1. Health

Why Is Sexual Intercourse Painful?

Causes of Pain and Discomfort During Sex


Updated July 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Waking up on the wrong side of bed
Troels Graugaard/E+/Getty Images
A number of conditions may cause pain and / or discomfort during sexual intercourse. These conditions include:

Vaginal Infection

Certain vaginal infections, such as vaginal yeast infections and trichomoniasis, are often present without noticeable symptoms. However, during sexual intercourse, the rubbing motion of the penis against the vagina and genitalia sometimes causes the symptoms of these vaginal infections (stinging, burning) to intensify. Genital herpes sores are another frequent cause of pain during sex.

Vaginal Irritation

Many products contain irritants that can cause vaginal irritation, leading to discomfort or pain during vaginal sexual intercourse. These include:

  • any contraceptive foams, creams, or jellies
  • allergic reactions to condoms, diaphragms, or latex gloves
  • vaginal deodorant sprays
  • scented tampons
  • deodorant soaps
  • laundry detergents (in sensitive individuals)
  • excessive vaginal douching

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness often causes painful sexual intercourse. Normal vaginal lubrication is a given for most women; however, the vagina may be dry at certain times, making vaginal penetration painful. Lack of vaginal lubrication can be caused by several factors including:

  • trying to achieve vaginal penetration too fast before enough stimulation has occurred to allow normal vaginal lubrication to take place
  • feeling nervous or tense about the sexual experience; this can slow the release of vaginal lubrication
  • using a condom without the addition of a vaginal lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly (Saliva is an acceptable for vaginal lubrication, but never use petroleum-based products, as they can deteriorate condoms and contribute to vaginal infections.)
  • hormonal imbalance during menopause, the years preceding menopause, or following childbirth
    (Vaginal lubrication methods listed above may help; menopausal women may benefit from a prescribed estrogen cream that's used vaginally.)

See also: Before You Buy Vaginal Lubricants

Vaginal Tightness

This occasionally happens when you feel tense, or are not fully relaxed when penetration occurs. Difficulty penetrating a tight vagina can happen even when vaginal lubrication is not a problem. The first few times you engage in sexual intercourse, the vagina may be tight due to an unstretched hymen, which can cause pain at the time of penetration.

Sometimes a more severe condition called vaginismus is responsible for vaginal tightness; women with vaginismus experience strong, involuntary muscle spasms of the vaginal muscles during sexual intercourse or vaginal penetration by any object, including fingers and tampons.

Pain of the Clitoris

The clitoris is the most sensitive part of the female genitalia. Gentle touching or rubbing of the clitoris is extremely pleasurable for some women, while it is unbearably painful for others. Clitoral pain may also occur due to poor hygiene; vaginal secretions may collect under the clitoral hood and may lead to pain if not properly washed away.

Pelvic Pain

Occasionally, a woman will experience pelvic pain upon deep, thrusting penetration. Many conditions may cause this pain, including:

Vulvodynia is a painful, and often hard to diagnose chronic condition that causes a burning and/or stinging sensation of the vulva and vagina.

Pain and / or discomfort are never part of normal sexual intercourse. If you experience pain during sex, don't be afraid to tell your partner who has no way of knowing that you're uncomfortable unless you talk about what you're feeling. Also make sure to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause.

See also: Top Causes of Bleeding After Sexual Intercourse

Share Your Experience: How Do You Cope With Pain During Sex?


Pain During Intercourse. ACOG Education Pamphlet AP020. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp020.cfm. Accessed 08/21/2009.

Related Video
How to Choose Pain Medication

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.