Painful Sex

How common is painful sex?

Pain during intercourse is very common—nearly 3 out of 4 women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives. For some women, the pain is only a temporary problem; for others, it is a long-term problem.

What causes painful sex?

Pain during sex may be a sign of a gynecologic problem, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosisPain during sex also may be caused by problems with sexual response, such as a lack of desire (the feeling of wanting to have sex) or a lack of arousal (the physical and emotional changes that occur in the body as a result of sexual stimulation).

female pelvic anatomy in relation to painful sex

Where is pain during sex felt?

You may feel pain in your vulva, in the area surrounding the opening of your vagina (called the vestibule), or within your vagina. The perineum is a common site of painful sex. You also may feel pain in your lower back, pelvic region, uterus, or bladder.

When should I see a health care professional about painful sex?

If you have frequent or severe painful sex, you should see an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care professional. It is important to rule out gynecologic conditions that may be causing your pain. Your ob-gyn or other health care professional also can help you address problems with sexual response.

What causes sexual response problems?

The following reasons are among the most common:

What kinds of gynecologic conditions can cause painful sex?

Painful sex can be a warning sign of many gynecologic conditions. Some of these conditions can lead to other problems if not treated:

What can I expect when I see my health care professional about painful sex?

Your medical and sexual history, signs and symptoms, and findings from a physical exam are important factors in determining the cause of your pain. Sometimes, tests are needed to find the cause. A pelvic exam or ultrasound exam often gives clues about the causes of some kinds of pain. Further evaluation, sometimes involving a procedure called a laparoscopy, may be needed.

You also may be asked about medications that you are taking, whether you have any medical conditions, and past events that may affect how you feel about sex, such as sexual abuse. Other health care professionals may be consulted for further evaluation and treatment, such as a physical therapist or a dermatologist (a specialist in diseases of the skin).

Are there things a woman can do on her own to help with pain during sex?

If you have painful sex, see an ob-gyn or other health care professional. There also are some self-help measures you can try to relieve pain during sex:

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