Most of us associate sex with feelings of pleasure. But for some of us, it can feel literally painful—and not in a good way.
For those with vaginas, painful penetrative intercourse is known as dyspareunia, and that diagnosis covers all kinds of different causes and symptoms. While there’s no analogue in name for those with penises, it’s definitely possible to experience pain during intercourse for more than one reason. Sex related discomforts are, unfortunately, very often mis- or undiagnosed, so if you're in a position to do so, try to get a second opinion if you feel like your doctor or clinic isn't giving you a satisfactory answer.
We never, ever want you to grin and bear it. So read on for some of the most common causes of pain during sex, and some ways to feel better...
For some, period sex is just not an option. Whether you suffer from painful cramps, a heavy flow, or feelings of shame or embarrassment, having penetrative sex might be the last thing on your mind. Studies have shown that orgasm can lessen the pain of cramps through the release of oxytocin and endorphins, so if full-on sex isn't an option, try using a vibrator or engaging in some of these more creative, non-penetrative activities! We love the Fin for its gentle-but-firm vibes and wearability.
Yeast infections are one of the most common causes of pain during sex, for both penis and vagina owners. Even if you have no other major symptoms, a yeast infection can make the tiniest bit of friction feel terrible—all sore and itchy. Likewise, some common infections like UTIs, prostatitis and many STDs can cause discomfort during sex, so if you think you have an infection, make sure to check it out with your doctor and take any meds they prescribe. (And don't forget to inform your partner(s).)
The vagina’s natural lubrication is influenced strongly by hormones, specifically estrogen. Lower levels = less wetness, which can make for some (literally) rough sex. While it’s always good to check in with your doctor or gynecologist, we recommend using lube for a more comfortable sexual experience. And like we discussed in this post, the booty is not self-lubricating. Whether silicone, oil or water-based, there’s a lube out there for you and it'll feel better for both you and your partner!
Many common beauty products, especially those that contain alcohol, can be irritating to delicate vaginal, penile and anal skin. Like with any topical product, try a patch test and if you experience irritation, stop using it. We love a soothing natural treatment, like Kooch Quench, specially formulated to treat a range of common skin complaints. And seriously—don’t douche, it only upsets your natural pH balance.
Latex allergies can also cause skin irritation, and unfortunately most condoms are made of latex. But fear not—they make ‘em from polyurethane, too, which is a skin-safer alternative for those with allergies.
Many people suffer from a condition known as vaginismus, in which the vaginal muscles can spasm and tighten near the opening. This makes penetration much more difficult, since the tighter the opening, the harder it is to get anything inside, let alone comfortably. If you experience vaginismus, just know that it can affect many people for many, many different reasons—from routine UTIs to chronic pain to anxiety to sexual trauma, it runs the gamut and really reinforces the concept that without consent and comfort, it's not possible to have good sex for both partners.
Some say that having an orgasm first helps them (and their muscles!) to relax, and it’s a great opportunity to bring a sensual massage or some non-penetrative toys into the mix. Whether or not you want to share this experience with your partner, having more control over your sexual experience can help you to open up to partner, either emotionally, physically or both.
For some, the pain may not be at the entry, but rather when deep thrusting occurs. This can be caused by a number of factors including endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine prolapse, retroverted uterus, uterine fibroids, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids and ovarian cysts. It's important to speak to your doctor, if this is a recurring issue, to help figure out next steps for treatment. We're also very excited to see a brand new product on the market to help with exactly this issue. The Ohnut is essentially a silicone bumper worn by a partner to control just how deep they can go. It's completely adjustable and totally comfortable for the wearer. Check it out!
Our brains want to keep our bodies safe, and when we get hurt, they kick our defence mechanisms into overdrive. When we experience an injury, even outside the nether regions, it can be pretty hard to stay in the moment during sex.
It’s no secret that childbirth is a less than painless experience, and the after-effects can make penetrative sex seem daunting, and feel uncomfortable. Whether you deliver vaginally or via C-section, you may feel sore and tender, need medication or need to avoid contact due to tissue damage, or stitches. After you have a baby, levels of oxytocin—which regulate sexual arousal—take a nosedive. Apart from your physical condition, you might not feel mentally unprepared to have sex, and that can manifest itself in physical ways. Take your time and try to reconnect one on one with yourself first, once you're ready.
Sexual trauma, whether intentionally or unintentionally inflicted by another person, can leave lasting scars. We’re not necessarily talking about the kind you can see, either—survivors of sexual trauma are known to experience anxiety, sleeplessness, physical stress and PTSD.
If a past trauma is affecting your ability to have or enjoy sex, we feel you. While it’s definitely recommended to seek the support of your friends and a therapist, we also advocate for the exploration and reclamation of sexuality through self-love. We are our own best sexual partners, in that we know our own limits and can choose to be kind to ourselves. If you're looking for advice, a member of the Nox community shared their story in a recent post.
Take care of yourselves ❤️