What To Do if Sex is Uncomfortable

You may be surprised to learn that for women, pain during sex is a common occurrence, with nearly 75% of all women experience some form of pain during intercourse at some point in their lives.  According to the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 30% of women reported pain during their last sexual encounter.

75 percent of women experience discomfort during sex

Experiencing pain during intercourse is not the result of “doing something wrong,” and often can be the sign of a medical, gynecological issue. By speaking with your health care provider about your symptoms and concerns, the condition can be medically addressed, and you may be able to stop a short-term or mild problem from becoming long-term and severe.

Some causes of discomfort during sex

The following can contribute to or result in sex that is uncomfortable or painful:

Gynecologic issues

Ovarian cysts or endometriosis can result in painful sexual intercourse.  Most women will have a cyst on one of their ovaries at some point in time and, while most are painless with no symptoms, some can contribute to discomfort during intercourse.  Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside of the uterus.

Skin disorders

Contact dermatitis is a reaction to an irritating substance, such as soaps, douches, or lubricants that contain a perfume or scent. Dermatitis is a common skin disorder, and it can affect the vulva and cause itching, burning, and pain.

Pain disorders

Vulvodynia is a type of pain disorder affecting the vulva. Treatments for vulvodynia include self-care measures and medication.

Perimenopause and menopause

Decreasing levels of the female hormone estrogen during these two stages of a woman’s life may cause vaginal dryness. Treatments include hormone therapy and using a lubricant or vaginal moisturizer during sex.


Symptoms of vaginitis include discharge, itching and burning in the vagina and vulva. This inflammation is often caused by a yeast or bacterial infection and can easily be treated with medication.

Episiotomy during childbirth

Women who underwent this procedure or sustained tears in the perineum during childbirth may experience painful sex for several months following the birth of their child. Common treatments include physical therapy and medication.

Lack of sexual response

Painful intercourse may also be caused by a lack of sexual response, (the feeling of wanting to have sex) or a lack of sexual arousal (the physical and emotional changes that occur in the body during sexual stimulation). Some of the common causes for diminished sexual response and arousal include the following:

  • Hormonal changes (such as those that occur during perimenopause and menopause, or breastfeeding) may cause vaginal dryness which results in pain during intercourse.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Relationship issues or past sexual experiences that were negative.
  • Illness and medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, or thyroid conditions.
  • Depression.
  • Medications—including some birth control methods and pain medication, can reduce sexual desire.
  • Your partner— Drugs for erectile dysfunction, may result in delayed orgasms for your male partner, which can lead to a longer, more painful, intercourse.


While it is always advised to speak with your health care provider about uncomfortable or painful sex, here are some self-care practices that may be helpful:

  • Use a water-soluble or silicone-based lubricant during sex. If you are using condoms, do not use petroleum jelly, baby or mineral oil as these substances can dissolve the latex in the condom and cause it to break.
  • Make time for sex and take steps ensure you and your partner are relaxed and enjoying one another. Nonsexual, but sensual, activities like massage can be very effective.
  • Talk to your partner about your pain, and explore activities you find sexually pleasurable such as oral sex or mutual masturbation.

Northern Colorado Women’s Wellness is Here to Help

It is important to remember that painful sex is not a figment of your imagination or the negative consequence of something you have done wrong. Sexual dysfunction is a common problem in women in all stages of life. Our evaluation begins with a careful history and physical examination. It is important for you to tell us about medications and supplements you are taking. Some issues have a simple solution, and others are more complex, requiring several visits. We strive to give you enough time to fully discuss your issues. If your sexual experiences are uncomfortable or painful, it is essential that you see your health care provider to ensure that gynecologic conditions are not the cause of your pain. Your health care provider also can help you address concerns with sexual arousal and response, and help you to once again enjoy a sexual relationship with your partner.

Located in Greeley, Colorado, our mission is to help women of all lifestyles heal their way to better health and happiness.

We accomplish our mission through deep listening and straight talk. As such we are the only local alternative to corporatized medicine that provides women the specialized knowledge and training of female-only health care providers.