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What Does It Mean If I Have Pain During or After Sex?

Pain During or After Sex Can Stem From Physical or Emotional Causes -- But You Don't Have to Live With It

By Maureen Salamon

Updated March 19, 2009

(LifeWire) - Question: What does it mean if I have pain during or after sex?

Answer: Two-thirds of women sometimes experience pain during or after sexual intercourse, but ongoing pain is never normal. Although sex might not always lead to a climax for you, repeated painful episodes aren't something you must endure.

Intercourse-related discomfort, or dyspareunia, can have physical and emotional origins. Successful treatment depends on tackling the cause.

Pain is not always located in the vagina itself: It can occur near the entrance to the vagina (the vulva) or deep inside the pelvis.

Vaginal and pelvic conditions can both trigger physically induced pain from sex.

Causes of Physical Pain in the Vagina

Lack of lubrication: During arousal, women usually produce natural lubrication inside the vagina that prepares them for male penetration. Sometimes -- in the weeks after childbirth or after menopause -- hormonal fluctuations can prevent sufficient lubrication from being created. This vaginal dryness can also occur at various points during the normal menstrual cycle, and it can make sex painful. Over-the-counter (OTC) water-based lubricants can help.

See: What To Know Before You Buy Vaginal Lubricants

Vaginal infections: These can range from sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and herpes to common yeast infections, and they can cause pain or discomfort during and after intercourse. Many also cause itching, burning and abnormal vaginal discharge. Women who have had a yeast infection can use OTC creams or pills to cure subsequent occurrences; those unsure whether they have an infection need to see a doctor.

See: Vaginal Itching and Burning After Sex

Causes of Physical Pain in the Pelvis

Urinary tract infections (UTIs): These infections, which are also called cystitis, sometimes result from inflammation of the urethra, the urinary opening near the vagina, during intercourse. The infection causes pain and burning during urination but also can cause pelvic pain after sex. Antibiotics are needed to cure UTIs.

See: Urinary Tract Infections 101

Irregular growths: These are not necessarily ominous, but many kinds can lead to sex-related discomfort. (Pelvic tumors are rare, but they merit real concern.) Irregular growths can include ovarian cysts, which are usually benign and may disappear on their own; fibroid tumors, which are hard, muscular growths inside the uterus; and endometriosis, a condition in which tissue from the uterine lining grows elsewhere in the abdomen. Any pain from deep within the pelvis needs to be addressed by a doctor.

See also: What Women Need To Know About Pelvic Pain

Emotional Pain

About 90% of intercourse-related discomfort has a physical cause, but emotions can be responsible, too.

Vaginismus:  These muscle spasms at the outer opening of the vagina can cause intense pain when sex begins and can prevent male penetration. Vaginismus can be triggered by infections or scars in the vagina but also can be the result of fear linked to the thought of sexual intercourse.

Some women who have been sexually abused or raped have this condition. Counseling can help.

See: Rape -- Healing and Surviving


"Dyspareunia (Pain with Sexual Intercourse)." hopkinsmedicine.org. 2009. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 20 Jan. 2009 <http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health_information_library/?ArticleID=21913>.  

"Pain During Intercourse." acog.org. 2009. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 20 Jan. 2009 <http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp020.cfm>.   

"Sexual Intercourse -- Painful." pennstatehershey.org. 1 Aug. 2008. Penn State Hershey -- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. 20 Jan. 2009 <http://www.pennstatehershey.org/healthinfo/hie/1/003157.htm>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

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