When Sex Hurts

Sarah Albert


Jenna's Story
"I used to find sex unbearable," says Jenna, 24, a grad-student at Columbia University in New York City. Last year, when Jenna was hooking up with different guys, she found that sex was literally a pain in her private parts. "I felt ashamed and embarrassed because none of my friends had this problem," she remembers.

A Common Misconception
Painful sex is not just a problem for prudes or asexual people. "Many women experience some degree of pain during intercourse at some point in their life," says Adelaide Nardone, M.D., a gynecologist in private practice in Mount Kisco, NY.

Painful intercourse, or dyspareunia, is quite common, and there are numerous factors that may contribute to the problem, both emotional and physical. The good news is that in most cases the problem is treatable. First, however, you need to figure out the cause.

In Jenna's case, her pain was caused by the fact that she became nervous and rushed through foreplay in order to "get it over with." As a result, she was insufficiently relaxed and aroused. This led to vaginal drynessand a feeling of tightness.

Are You Aroused?
Painful intercourse can be your body's way of telling you that you don't really want to have sex. "Painful intercourse can result from diminished desire. In young women, this may be because they have a fear of being caught, getting pregnant, or contracting a sexually transmitted disease," says Nardone. These concerns can interfere with a woman's ability to become aroused, she adds.

"If a women is not aroused, she may not lubricate well. This in and of itself can cause painful intercourse," says Nardone. Repeated pain during intercourse can trigger a viscous cycle that makes it increasingly difficult to relax and become aroused, she adds. Vaginal dryness, one of the most common causes of painful sex, can also be caused by a variety of other factors such as drinking alcohol, taking antihistamines or decreased estrogen levels. Some women, even when aroused, produce insufficient lubrication. Fortunately, lubricants like KY Jelly or Astroglide are available at most drugstores and can make intercourse much less painful.

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