Why does sex hurt so much?

If you experience penetration difficulties that hurt or cause discomfort, please know you’re not alone. Estimates vary, but studies say that as many as 20 percent of women have pain during vaginal penetration. That’s 20 percent too high. “Dyspareunia” is the medical, catch-all term for conditions that cause pain during intercourse, but that word seems too clinical in light of the intense physical pain and emotional trauma many women experience.

The medical community has evolved when addressing the issue of pain during vaginal penetration. Not long ago, many doctors simply said that sexual pain was an indication that a woman “didn’t want to have sex” or that her partner needed to better “prepare her for sex.” Not only is that response disrespectful, it is also uninformed. Fortunately, many doctors now are far more enlightened about causes of painful sex and how to address it.  

Here’s a helpful summary of potential causes and treatments of dyspareunia from the Mayo Clinic. This information covers possible causes like vaginismus (an involuntary clenching of the muscles in the vagina), sexually transmitted infections, infections, vaginal dryness, inflammation, congenital issues and other factors. Also, it discusses diagnosis treatment options. Of course, self-educating is good only up to a point. If this article resonates with you or the problems persist, always consult with a qualified doctor like an OB-GYN or pelvic health specialist.  

Additionally, for better or worse, our minds are very powerful. For example, if you’ve been sexually abused or taught that “sex is dirty,” your brain may think it’s doing you a favor by literally closing you to penetration, possibly leading to vaginismus as mentioned above. 

This incredible story by an intimacy coach explores her own inner journey to uncover and mend causes of the painful sex she was experiencing. In her case, issues of self-worth and sexual passivity triggered physical reactions. Her advice to women who may be in the same position is to: 

1. Tune in to your body and listen

2. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and telling yourself

3. Speak up

So, if you’re wondering why you are experiencing penetration difficulties or sex is hurting you, please know that there is most likely an answer. Sure, something may be going on “down there” but don’t let it reduce your confidence or make you feel lacking as a partner. 

There are treatments for various physical conditions and for the psychological impulses that may be triggering them. Do more research, talk to a professional and above all, take control and be empowered. 

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