Pain During Sex: Why Does It Hurt When I Have Sex? Here’s Why.

If you feel pain during sex, you are not alone. Here’s why and what you can do about it.

Society in general has deeply-rooted ideas about what sex should feel like, and that has led women to believe that pain during sex is unnatural or uncommon.

Turns out, 43 percent of American women have reported having some issue with pain during sex at some point, and 12 percent of them have experienced pelvic pain during sex so much that the pain has hindered their relationships.

Let’s look at the science behind why you might be experiencing pain during sex.

Lack of arousal

For many people, arousal takes time to build up. Maybe you are just not in the mood for sex and that is completely okay and normal, or maybe you do want to have sex but you need more foreplay so that your vagina gets lubricated to allow ease of penetration. Lack of lubrication leads to vaginal dryness and that can make sex uncomfortable or painful.

Vaginal dryness

Besides not having enough time for arousal to increase lubrication that can make penetration feel smoother and without pain, there are also other reasons that can cause vaginal dryness. Going through menopause or premature menopause, having low estrogen levels after giving birth or breastfeeding, as well as certain medications can lead to vaginal dryness.

Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder (Vaginismus)

Genito-pelvic pain and penetration disorder is when you experience persistent or recurring presence of one or more of the following symptoms, such as difficulty having vaginal intercourse, pain in the vulva, vagina, or the pelvis during intercourse or penetration, experience a lot of fear or anxiety or tightening of the pelvic floor muscles while trying to have vaginal penetration.

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms and they have persisted for six months or more, you should see a doctor to get officially diagnose. Very often, people with Genito-pelvic pain and penetration disorder will describe the feeling of the penis or dildo hitting a wall during penetration, which causes pain during sex. They may also have difficulty with inserting tampons or vibrators.

Problems with the vulva

Have you ever felt a burning-like or raw sensation when you touch your vulva? Then you might have a vulva-related skin disorder.

The vulva is located on the outside part, unlike the vagina which is located on the inside part. Some vulva-related skin disorders are lichen sclerosus or lichen planus, or a nerve disorder like vestibulitis or vestibulodynia. This produces so much pain when the outside of the vulva is being touched that makes penetration impossible.

Endometriosis, fibroids, and scar tissue from previous surgeries

Endometriosis is when the tissue lining of the uterus are found elsewhere outside the uterus – such as on the ovaries or the bladder, and this can cause pain because it can lead to inflammation of that tissue.

Fibroids are little benign non-cancerous balls of muscle and tissue that are in the uterus, which can push on things or alter the shape of the uterus, so much so that having penetrative sex can become really uncomfortable.


Another reason that might cause burning pain during sex is having an infection such as herpes. Herpes can really cause a lot of intense pelvic pain, and STDs like gonorrhea or chlamydia can go on to cause pelvic inflammatory disease which can lead to scar tissue in the pelvis that can cause pain or discomfort during sex.

Your bowels

Yes, not all things that causes hurt in the pelvis area are related to your uterus or your ovaries. Issues with your bowels such as constipation can cause pain during sex. Other things that affect your bowel like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome can also make sex uncomfortable.

Trigger warning: Trauma

A history of any trauma, such as sexual or physical trauma, or abuse history can make sex painful or uncomfortable, even when you do want to have sex. Working through an emotional trauma with a therapist can help you delve into the emotional cause of vaginismus.

How to reduce pain during sex

You’ll want to first medical conditions and infections that might be causing painful sex.

Start by reviewing your medical history to see if experiencing pain during sex might be linked to any changes in medications or with other medical problems. You will also want to consider doing a pelvic exam to rule out any infections.

Very often, part of treating painful sex is with some kind of therapy, such as pelvic floor physical therapy to help train your pelvic floor muscles to relax during sex. You might think that you can easily make your muscles relax, just like how you can relax your arm. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy as the muscles in our pelvis require a different kind of control.

You can work with with a pelvic floor physical therapist or do some exercises at home. Often, this is combined with things like using vaginal dilators to help get your pelvis used to the sensation of penetration.

If you are experiencing pain from vaginal dryness due to a lack of arousal, then learning more about what arouses you and foreplay are important for both for you and your partner. Discuss what turns you on, and look into using lubricants, vaginal moisturizers or vaginal estrogen.

If you have a history of trauma or abuse, you may want to look at therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, personal therapy, couples therapy, or sex therapy. Therapy will not only help you reduce the discomfort and pain during sex, but also improve your relationship with your partner(s).

Can you still have sex if you feel pain during sex or have vaginismus?

Yes you can, and remember that you are not broken or damaged because you experience pain during sex or have vaginismus.

There are many ways that our bodies can experience sexual and nonsexual pleasure, and you can start by exploring sex outside of vaginal penetrative play.

Penis-in-vagina is not the only kind of sex that exists, and you can try playing with clitoral or anal stimulation, explore different positions or kinks that might feel good, or playing with toys.

Because pleasure gets better the more you know what you like and need! Learn more about women sexual wellness, self pleasure tips, and more.