Sex doesn't always go smoothly.
Pain during sex is quite common and affects both men and women. It can be caused by a variety of things, such as an illness, infection, or a physical or psychological problem. Often the problem is easily treatable, but many people feel too embarrassed to go to their doctor for help.
Sex should be an enjoyable experience, and if it hurts, your body may be trying to tell you something is wrong, so don't ignore it.
Painful sex in women
Infections such as cystitis or thrush usually cause burning
pain, vaginal soreness or itchiness, and lower abdominal
pain. Perfumed soaps and moisturizers can also irritate the genital area. Hormone levels change around the menopause, making the vagina dry, and causing a tight or pinching feeling during sex. Scars around the vagina following childbirth can cause brief but sharp
pain during penetration.
Pain that is felt deep inside the pelvis during sex could be caused by pelvic inflammatory
disease (PID) or endometriosis (when womb lining grows outside the womb). Bowel problems like severe
constipation can also cause
If you're feeling tired, anxious or stressed, it can be hard to feel aroused (turned on). If you're not aroused, the vagina will feel tight and dry, making penetration difficult and painful. Foreplay is very important in this situation - spending time kissing and cuddling first will help you to relax.
Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles at the entrance to the vagina shut tightly, sometimes preventing penetration altogether, or making it very painful. It usually has an emotional cause, brought on by fears or concerns about sex, perhaps because of a negative experience in the past.
When you first have sex, you may find it painful. This can be because of the hymen breaking (a thin piece of skin covering the entrance to the vagina). The hymen has normally broken before you have sex for the first time - for example, through sport or using tampons. If it breaks when you have sex, it can cause
pain and some bleeding. Sex may still be painful for the first few times even if your hymen has broken, especially if you're nervous or don't feel comfortable. Make sure you wait until you feel ready to have sex and don't rush into it. Foreplay is very important in helping you to feel relaxed and turned on.
Painful sex in men
Infections like thrush can cause soreness and itching, and some sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, may make sex painful. If the foreskin is very tight, penetration can be painful as the foreskin is pushed back. Sometimes there can be small tears in the foreskin that can't be seen, but cause soreness and a sharp, stinging
pain around the tear.
Pain in the
testicles can sometimes be caused by getting sexually aroused but not ejaculating (coming). It can also be a sign of an infection.
What to do
Sex is likely to be uncomfortable if you're not relaxed and aroused. Make time for foreplay and try not to think of sex as the main goal - penetration will be painful if the vagina's not lubricated. You can also try using a lubricating product to help things along. Always choose a water-based brand, rather than something that's oil-based, such as massage oil or moisturizer. Oil-based products can damage condoms, making them less effective.
If you're still finding it difficult to have sex, there may be an emotional reason or anxiety that's causing problems. Speaking to a counselor or sex therapist can help to deal with underlying worries - ask your doctor or STD clinic about a referral.
Common infections such as thrush and cystitis can be easily treated with over-the-counter remedies. Check with your doctor or STD clinic if you're not sure what's causing the problem - sometimes sore and itchy symptoms can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STD).
Avoid using perfumed shower gels and lotions on the
genitals - use a mild, unperfumed soap instead and wear cotton underwear.
Pain deep inside the pelvis can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as endometriosis - it's important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.