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Ouch! What Causes Painful Sex?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020


Written by: Mayzie Hopkins

Fact-Checked by: Dr. Tiffany McCalla, Emergency Physician & Sexual Enhancement Specialist


Have you ever experienced pain during intercourse? If so, you’re not alone.


Most women, at some point in their lives, will have some discomfort while having sex. Talking about this, whether to your partner or doctor, can be awkward because of the sex-negative culture we live in. However, vaginas are magical, mysterious, and, when it comes to sex, shouldn’t feel anything but pleasure. They’re intrinsic parts of the body for those born with them, but because of their sensitiveness and high-demands, they are often the source of pain during sex and make what should be a good time, an uncomfortable time.


Women deserve pleasure. Women deserve good sex. Women also deserve to experience an orgasm while having sex, yet studies estimate that only 25% of women have consistent orgasms. And that, truly, sucks. Talking to your OBGYN shouldn’t be embarrassing, although it is understandable, because they are literally only there for your vaginal and reproductive health and painful sex falls into that category. It’s also important to tell your doctor about any issues for your own sake, as painful sex might indicate something serious or underlying.


An abnormal pain during sex, or after, in the pelvis or cervix could mean anything- from an STD to endometriosis. In addition, the psychological and physical toll that pain causes, such as the body clenching up from a traumatic memory of consistently agonizing sex, will further the issue. Relationships can suffer because of this, too. Obviously, sex plays a major part in relationships, and if one of you isn’t feeling it, then it isn’t enjoyable for either party. As sex and orgasms can relieve stress, improve blood flow, self-esteem, and generally be great for you, if you’re missing out on that it’s going to affect your day-to-day and mental well-being.


Plus, you should be getting the sex you deserve!


Pain during intercourse or pain in the pelvis or cervix during or after is a sign that something isn’t right. Not only can this affect self-esteem, relationships, and general well-being if sex isn’t at all enjoyable but it could also mean something serious, from an STD to endometriosis.


Below are a few issues that could be related to painful sex. Like everything you read online, take this list as a guide, and not a diagnosis.


A Sexually Transmitted Infection


According to the American Sexual Health Association, one in two sexually active people will contract some sort of STI before the age of 25. It’s normal. Most people you know, or you, have experienced this already. Thanks to advancements in medicine, they are all pretty much treatable and benign.


Regularly getting tested can catch things early and prevent infections from getting worse and leading to things like infertility. Some infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis all have similar symptoms that can lead to painful sex because of inflammation and discomfort.


A Sexually Transmitted Disease


Unlike STI’s, the difference between them and diseases is that infections can be cured. Diseases, on the other hand, are life-long. Again, as much as this sounds alarming, there are plenty of medical advances that allow people to live normal lives and even prevent the spread of things like HIV and herpes.


About one in eight people in the U.S. ages 14-49 have genital herpes, and it’s estimated that nearly 90% do not know they have it. Herpes causes inflammation and painful cold sores in and around the vagina that would definitely cause pain during intercourse. Also, it can spread even with the use of condoms.


A Non-Sexually Transmitted Infection


Now for a more lighthearted reason: An infection that wasn’t passed on through sex. Things like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and vaginitis, could cause a stabbing pain during sex, especially during deep penetration due to the burning, itchy sensation they cause. Antibiotics and a change of PH levels in the vagina can cause these infections.


Generally, douching of the vagina isn’t recommended because it has a natural cleaning “system”. Even detergents, foods, medications (such as antibiotics), and illnesses such as diabetes can cause yeast infections. Most women in their life will suffer from a yeast infection or BV, which sucks and aside from being uncomfortable, can ruin their sex life. Maintaining hygiene and avoiding using products in and around that area are preventative methods.


A Hormone Issue


Menopause, menstruation, pregnancy, and other hormonal factors can alter the lubrication in the vagina. A dry vagina leads to more friction and can feel like a stabbing pain during sex.


First, it’s best to go to a doctor to rule out any other reason this could be happening and once the issue is identified maybe finding a lube or engaging in more foreplay could lead to a “smoother” time.


Sex Too Soon After Childbirth


Although some people experience a rise in their sex drive whilst pregnant, this soon changes after giving birth. Postpartum depression, a drop in self-esteem, and other, more serious, issues like an injury or c-section can affect the feeling of sex.


An episiotomy is a cut starting in the vagina that is purposely created during childbirth to aid with delivery; unfortunately, this site can take a while to heal enough to have safe, pleasurable sex.


Other Serious Issues


Other pain-causing issues range from reproductive cancers, endometriosis (tissue grows outside the womb), ectopic pregnancy (egg develops outside the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease ( an infection causing pain in the pelvis with sex), and problems with the cervix (this would cause pain in the cervix during sex and pain during deep penetration).


It’s important to remember that all bodies are different, meaning, all vaginas are different. Learn your body. Learn what affects it. What works for one person might not work for another.


When beginning with a new partner, consider talking through the things that work best for you. Having great sex shouldn’t be impossible or something you can’t work towards, so figuring out what’s wrong as soon as possible is the best practice.


Please visit your OBGYN for a yearly check-up and don’t delay seeking medical attention if you have a new or persistent problem in between appointments.


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