Experiencing Painful Sex? Here’s Exactly What to Do About It


Have you experienced pain during sex at some point in your life? Chances are you have. A question just as important to ask yourself is, did you endure it because you thought it was normal? Because it isn’t and you shouldn’t have to.

The idea that losing your virginity is supposed to painful or uncomfortable is a myth. Yet, it’s a deep-rooted idea in the minds of many women — and men; potentially due to the lack of sex education from a young age — so much so, that we tolerate it for far longer than we need to.

Painful sex is actually not what women should ever experience. In fact, even first-time sex can be completely pain-free. What we’re here to tell you is that sexual pain is certainly common but not normal and there can be medical and emotional reasons that might be causing the pain; of which
are treatable.

Lara Parker, author of Vagina Problems, endured pelvic pain for years before she got a diagnosis. Previously, penetrative sex for her was almost, if not, impossible.

“I quite literally had no idea what was going on. I did not know painful sex was possible past your first time (since everyone loves telling people losing your virginity is painful!) and I certainly had no idea how common it was. I had never even heard of the pelvic floor. I had never heard of endometriosis despite it impacting 1 in 10 women or 200 million people worldwide. I had no concept of a vagina that could hurt in a myriad of ways.

“It’s why I won’t shut up about these things now — because they are maddeningly common yet people like me are made to feel as if we are imagining it all.”

Parker was diagnosed with a myriad of medical problems that caused her sexual pain; including vaginismus and endometriosis. However, in other cases, pain does not always mean there is something wrong. Pain is your body telling you that something is not quite right but it is not necessarily proportional to tissue damage or other serious physical complaints. For this reason, if you are experiencing consistent sexual pain like Lara was, it is important to have it checked out.

Pelvic floor physiotherapist Karly Coltman from Sydney Pelvic Clinic says that painful sex can feel like stinging, burning, stabbing and/or a throbbing and can be caused by a range of medical conditions such as:

  • Genito-Pelvic Pain Disorder (GPPD) is characterised by pain during attempted penetration
  • Vaginismus refers to the unintentional tightening of the pelvic floor muscles during attempts of vaginal penetration
  • Endometriosis
  • Provoked Vulvodynia is persistent and unexplained vulva pain
  • Vestibulodynia is characterized by pain and sensitivity in the vulva. This may be provoked i.e. pain from attempts of penetration or touch of the vulva; or unprovoked.

A condition like vaginismus can be triggered by feelings of fear or anticipation of pain; which is why sex-ed is so important. Cotman goes on to say that some other causes of pain can be anxiety, stress, relationship  problems and a fear of the pain itself. As, when the body anticipates  pain, the pelvic floor can automatically tighten up and this will cause  discomfort. In other words, if fear and/or anxiety are a driver, it can make the experience very uncomfortable which is the opposite of what it should be!

You should never feel ashamed to tell your partner or someone you’re dating if you are experiencing pain during  sex, nor should you ever feel  pressure to endure it just because you think it will cause a stir if you don’t. Go at your own pace, don’t push yourself too hard and listen to your body if it tells you to stop.

We spoke in detail with Parker about dating whilst having painful conditions that prevented her from having sex.

“For a really long time I was petrified of the concept of dating — I didn’t know how to do it. As a straight woman, I almost felt like I was keeping a secret by not being upfront about the fact that I cannot have penetrative sex. 

“But eventually,  through work  in  therapy and internal reflection, I began to view this more as some sort of sexual preference, of which is only disclosed if and when I choose to bestow my beautiful gift of being sexually active with me to someone.”

“A lot of people live with disabilities or things that impact their way of living — men were not showing up to dates telling me that they were still heartbroken by the girl who dumped them junior year, so why did I  have the expectation of myself to show up ready to divulge such a painful medical condition to someone I wasn’t even sure I wanted to sleep with? 

“I think it’s really important to do your best to view this as something  that’s not a big deal, because although it’s incredibly painful and has impacted my life in many ways, it is something that impacts me, and is not information that a person who I met on Hinge two weeks ago needs to be privy to.”

If this is an ongoing concern for you, it’s worth seeking the advice of a pelvic floor physio to examine further what might be causing pain for you. Karly shared some advice on what we can personally do to help and navigate sex when it’s painful and/or uncomfortable:

  • Know you’re not alone and sexual pain is treatable (knowing this in itself can be a huge relief)
  • Be curious; what is your pelvic floor doing throughout the day? Can you relax it when you are resting? Like a fist that has been clenched all day, we need to relax our pelvic floor muscles to allow good circulation and flexibility; the pelvic floor is no different. Let it go!
  • Look at how other factors in your life could be influencing your experience; stress, relationships, anxiety, shame. Work on this and be aware of it; these things matter a great deal and can influence your pain.
  • Get more educated on your own anatomy. Take a mirror and look at your vulva. Do you know where your labia majora and minora are? What about urethra, vaginal opening?
  • Never feel pressure to face sex with your partner if it’s too painful for you. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling.

A trained pelvic floor physio can teach you how to relax your pelvic floor muscles and create safety through stretches and education. There are also some amazing pelvic floor stretches you can find on Youtube for relaxing the pelvic floor area.

Being intimate should mean doing just that — bringing you closer to your partner and sharing an enjoyable experience together!

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