Sex should always be fun, so it can be off putting and even scary when pain replaces pleasure. However, pain isn’t something you should be ashamed of: statistics show that one in ten British women between the ages of 16-74 suffer from pain or as it’s medically known dyspareunia, according to BJOG.
I think we’ve all experienced that sudden moment of sharp discomfort during sex when your significant other hits the wrong spot – it happens. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is much harder to ignore. When experiencing pain your mind may automatically jump to the worst case scenarios, but there are numerous issues that could be causing pain which can easily be avoided.
Size and Girth
Sadly, to an extent penis – or toy – size does matter. It may sound like a scene from Goldilocks – too big, too small, just right. Too small can be a disappointment but being too large can lead to physical pain.
To avoid this, foreplay is key to ensure your vaginal muscles are relaxed when you’re fully aroused, making it easier to accommodate your partner’s size. The severity of the sex is an important factor, too – every person has different preferences and if you’re partial to rougher sex, pain is a sign that it’s too rough and you should take it easier.
One other influence on size that could causing pain is your choice of position. This can be a bit of trial and error, both discovering the positions that stimulates you best and which work best with his size. Your monthly cycle may also be the culprit, if a certain position doesn’t always cause tenderness then it is most likely due to a shift in your hormone levels. The easiest fix is to try tracking your monthly cycle to monitor when you’re at risk of pain or switch up your positions.
One of the most common causes of pain during sex is dryness. This is not always due to a lack of arousal, although taking your time and not rushing foreplay is important. However, if you’re fully aroused and still experiencing issues try investing in a good water based lubricant which will help with penetration. Using a water based lubricant rather than a petroleum jelly or oil base will help avoid an increased risk of a yeast infection. Lubricants will also assist if you suffer from dips in oestrogen levels which usually occur after your period or can be a side effect of certain types of contraception, like the pill.
Food and Drink
Even something as simple as consuming alcohol can be a surprising cause of discomfort. Certain kinds of food and drink, such as spicy food or caffeine and alcohol, can irritate your bladder and digestive system. This is hugely inconvenient when you’re in the moment, but is an easy trigger to solve.
It’s probably not serious, but…
Let’s acknowledge the dreaded “worst case scenarios”. Pain during or after sex can be linked to something more serious and if you are ever worried always speak to your GP or OBGYN. Severe pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, whether that is an easy to treat infection like thrush, or a sign of a STI like chlamydia or gonorrhoea. It’s doesn’t have to be a permanent issue if you seek help.
Pain can be a sign of a more severe condition like vaginismus, a condition which effects the muscles in or around the vagina which causes muscle tightening or cramping making sex difficult. Similarly, disorders such as IBS and constipation, endometriosis, interstatial cystitis or pelvic inflammatory disease can all be underlying causes of pain and discomfort which your GP can assist with.
We all have a different tolerance to pain and so it comes down to you to decide what is discomfort, what is painful, and when you should seek help. Reoccurring and severe pain is not a normal part of sex. There are plenty of products you can purchase to help, though, and there is always advice available from your GP or nearest sexual health clinic to treat or assist with the pain associated with any sex disorders.
For more information, visit the Sexual Advice Association
Jaymelouise Hudspith is an English language student at Newcastle University with three major goals in life: to make a difference; to become a successful journalist, and (most importantly) to own many dogs.