Everything You Need to Know About Painful Sex, and Why It Happens

Anxiety. Confusion. Shame. Guilt. These are just a few of the feelings that may be experienced by women who find sex painful. While sex is culturally promoted as the apotheosis of pleasure, this is clearly not the case for a significant amount of women. BJOG: An international Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, surveyed 7,000 sexually active women aged 16-74 and found that 1 in 10 women find sexual intercourse painful.

So, what is the reason for this pain? The research suggests that there are manifold causes of dyspareunia (difficult or painful sexual intercourse), ranging from the physical to the psychological and emotional. And which age group is most likely to experience pain? Women in their late 50s and early 60s are most likely to be affected, followed shortly by women aged 16-24.

(Photo Credit: Women's Health Encyclopedia)

What are the physical problems that women experience? One of the main complaints is vaginal dryness. The BBC interviewed a 62 year old participant, who said that her problems began at the age of 40. She explains how sex became more difficult for her and her partner: "I felt that my sex drive dipped quite considerably, arousal seemed to take longer, and, despite an understanding husband, I started to dread him making approaches.” What is evident is that any physical problems quickly become psychological and emotional problems. As this participant notes: "It became like a vicious cycle. You worry and get tense and that only makes it worse." And vaginal dryness is not the only culprit; sexually transmitted infections, endometriosis, fibroids and vaginismus (involuntary tightening of the muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted) were also common complaints.


(Photo Credit: Vaginismus) 

A younger participant interviewed by the BBC, was 20 years old and could not have sex without extreme pain, which led to the disintegration of her relationship with her boyfriend. She suffers from vaginismus. Here is a perfect example of how the physical becomes inextricably connected to the psychological. "Sex became gradually more painful to the point where it was just impossible - my vagina would literally close up and not allow anything in without excruciating pain.” Her GP warned her that it can be a very psychological condition, as her brain associates sex with pain and, unsurprisingly, her body does everything it can to prevent that pain. The participant lists the damaging effects of this problem: "This condition has made me feel increasingly angry, frightened, isolated, inadequate, anxious and depressed.”

While it seems culturally accepted (rightly or wrongly) that a woman’s first sexual experience is painful, this study reveals that an unprecedented number of women are suffering in silence every time they have sex. And, I’m sorry, but we are far beyond the days when women were told to ‘lie back and think of England’ (thank god). Female sexual pleasure, and sexual health, needs to be taken more seriously. If women are not enjoying sex, men inevitably won’t fully enjoy it either. After all, it takes two to tango.

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)