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You Asked It: Why is Sex Still Painful?

My boyfriend and I have been having sex for a few months now, and it still hurts a lot of the time. It’s not HORRIBLE, but my vagina just feels kind of raw and sore. I expected pain the first time, not the 10th or 20th! Are we doing something wrong?

We’re so sorry that you’re going through this. In an ideal world, sex would always be about intimacy, pleasure, fun and exploration—not pain or stress. Unfortunately, that’s not always the world we live in. Pain during sex is actually fairly common for people with vaginas. It’s called dyspareunia, and close to 3 out of 4 women have experienced it at some time in their lives.

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about their pain, and end up gritting their way through it. It’s great that you’re asking about it now and taking control of your sex life. No one should have to associate sex with pain.

We discuss some common reasons people experience pain during sex below, but really you should talk to a healthcare provider. A gynecologist or adolescent medicine specialist can help you figure out what’s going on and give you peace of mind.

Use lube

When people with vaginas become aroused (or turned on), their bodies prepare for sex in a bunch of ways. One of these is that the vagina and cervix make a clear, slippery fluid. This is called vaginal lubrication. Vaginal lubrication reduces friction during sex and makes it more comfortable for both partners—but especially for the vagina-haver. Different bodies produce different amounts of vaginal lubrication. How much lube your body makes will change over the course of your life and depends on a whole bunch of things, like hormones, stress and medications.

Many people find that their bodies frequently don’t produce enough lube to make sex feel good. That’s completely normal! Some people find that spending longer on other types of sex (aka foreplay) before penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex makes it feel a lot better. This is because you give your body time to get fully aroused and relaxed.

Our recommendation?  Use a water- or silicone-based personal lubricant (lube)! You can buy lube at drug stores or online, or get it for free at many community health clinics (including the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center). We talk more about the different kinds of lube and how to use it here.

Are you stressed out?

Being anxious or tense can make sex hurt. This is because you may be clenching your pelvic muscles without realizing it. Stress can also stop your body from getting fully aroused.

Work on relaxing before sex. You can take a warm bath, ask your partner to give you a massage, or do something else that feels good and helps you relax. In addition, think about what might be making you tense. Are you self-conscious? Are you worried about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), getting pregnant, or being walked in on? Do you not fully trust your partner? Think about what you can do to address these issues. Educate yourself about STIs. Make sure you’re using condoms the right way. Use an effective form of birth control. Save sex for times when you’re not worried about studying for a big test or being late to work. If you haven’t already, talk to your partner about what’s going on.

If you don’t trust your partner or you’re not sure if you’re in a healthy relationship, it may be really hard to enjoy sex. You can read more about healthy relationships here and here. If you don’t feel safe with your partner or don’t know if your relationship is healthy, you can also call the Love is Respect hotline at 1-866-331-8453 or text “loveis” to 22522.

Other reasons

It’s likely that with some lube and communication sex will become less painful. However, there are a variety of medical conditions that can cause painful sex. If you have any of these extra symptoms, or sex is still painful, talk to your health care provider. Remember: all of these are treatable. There is no reason you have to live with painful sex.

  • Yeast infections: These are quite common and easily cured with antibiotics. If your vagina feels itchy or sore and you have clumpy, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese, you might have a yeast infection.
  • Vulvodynia: pain or burning of your vulva (or the external genitalia), often caused by hormone imbalances
  • Vaginismus: Intense pain caused by spasms of your vaginal muscles. These spasms usually happen when anything is inserted into the vagina—whether it’s a penis, a tampon, fingers or a toy. It doesn’t sound like this is what you’re experiencing, since you say your pain “isn’t horrible.”
  • Endometriosis: This is a serious condition in which tissue that’s supposed to grow on the inside of your uterus grows on the outside instead. People with endometriosis usually have very painful, heavy periods.
  • Other STIs or pelvic inflammatory disease: Some STIs can make sex painful, especially if they’re left untreated. If you and your partner haven’t been tested for STIs (not just HIV), go get tested together!
  • Skin disorders such as contact dermatitis that can affect the vulva.

In the meantime, try things with your partner that feel good. If you want, you can stop having sexy times altogether. There’s no reason you have to force yourself to experience pain just so your partner can experience pleasure.

If you’re 10-22 years old and live in NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center with an adolescent medicine specialist. They can help you figure out what’s causing your pain and how to make it stop.

ABOUT YOU ASKED IT

You’ve got questions.  We’ve got answers. At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we answer a lot of questions. Topics range from nutrition to pregnancy prevention, and everything in between. Now, we’re bringing these questions back to you with our weekly advice column, You Asked It. Got a question? Holler at us in the comments, send us a message on FacebookTwitter or Instagram, or email us at teenhealthcareorg@gmail.com.

This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

Missed a “You Asked It” post? Click on “You Asked it” under Topics.

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