Q: Is finding sex somewhat physically uncomfortable related to being molested as a child?
A: While it’s true that some survivors of sexual abuse or molestation experience painful sex, it’s also true that painful sex can be caused by a number of factors, including medical conditions, allergies, pelvic floor disorders, and even side effects of medications. Some research has also shown that child sexual abuse can lead to anxiety and that the anxiety, in turn, can heighten risk for sexual difficulties such as painful sex.
In fact, about 30% of American women report some degree of pain during vaginal intercourse – mostly mild, but sometimes moderate to severe (and pain is even more common during anal intercourse). Fewer women – about 8% – report chronic pain during sex.
In many cases, spending more time building arousal (to increase production of natural vaginal lubrication) can help sex to feel more comfortable and pleasurable, as can using store-bought lubricant. For women who experience vaginal dryness due to menopause, breastfeeding, or as a side effect of certain health conditions or treatments, using a vaginal moisturizer can help vaginal penetration or intercourse to feel more comfortable and pleasurable.
You May Need To Talk It Through
If you’ve experienced sexual molestation or abuse and feel there are still issues that would be helpful to talk with someone about or to work through, then you might want to meet with a sex therapist (find one through AASECT.org or SSTARnet.org). A sex therapist can also help you think through your current experiences of sexuality. For example, how do you feel about yourself as a sexual person these days? How might you and your partner(s) adjust how you have sex to reduce the risk of pain? What is it like for you and your partner(s) to talk about painful sex – or, if you haven’t talked about it with your partner(s), what’s keeping you from doing so?
If the kind of pain you feel during sex is chronic or severe, then adding a lubricant or spending more time with arousal may not be enough to make sex feel better. Rather, you might find it helpful to meet with a healthcare provider who has particular expertise in the area of genital pain. You can search for a provider in your area through the National Vulvodynia Association (nva.org) or the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH.org). Some causes of painful sex can be easily identified and treated whereas other times the root cause can be more difficult to pinpoint and can take longer to successfully treat. Working with a nurse or doctor who has specialized training related to painful sex is important for many people and may help you too. Finally, you might find it helpful to read the book “When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain”.