Sex hurts. That’s the bottom line for millions of women. Burning, stinging, raw, stabbing, and itching are just a few of the words women use to describe the agony they experience not just during sex, but at work or even when performing everyday activities. Sexual pain syndrome is a devastating condition that can wreck self-esteem, destroy relationships, and ruin your quality of life.
According to the International Pelvic Pain Society, over nine million U.S. women between 18 and 50 suffer from chronic pelvic pain at some point in their lives. An estimated 90% of those women also experience sexual pain.
You may be surprised to learn that it’s not just problems within the vagina and vulva that are at the heart of your distress. Irritable bowel, fibromyalgia, a constant urge to urinate (interstitial cystitis), arthritis, and many more chronic pain conditions in other parts of your body can all contribute to the debilitating and depressing symptoms you experience.
There are simple, natural methods as well as medications and medical treatments that knowledgeable doctors, physical therapists, and other healthcare providers are increasingly integrating into their practices with great success.
Following are five tips that you can implement today that may make a difference in your level of pain. (But remember, you must always see your healthcare provider to rule out acute diseases, infections, or other serious conditions.)
1. Use unscented laundry and personal care products. Perfumed menstrual pads, laundry detergent, fabric softener, even scented dryer sheets can inflame the genital area. Most products have an unscented version, including store brands.
2. Realize that tight clothing and pantyhose cause irritation. Many women experience vaginal burning just from wearing fitted jeans! Pantyhose can definitely trap bacteria and tightly press on your genitals. Thigh highs or stockings with a garter belt prevent the problem and can be alluring as well.
Test out a low-acid diet. Based on the theory that acidity increases the burning of urine and causes other conditions to flare up (such as irritable bowel, interstitial cystitis, and vaginal/vulvar pain), women with sexual pain are strongly encouraged to try a low-acid diet. For instance, many caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and numerous sodas are highly acidic and can be extremely irritating to bladder and genital tissues.
4. Drink a lot of water. Remember that plain old water can be your best friend. It’s one of the kindest things that you can do for your body overall. Water further dilutes the acid concentration in your urine and can relieve burning and pain during sexual activity. Water helps relieve constipation, joint pains, headaches, interstitial cystitis, and much more. Drink bottled or filtered water rather than tap water because additional chemicals may be added to regular drinking water.
Add fiber to your diet to promote regular bowel movements. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can contribute to sexual pain when constipation is involved because of the pressure and added nerve sensitivity to the bladder and sexual organs. Reducing this pressure and sensitivity may provide some relief for painful sexual symptoms. Natural fiber comes from eating such foods as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Additional options for supplemental fiber can be found at the health food store and even the drug store.
One more thing: You must give up the attitude of “playing through the pain.” While coaches often urge athletes, young and old, to “play through the pain,” it’s vital to abandon this attitude when it comes to enduring painful sex as an adult. Many women believe that they must have sex to please their partner despite the pain, and if they don’t, there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. A loving partner would never want to inflict such pain. No matter how long you’ve suffered, it’s important to be patient as you work to get better. Even in the best of circumstances, it will take time and effort on your part to experience relief. When you hit a wall, remember the Japanese expression, “seven times down, eight times up.” So perhaps this is the most important tip of all: Never give up. Never lose hope. You can get better. **************** Excerpted from the booklet, “64 Tips to Relieve Sexual Pain,” by Susan Bilheimer and Robert J. Echenberg, MD., copyright 2008. Go to http://www.secretsuffering.com/ for more information.