Q&A: I Had Never Experienced Painful Sex Until Recently

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QUESTION: I lost my husband of 25 years five years ago. I’m dating someone now and we had intercourse for the first time recently. It was very painful. It had been 11 months since the last time I’d had sex, but I had never experienced painful intercourse before. Should I expect to have pain the next time around, too?

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Female Nude Painting

Photo: insaevans (flickr)

As women near menopause, estrogen levels drop and women may be more prone to experience pain or discomfort during sex.

Women may experience pain during sex for any number of reasons. Although some women experience painful sex throughout most of their lives, that’s uncommon. More often, women may have periods of time when sex feels painful.

Possible Explanations

For some women, sex is painful when they first start having it, perhaps especially if they feel nervous about sex or if they jump into sex without much foreplay or chance for the vagina to become lubricated.

Other times, women may feel painful sex while they are breastfeeding, as the body’s low estrogen state can result in vaginal dryness and resulting discomfort or pain.

Given the length of time that you were with your husband and the time since he passed away, I have to wonder if you’re nearing menopause or already in it.

Pain During Menopause

As women near menopause, estrogen levels drop and women may be more prone to experience pain or discomfort during sex. As the vagina becomes more dry, women are also prone to vaginal tearing, which can result in small amounts of bleeding during sex.

Using a vaginal moisturizer can help with day-to-day dryness and using a store-bought lubricant may help to reduce friction during sex and make intercourse feel more pleasurable.

Just because you experience painful sex does not mean that you will again, but you might- and learning about ways to make sex feel more comfortable may be important.

Find Out More

Because there are other reasons for pain and bleeding during intercourse, I would recommend checking in with a healthcare provider for a gynecological exam to make sure that all is okay.

You can learn more about genital health and pain during sex in The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health and you can learn more about using lubricants for comfort and pleasure in Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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