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Painful sex is a frustrating and incredibly personal issue, not to mention one that might feel difficult to talk about and seek help for. But if you are experiencing or have experienced painful sex, you’re certainly not alone — three out of four women report experiencing pain during sex at some point in their lives, and that in mind? This is something that we all should definitely be talking about. Sex is a wonderful part of life, and pain robs us of both the joy and pleasure that we derive from sexual play.

And so, in the spirit of safe, pleasurable, and comfortable sex for all, let’s talk about pain during sex: why you might have it, how to take care of it, and where to seek external help.

Why does it hurt?

Good question. The number one cause of pain during sex is technically vaginal dryness, or your vagina’s inability to lubricate itself. Lubrication is an essential part of the vaginal sexual experience, allowing for a smooth, slippery ride (literally).

Vaginal dryness, however, is rarely a stand-alone issue. Pleasure is a beautiful, complex thing, and as such, your life in and outside of the bedroom impacts your sex drive and capacity to get wet. Health conditions including endometriosis and fibroids can impact libido, arousal, and self-lubrication, as can some medications; mental health struggles including depression and anxiety can wreak similar havoc on your pleasure centers. Hormonal shifts and changes — menopause included — are common culprits as well. Ongoing or unresolved relationship troubles, whether ongoing in your current relationship or rooted in past trauma, can be the cause of dryness as well. If you don’t feel mentally, spiritually, and emotionally comfortable, you can hardly expect to feel physically comfortable. There’s also the classic lack of proper foreplay, which is essential to any high-quality romp. (And in fact, first-time sex for people with vaginas is often painfuldue to a lacking of foreplay, not because your hymen is supposed to tear when you “lose” your viriginity. Sex is never supposed to be painful, and bleeding shouldn’t be the norm — not even during your first time!)

Dryness aside, afflictions including STIs and UTIs often result in pain during sex, however to varying degrees. And with this all in mind: if you’re struggling with dryness and/or pain, try retracing your steps. Consider whether you’ve had any new partners recently, as you may have contracted an STI; if you’re having relationship problems, mental or physical health concerns, or just don’t feel turned on, maybe it’s time to address something (or things). Honesty hour, y’all.

Okay, so how do I deal?

Again, retracing your steps and reflecting a bit on your sex life — as well as your broader, holistic internal and external world — is extraordinarily useful. And as always, we highly encourage professional help. Reach out to your therapist for any mental and emotional stressors, maybe seek couple’s counseling (or even sex therapy!) for relationship woes, and talk to your primary care or OB-GYN about any physical concerns.

And in the meantime? Lube. Lube, lube, lube. If you feel you might have an STI or UTI, abstaining from sex while those clear up is your best call. But when it comes to vaginal dryness? A natural, delicious feeling lube is your dear friend and ally. And so is communication! Whether you’re dialoguing with yourself before any self-pleasure goes down, or working through your struggle with a partner or partner(s), open communication is absolutely critical, too.

We hope this was helpful for you, and if you’re struggling with this, again: you’re absolutely not the only one. Talk to some experts, talk to your partner, and most importantly, talk to yourself — because you absolutely deserve a slippery, sensual, and painless sexual experience. 


This article is by Maggie Harrison-- a rural Pennsylvania-raised, currently New Orleans-based writer and creative whose work covers everything from wellness to social media to grief and loss. Head to her website to learn more about her work, or follow along on Instagram or Twitter.



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