October 12, 2009

Q&A: What Can Be Done About Vaginal Pain During Sex?

As many as 10-15% of women experience chronic genital pain. In this episode, Dr. Debby Herbenick answers a question about vaginal pain during sex.

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Question: My wife has vaginal pain during sex. The pain started shortly after we had our daughter, but her OBGYN can’t find anything wrong. There’s no intimacy in our lives any longer and this causes huge problems. Please help us.

Many Women Deal With Vaginal Pain

As many as 10 to 15% of women experience chronic genital pain issues which can greatly impair daily activities, such as riding in a car, wearing tight clothing or sitting down at work all day. Genital pain can also make sex feel very painful.

Some women who experience genital pain only feel pain at the moment of sexual penetration whereas others feel it during a range of sexual activities. Even genital touching or cunnilingus can be painful for some women.

Doctors Are Still Learning

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers have not received adequate training in issues related to genital pain. Research related to genital pain is relatively new with the vast majority of the research having been conducted only in the past decade.

As a result, women who experience genital pain may be best served by seeing a healthcare provider who has significant expertise in diagnosing and treating conditions such as vulvodynia, which means “vulvar pain”. The vulva is the word use to describe the outside parts of a woman’s genitals.

Find More Information

The National Vulvodynia Association is a patient advocacy group that supports research related to genital pain. They also maintain a list of healthcare providers who have experience diagnosing and treating women with such problems. You might try contacting the NVA through their web site, which is www.nva.org, to find out if there is an expert in your area that your wife can go to see.

In addition, although there are real, physical causes of genital pain, there’s no doubt that genital pain can have difficult influences on a couple’s relationship. Many women feel guilty for being unable to pleasure their partner in the way that they would like to. Often times, women’s partners feel frustrated at the lack of intimacy, too, and may find it difficult to let go during sex lest they end up unintentionally hurting their partner.

Sex therapy can help couples communicate in helpful ways about sex and work together to find ways of being intimate in pleasurable, connecting ways. You can find a sex therapist in your area through the web site of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research which is www.sstarnet.org.