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?
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.
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.
If you are approaching menopause, post-menopausal, nursing (breastfeeding), had your ovaries removed, or if you’ve had medical conditions or treatments that have caused vaginal dryness (for example, some cancer treatments can cause vaginal dryness), then vaginal moisturizers – including, possibly, vaginal estrogens – may be helpful to you. If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, I recommend you speak with a healthcare provider who can examine you and, if warranted, suggest treatment options for you. You can learn more about vaginal dryness and treatments for it from the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.
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, pain, and vaginal lubrication 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.
Reviewed and updated, with link to newer ACOG vulvovaginal information, on May 3, 2017.