Q&A: My Partner Experiences Pain During Penetrative Sex

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QUESTION: My partner experiences pain when we try to have penetrative sex. Some information has suggested that a lack of arousal or getting moist could be the cause, bur she doesn’t have these issues. We have used smaller sex toys and even these can cause problems. Do you have any ideas for how to correct this?

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Photo: Łukasz Strachanowski (flickr.com)

Because there are so many possible causes of genital pain, it is important that women who experience genital pain be seen by a healthcare provider who has expertise in this particular area.

Chronic vaginal or vulvar pain is experienced by about 10 to 15% of women in the United States and, as best as we can tell, a similar proportion of women in other countries may experience genital pain issues as well.

Cause and Effect

There are many different reasons why a woman may experience chronic genital pain. Some women have had trauma or injury to their genitals which results in lasting irritation or pain.

Other times, women may have skin sensitivities or allergies that cause the genital skin to become easily irritated in response to chemicals in laundry detergent used to wash underwear or clothing, bath wash, soap, lubricants, condoms or other products that the genitals may come into contact with.

Medical Conditions

Benign genital skin conditions, such as one called lichen sclerosus, can also cause genital pain among women.

Researchers believe, too, that problems with nerves, genital tissue or hormone receptors in the genitals may also contribute to genital pain, such as a condition called vulvodynia that refers to chronic vulvar pain without an identifiable cause.

Find Out More

Because there are so many possible causes of genital pain, it is important that women who experience genital pain be seen by a healthcare provider who has expertise in this particular area. If your partner is interested in speaking with a healthcare provider about her experience of pain, she can find a specialist by contacting the National Vulvodynia Association. The International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease is another excellent resource for information about vulvar pain and for physician referrals.

Depending on what diagnosis your wife may receive, there may be various treatments available to her. You can learn more about vulvar pain by reading The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health.

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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