal pH levels, and medical devices such as pessaries and intrauterine devices (IUDs).


Certain medications can be a cause of vaginal pain during sex. These include antihistamines, decongestants, and even fertility drugs such as clomiphene citrate. These drugs can act as vasoconstrictors, narrowing the blood vessels in the vagina and reducing the supply of blood to the area. This can lead to dryness and pain during intercourse.

Abnormal pH Levels

The presence of an abnormally high or low amount of bacteria in the vagina can cause pain during sex. This is because when the amount of bacteria is not balanced, it can cause the vaginal pH levels to become too low or too high. An imbalance of these levels can lead to irritation and discomfort in the vagina, which can make sex painful.

Medical Devices

Certain medical devices can cause vaginal pain during sex. For example, pessaries are devices inserted into the vagina to treat stress urinary incontinence, and IUDs are used for contraception. Both can cause increased sensitivity of the vaginal walls, leading to pain during intercourse.

If you’re experiencing vaginal pain during sex, it’s important to see your doctor to determine the underlying cause. They can help you find a treatment option that works best for you.

Age and Vaginal Pain During Sex

For many women, the occurrence of vaginal pain during sex changes over time. The age at which a woman experiences vaginal pain during sex varies from person to person, but there are some key differences that can be observed between young women, menopausal women, and postmenopausal women.

Young Women

Young women generally experience fewer instances of vaginal pain during sex than their older counterparts. This can be attributed to the fact that younger women are typically more sexually active and their bodies tend to be more “elastic” in terms of responding to sexual stimuli. However, it is important to note that young women may still experience vaginal pain during sex due to various physical, psychological, and environmental factors.

Menopausal Women

Women who are going through menopause tend to experience more vaginal pain than young women or postmenopausal women. This is partly due to hormonal changes, specifically in levels of estrogen, which can lead to dryness and a decrease in lubrication. Lower estrogen levels also result in thinning of the vaginal tissue and an increase in sensitivity, which can make sexual intercourse particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, changes in muscle tone and structure can cause increased discomfort with sexual activities.

Postmenopausal Women

Postmenopausal women are able to experience intercourse without discomfort, as long as there is adequate lubrication and stimulation. Postmenopausal women also tend to have longer-lasting sensation and arousal during sexual activity due to improved blood flow and better quality of vaginal tissue. Additionally, the vaginal walls become thicker and stronger, providing more control and less pain when engaging in sexual intercourse.

It is important for all individuals, regardless of age, to speak to their doctor about any vaginal pain they are having during sex, as this could be a sign of other underlying medical issues that need to be addressed.

Treatments for Vaginal Pain During Sex

When it comes to treatments for vaginal pain during sex, there are three main options: behavioral, pharmaceutical, and surgical. Depending on the cause and severity of your pain, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.

Behavioral Treatments

The first approach to managing vaginal pain during sex is through behavioral treatments. This includes physical therapy, education on sexual intercourse, pelvic muscle relaxation, and cognitive behavior therapy. Behavioral therapy has been shown to offer relief from pain and is a great option for those who want to avoid taking medications.

Pharmaceutical Treatments

For more serious cases of pain, your doctor may recommend pharmaceutical treatments. This could include topical creams, oral medications, and hormonal treatments. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about possible side effects and interactions with any other medications you are taking.

Surgical Treatments

The final option for treating vaginal pain during sex is through surgery. This is usually used in cases where other methods have failed to provide relief. Surgical treatments can involve removing endometrial tissue or other objects causing pain, correcting abnormal anatomy, or injecting nerve tissue to reduce inflammation. As with any surgery, it is important to discuss the risks and recovery times with your doctor to determine if it is the right option for you.

Self-Care & Lifestyle Changes

When it comes to self-care, there are many lifestyle changes that may help relieve symptoms associated with vaginal pain during sex. Here are just a few:

  • Engaging in relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Using lubricants like coconut oil or water-soluble lubricants while having sex.
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Avoiding certain foods and activities that may cause irritation or inflammation.
  • Getting plenty of sleep.
  • Managing stress levels.

It is always advised to speak to a qualified healthcare professional about the best self-care and lifestyle changes for your individual situation. Depending on the underlying cause, these changes may be able to provide some relief from the pain associated with vaginal pain during sex.

Concluding Remarks

Vaginal pain during sex can have a range of causes, from common and treatable conditions like STIs and endometriosis, to less frequent issues like medications and abnormal pH levels. There are also certain factors that can play a role, such as age and lifestyle. To optimize your health and wellbeing and reduce the discomfort caused by vaginal pain during sex, it is important to seek help from healthcare professionals. Treatment options range from pharmaceuticals and surgical interventions to self-care techniques and lifestyle changes. It is recommended that if you are experiencing persistent vaginal pain during sex, you should speak to your doctor about the best approach for you.

We hope this guide has provided you with the necessary information to better understand the causes of vaginal pain during sex and find the right plan of action for your individual needs. Remember, everyone is different, and don’t feel discouraged if it takes some time to find relief. With the right medical attention and commitment, you can live a life free of pain and discomfort.


Vaginal pain during sex is often an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience, but with the proper knowledge and resources, it can be managed or prevented. There are a variety of resources online that can help you learn more about causes, treatments, and prevention of vaginal pain during sex.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and their connection to vaginal pain. Some STD symptoms, such as genital warts and herpes sores, can cause discomfort during or after sex. The CDC also has detailed information on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of STDs.

The World Health Organization provides comprehensive information on sexual health, including topics related to vaginal pain. Their website offers resources on pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause pain during or after sex, and other gynaecological conditions and infections.

Internet health resources such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic also offer helpful information about causes, treatments, and prevention of vaginal pain during sex. They provide detailed descriptions of potential causes and treatments, as well as advice on how to talk with your health care provider.

Finally, you can always speak with your doctor about any questions or concerns you have about vaginal pain during sex. They will be able to provide the best information and guidance tailored to your individual situation.

Getting Professional Help

Vaginal pain during sex is a very common issue and sometimes can be caused by underlying medical problems that need to be addressed. It is important for anyone experiencing pain during sex to seek professional help from their doctor or gynecologist in order to properly diagnose and treat the cause of the pain. Women should never hesitate to share honest descriptions of their symptoms with their healthcare provider in order to get the most effective treatments.

In addition to talking to a doctor, there are many resources available online and in books that can help provide information and support. It’s also recommended that women learn more about their anatomy, physiology, and how it relates to sexual pleasure to help them better understand their body and any issues they may encounter.

If you’ve been experiencing vaginal pain during sex and would like to learn more, it’s important to note that seeking professional help is the best way to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment of the condition. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or gynecologist for help if you’re concerned about your symptoms.

FAQs About Causes of Vaginal Pain During Sex

  • Q: What is vaginal pain during sex?
    A: Vaginal pain during sex, also known as dyspareunia, is a condition in which women experience pain or discomfort when engaging in sexual activity. This discomfort or pain may be felt in the genitals, lower abdomen, or lower back.
  • Q: What anatomy is involved with vaginal pain during sex?
    A: The anatomy of the female reproductive system is composed of a number of different parts, including the vulva, labia, clitoris, vagina, cervix, and uterus. These body parts work together and can contribute to causing vaginal pain during sex.
  • Q: What are some common causes of vaginal pain during sex?
    A: Some of the most common causes of vaginal pain during sex include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), endometriosis, vulvodynia, vaginal infection, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), menopause, and certain medications.
  • Q: What are some less common causes of vaginal pain during sex?
    A: Less common causes of vaginal pain during intercourse include abnormal pH levels, natural changes in the body such as during menopause or post-menopause, use of certain medical devices such as a diaphragm or tampon, and trauma related to childbirth.
  • Q: What treatments are available for vaginal pain during sex?
    A: Treatment options for vaginal pain during sex vary depending on the underlying cause. Common treatments include behavioral therapy, medications, and surgery. Self-care measures and lifestyle modifications such as proper diet and exercise may also help alleviate symptoms.
  • Q: Are there any risk factors that make someone more likely to experience vaginal pain during sex?
    A: Yes – some factors that increase a person’s risk of experiencing vaginal pain during sex may include age (with younger and postmenopausal women being at higher risk), medication use, poor hygiene, stress, and genetics.
  • Q: What resources are available for people who want to learn more about this topic?
    A: There are a variety of resources available to those interested in learning more about the causes, treatments, and prevention of vaginal pain during sex. Visit the National Institute of Health’s Office of Women’s Health website, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology website, and the Mayo Clinic website for additional information.