Q&A: Why Do I Have So Much Pain During Sex?

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QUESTION: I've been sexually active with my boyfriend for a year and half. At one point, it started to hurt, especially when he tried to insert his penis, it felt like the skin was burning and like sand paper was being held against the clitoris' skin. Now it's just impossible to insert his penis. It hurts so much, I feel like crying at times.

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There are many ways of sharing intimacy and being sexual together that don’t have to involve vaginal intercourse, including kissing, sexual touching, oral sex and sex toy play.

There are many reasons why women may develop vaginal pain or pain during sex, and it’s impossible for me to know what’s causing your issues with pain. Let’s go over some of the possibilities.

Think About What Has Changed

Because sex used to feel all right for you, I’m guessing that it is unlikely that you are generally afraid or fearful of having sex. However, if for some reason you feel that you have long felt afraid of sex, uncomfortable having sex with your boyfriend, or guilty or ashamed about your sexual behavior, it might be helpful to talk with a sex therapist.

If sex used to feel pleasurable and good for you, this is probably unlikely to be true for you but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Sometimes circumstances change and people go from feeling positive about sex to feeling worried or shameful about sex, and certainly the way one feels about sex can impact on how it feels physically.

It’s also possible that medical issues are at stake here. I would highly recommend checking in with a gynecologist or other healthcare provider to see if any physical causes of your pain can be identified.

Sometimes women develop genital skin conditions that can cause or contribute to pain during sex. These conditions are often treatable.

Other times, women have internal causes of pelvic pain. It may also be that you’ve developed an allergic reaction to a lubricant that you’ve been using or to a lubricated condom that you’ve been using during sex.

If you’re using condoms, consider switching brands and trying a non-lubricated condom to see if that changes how sex feels.

If you’re using lubricants, you might try not using a lubricant one time or else switching brands to one such as Good Clean Love that doesn’t include some common irritants in its ingredients.

Open The Lines Of Communication

It’s also very important that you let your boyfriend know how much sex hurts for you. Most people want to create pleasurable experiences for their partner. If he doesn’t care how much sex hurts for you and is focused only on his pleasure, that’s something you might want to pay attention to.

And if he is trying to avoid causing pain for you, and you’re the one who insists on having sex in spite of experiencing pain, you might ask yourself why it is that you feel vaginal intercourse is so important to have, even when it hurts and makes you want to cry, as you noted.

There are many ways of sharing intimacy and being sexual together that don’t have to involve vaginal intercourse, including kissing, sexual touching, oral sex and sex toy play. Exploring these more often may help create positive experiences for you two while you work to address this issue.

Finally, you might find it helpful to read When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain, by some of country’s leading experts in women’s sexual health and vulvovaginal pain. Please know that sex doesn’t have to hurt and there are often good treatments and therapies available to help improve your sexual experiences.

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Read Dr. Debby Herbenick’s full response.

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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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