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When Sex Is Painful For Women

16 December 2022
Yoxly Awesome Contributors

Written by:

Yoxly Awesome Contributors

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Medically Reviewed by:

Dr Danae Maragouthakis

Sex is supposed to be good right? But this is not always the case. It is not uncommon for women to experience pain during sex. Not only does this rob us of the pleasure we desire, but it can also be a sign of an underlying condition.

Generally, when we feel pain, our bodies are telling us something is wrong. Therefore, it’s important not to ignore it. But painful sex isn’t always caused by a medical condition. Sometimes, it might occur because you’re not aroused enough or because underlying psychological issues are making your vagina nervous and tense. 

Understanding what’s going on in your body gives you confidence and power. It can also ease your worries and quieten the little voice in your head asking, “what’s wrong with me?” So, to help you take control of your own sexual health and can get your sex life back on track, we’ve collaborated with ILOH on this article which will tell you all you need to know about painful sex and what you can do to alleviate it. Keep reading to find out more!

What Is Dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia is a fancy word that describes pain or discomfort experienced by women during or after sex. How you experience this pain varies depending on the underlying cause. You may feel sharp or deep pains, throbbing or aching, burning, cramping, or muscle tightness.

There are different types of dyspareunia:

Superficial Dyspareunia: This is where pain is felt on the outer areas such as the vulva, labia or entrance to the vagina.

Deep Dyspareunia: This is where pain is felt deeper inside, such as inside the vagina, or in the lower abdomen and is often caused by deep penetration, making certain sex positions more uncomfortable than others. 

Primary Dyspareunia: This is when sex has always been painful, ever since you first became sexually active.

Secondary Dyspareunia: This is where sex has become painful, when you previously were able to have pain-free sex.

Understandably, dyspareunia can negatively impact your mental health, body image, libido and sexual relationships. But it is not uncommon, with an estimated 3-18% of women experiencing dyspareunia worldwide. If you experience pain during sex, it can help to talk to someone about it. Sexwise has some great tips about where to go for advice about sexual problems.

Why Does It Hurt When I Have Sex?

Women may experience pain during sex for several reasons, which can be physical (e.g. infection, illness, injury or hormone imbalance) or psychological (e.g. anxiety, relationship issues or past trauma) in nature.

Below are some potential causes of dyspareunia

Infections: Genital infections such as thrush, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause inflammation and irritation of the vagina and vulva. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes are common STIs that can cause painful sex. 

In rare cases, STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which affects the uterus (womb), ovaries or fallopian tubes and is typically felt as a deep pain in the abdomen or pelvis during sex. 

Talking of STIs, it’s important not only to get checked, but to prevent STIs in the future by using barrier contraception (condoms). A range of condoms are available free from sexual health clinics. If you’re looking for a more stylish condom, we really love Hanx Vegan Condoms, which are 100% vegan, biodegradable, and come in a discrete box that you’d be happy to display on your bedside table.

Vaginal Dryness: If your vagina is not well lubricated, penetration will cause friction and rubbing that may even tear the delicate skin. You may experience vaginal dryness for several reasons, such as:

  • Menopause: Menopause causes a drop in oestrogen levels which can lead to vaginal dryness and thinning of the tissues, making things more prone to tearing. Read our blog article on the menopause and vaginal health to find out more.
  • Medications: Certain types of medication have the side effect of vaginal dryness.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding can all alter hormone balance, which may lead to dryness.
  • Arousal: Being aroused can facilitate natural vaginal lubrication. Taking your time, engaging in foreplay and ensuring you are comfortable with your partner can aid in arousal.

Vaginismus: Those that have watched the hit Netflix series “Sex Education” might be familiar with this condition as it was featured on the show. Vaginismus causes the vaginal muscles to contract and tighten before something is inserted, making penetration painful or impossible - this can be anything from a finger to a sex toy to a penis. The causes of vaginismus are not well understood, but it may be linked with expectations around sex, conflicting moral values, shame, trauma and sexuality. Vaginismus can be overcome by understanding the relationship between the body and the mind, and by engaging in relaxed, pressure-free sexual contact.

Genital Irritation, Allergies Or Skin Problems: Women with sensitive skin or allergies may have a reaction to condoms, lubricants, sanitary products or cosmetics such as soap, which can cause soreness and irritation. It’s recommended to avoid scented products near the vulva and vagina and only to use products specifically designed for use in this area.

Vulvodynia: Vulvodynia is persistent pain or discomfort in the vulva and vagina, with no identifiable cause. It is often worsened by touch, such as during sexual intercourse.

Endometriosis: This is a condition that causes tissue similar to the lining of your womb to grow in other areas of the reproductive tract, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Sex can cause pulling and stretching of this tissue, which is often extremely uncomfortable.

Fibroids: These are non-cancerous growths that grow on the wall of the uterus. If they grow near your vagina or cervix, sexual penetration can disturb them, causing pain and irritation. Fibroids are more common in women over the age of 30, and often also cause heavy menstrual bleeding.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): This is a digestive disorder that can cause constipation, bloating, stomach cramps and gas, all of which can contribute to painful sex.

What Do I Do Next?

If you are experiencing painful sex, a good first step is to get tested for STIs. You can do this easily and comfortably by ordering one of Yoxly’s at-home STI kits. Give yourself a full sexual health screening and get your results within 48 hours!

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As well as getting checked for STIs, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor or sexual health clinic and talk openly about your symptoms. A medical professional can often diagnose the underlying cause of your dyspareunia by carrying out a physical examination. Depending on the outcome of this, they can offer you advice or medical treatment, such as:

  • Oestrogen creams, rings or pessaries to reduce vaginal dryness
  • Lubricants
  • Local anaesthetic creams to numb the genital area and reduce pain
  • Pain medication such as tricyclic antidepressants
  • Vaginal dilators to allow your vagina to get used to penetration and reduce spasms
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat infection
  • Psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy

There are also a number of things you can try yourself to prevent pain during sex.

Becoming familiar with your pelvic floor muscles can help with painful penetration. Your pelvic floor muscles are found inside the vagina, between your coccyx (tailbone) and pubic bone, and function to keep all your pelvic organs in place. When these muscles are tense, sex can be painful. There is good guidance available on how to practice pelvic floor muscle relaxation exercises, which can be done at any time. Plus, giving your pelvic floor muscles a workout can lead to better orgasms - result!

In terms of sex, firstly, ensure you feel as relaxed as possible before attempting any penetration. Engaging in a massage, perhaps using ILOH’s FINE BONE Latest Flame Massage Candle can help ease anxieties and promote connection with your partner. The IROHA by TENGA Sakura Massage Vibrator can be used for a more intimate massage. This cute little vibrator fits perfectly in the palm of a hand and has a gentle V-shape, which is just perfect for clitoral stimulation.

Talking of clitoral stimulation, some women find masturbating alone or with a partner prior to intercourse can help with relaxation. Sex toys such as ILOH’s DAME Fin Finger Vibrator, which forms a natural extension of a hand and gives seamless vibration pleasure, can be a fun addition to foreplay and/or masturbation. 

Another crucial point to remember is that for enjoyable sex, having things nice and slippy definitely helps. And lubricants don’t have to be clinical and unsexy; try ILOH’s INTO THE WILD Wylde One Lubricant, which contains a unique, pH-balanced blend of herbal extracts that can help prevent friction. You should aim to avoid scented products, which can cause irritation and dry things out even more. 

Experimenting with the sensations of penetration by using a finger or toy can help you ease into pain-free and pleasurable intercourse. ILOH’s handmade FINE BONE Prudence Porcelain Pleasure Tool is one of the most beautiful and elegant toys we’ve seen, which can be used for penetration, sensation play and more.

Perhaps the most innovative tools we’ve seen to alleviate potentially painful sex is ILOH’s OHNUT Wearable Buffer Rings. This set of super stretchy rings can be placed onto a sex toy or a penis and allow you to control the depth of penetration by stacking one or more rings. You may find certain positions more comfortable than others, so don’t be afraid to have some fun playing around!

If penetration is not possible or is too uncomfortable, this doesn’t mean you can’t engage in intimacy. It’s important to learn what works for you in the bedroom and what doesn’t. Experimenting with other sexual activities such as mutual masturbation, use of toys or oral sex is all part of the fun of sex. These can all be equally pleasurable and, for some, even more so! Sex isn’t all about penetration, after all.


We are taught that sex is supposed to feel good, so when it hurts, it might be difficult to talk about. But if things hurt, don’t ignore it! Pain during sex may be due to an easily-treated underlying problem such as an infection, hormonal imbalance or skin condition. One of the most common causes of painful sex is STIs, so make sure to get tested for STIs (grab yourself one of Yoxly’s home test kits). If your pain persists, it is important to see a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Even in cases where there isn’t an organic cause found, psychological therapies and altering your sexual practices, such as using lubricants and spending more time focusing on foreplay, can facilitate a happy and pleasurable sex life. ILOH has a full range of sexual wellness products, including toys, vibrators, lubricants and more, to help you in your journey to a happy and fulfilling sex life. Above all, remember that penetration is not the be-all and end-all of sex.


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Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!