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Painful Intercourse (Sex)

Facts and Definition of Painful Intercourse (Sex)

  • Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia) is pain or discomfort in a woman's labial, vaginal, or pelvic areas during or immediately following sexual intercourse.
  • The word dyspareunia comes from the early Greek language, and its meanings include "difficulty mating" or "badly mated." Pain during intercourse is described in medical literature dating back to the ancient Egyptian scrolls.
  • Today, most causes of dyspareunia can be easily discovered and treated.
  • Many women experience some pain during their first episode of vaginal sexual intercourse.
  • The number of women who experience pain during intercourse is unknown because the symptoms vary. Also, both doctors and women fail to freely discuss sexual practices.
  • Recent studies suggest that more than many women report current or previous episodes of pain during sexual relations.
  • Fewer than half of these women discussed this pain with their doctors.

What Is Painful Intercourse (Sex)?

Painful intercourse or painful sex can be experienced as pelvic pain, vaginal pain, or pain in the labial or vulvar areas during sex. Pain may be experienced as deep pain, sharp pain, or a burning sensation.

What Causes Painful Intercourse (Sex)?

Pain during intercourse is one of the most common causes of problems of sexual dysfunction. The prevalence of such pain seems to be increasing over time. Possible reasons for this apparent increased prevalence include the following:

  • Changes in sexual behavior
  • An increase in the frequency of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Increased willingness to discuss sexual behavior and dysfunction
  • Due to thinning and dryness of the vaginal walls after menopause, some women report that sex is more painful than prior to menopause.
  • Vulvodynia is a condition that causes chronic pain in the vulvar area that is not related to a known cause. Women with vulvodynia may experience pain with sexual intercourse.
  • Other conditions that can cause painful intercourse include
    • injuries or irritation of the vagina due to any cause,
    • infections,
    • vaginismus (muscle spasms of the vaginal wall muscles),
    • urinary tract infection, and
    • skin conditions that affect the genital areas.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Painful Intercourse (Sex):

Painful Intercourse (Sex) - Experience

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Painful Intercourse (Sex) - Causes

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Painful Intercourse (Sex) - Treatments

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Pelvic Disorders That Cause Painful Sex in Women

A number of pelvic disorders in women can cause painful sex (intercourse), and thus decrease sexual satisfaction, for example:

  • Vaginal dryness caused by insufficient stimulation (the most common reason), conditions like perimenopause and hormone imbalances; or medications. Vaginal dryness can inhibit sexual arousal or make intercourse uncomfortable.
  • Obstructions or anatomical changes, for example, endometriosis, pelvic mass, ovarian cyst, surgical scars.
  • STDs like Gonorrhea, herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, and syphilis are infectious diseases spread by sexual contact. They can cause changes in the genitals that make sex uncomfortable or even painful.

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