Dyspareunia means pain in the genital area that develops during and/or after sexual intercourse. Painful sex is typically due to physical or psychological causes, or both, and can affect up to one-fifth of women at some point in their lifetimes.
Common causes of painful sex include:
- A history of surgery or trauma in the pelvic area
- Hormonal changes that can affect lubrication and arousal
- Emotional factors including intimacy problems, stress, anxiety, depression, or a history of sexual trauma
- Underlying women’s health conditions like vaginismus, endometriosis, and pelvic floor dysfunction (for instance, increased tightness or tone in the pelvic floor muscles can prevent these muscles from relaxing properly during intercourse)
Women with dyspareunia often describe their pain as burning, shooting, throbbing, or aching. Pain may be felt in the outer genitals (vulva)or internal vaginal muscular canal or in the pelvis, and may last for up to a few hours after sex. Some women only feel pain in certain sexual positions or during certain parts of intercourse, such as during deep thrusting motions or during initial penetration.
Additionally, for some women, even non-sexual touching or penetration can cause pain too (such as during the insertion of a tampon or a speculum, the latter being a part of a routine gynecological examination).
Any recurring pain during sex warrants an assessment by an experienced vulvar pain specialist. And regardless of what’s causing dyspareunia, a woman can be helped, even if she has been dealing with this pain for a long time! Personalized treatment from a licensed and experienced women’s health physical therapist can provide immense and much needed relief by identifying and addressing the root cause of a woman’s discomfort.