What Women Need to Know About Pain During Intercourse

Painful intercourse can occur for reasons that range from structural problems to psychological concerns. Many women have painful intercourse at some point in their lives.

The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia (dis-puh-ROO-nee-uh), defined as persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during, or after sex. Talk to your doctor if you’re having painful intercourse. Treatments focus on the cause and can help eliminate or lessen this common problem.


If you are having painful intercourse:

  • Pain only at sexual entry (penetration).
  • Pain with every penetration, which includes putting in a tampon.
  • Deep pain during the thrusting process.
  • Burning pain or even aching pain.
  • Throbbing pain lasting hours after intercourse.

When to see a doctor?

If having recurrent pain during sex, talk to one’s health care provider. Treating the problem can indeed help sex life as well as emotional intimacy and self-image.


Physical causes of painful intercourse do differ, depending on whether the pain occurs at entry or with deep thrusting. Emotional factors can be associated with several types of painful intercourse.

Entry pain

Pain during penetration might be associated with a range of factors, including:

  • Not enough lubrication:
This is often the result of not going in for sufficient foreplay. A drop in estrogen levels after one’s menopause, childbirth, or during breast-feeding can also be a cause.

Certain medications are certainly known to affect sexual desire or even arousal, which can decrease lubrication and also make sex painful. These include antidepressants, sedatives, high blood pressure medications, antihistamines, and certain birth control pills.

  • Injury, trauma, or irritation:
This includes injury or irritation caused by an accident, pelvic surgery, female circumcision, or even a cut made during childbirth to enlarge the birth canal (episiotomy).
  • Inflammation, infection, or even skin disorders:
An infection in one’s genital area or urinary tract can cause painful intercourse. Eczema or other skin problems in one’s genital area can also be a problem. These involuntary spasms of one’s muscles in the vaginal wall can make penetration painful.
  • A problem present at birth:
Not having a fully formed vagina (vaginal agenesis) or even the development of a membrane that does block the vaginal opening (imperforate hymen) could cause dyspareunia.

Deep pain

Deep pain usually occurs with deep penetration. It might be worse in certain positions. Causes include:

  • Certain illnesses cause conditions: The list includes endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine prolapse, retroverted uterus, uterine fibroids, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic floor dysfunction, adenomyosis, hemorrhoids, and ovarian cysts.
  • Surgeries or medical treatments: Scarring from pelvic surgery, which includes hysterectomy, can cause painful intercourse. Medical treatments for cancer, like radiation and chemotherapy, can cause changes that make sex painful.
Emotional factors

Emotions are indeed deeply intertwined with sexual activity, so they might play a role in sexual pain. Emotional factors include:

  • Psychological issues: anxiety, depression, concerns about physical appearance, fear of intimacy, or relationship problems can contribute to a low level of arousal and resulting discomfort or pain.
  • One’s pelvic floor muscles tend to tighten in response to stress in one’s life. This can indeed contribute to pain during intercourse.
  • History of sexual abuse: Not everyone with dyspareunia has a history of sexual abuse, but if a person has been abused, it can play a role.

It is difficult to know whether emotional factors are associated with dyspareunia. Initial pain can, of course, lead to fear of recurring pain, making it difficult to relax, which can indeed lead to more pain. The person might start avoiding sex if pain there.


Painful intercourse is distressing.