Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful intercourse. It is defined as persistent or recurring genital pain occurring just before, during or after sexual intercourse. While painful intercourse can affect both men and women, it is more common in women with up to 20 percent of American women experiencing dyspareunia at some point in their lives. This pain can result in dissatisfaction or disinterest with sexual intercourse.
Pain associated with dyspareunia may occur at the vaginal opening or deep in the pelvis. The pain may be distinct and localized, or there may be a broader sense of discomfort. The pain can be described as sharp, burning, aching, or throbbing. Some sufferers of dyspareunia experience pain that feels like menstrual cramps while others report feeling something like a ripping sensation. Women often describe feeling as though something is being bumped deep inside the pelvis.
Causes of Dyspareunia
There are many possible causes of dyspareunia, including:
- Infections (such as yeast infections or urinary tract infections), sexually transmitted diseases, gastrointestinal maladies, conditions of the genitals and urinary system issues may all affect pain during intercourse.
- Inflammation of the vagina caused by excessive hygiene, poor hygiene, sensitivity to chemicals in hygiene products, and friction irritation due to specific sports.
- Muscle spasms around the vagina that can be of such severity that sexual intercourse is impossible for some women.
- Vaginal dryness caused by menopause or changes in estrogen levels.
- Vaginal dryness caused by a lack of foreplay before intercourse, or lack of arousal.
- Abnormalities inside the uterus, include fibroid growths, a tilted uterus, or if the uterus prolapses (falls) into the vagina.
- Past surgeries which may have left scar tissue which can cause pain.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
Painful sex can be a source of high anxiety and may cause distress and interpersonal difficulties. Although it is possible to engage in intercourse, many women suffering from dyspareunia acquire a negative association with sex and sexuality, leading to emotional, interpersonal and psychological discomfort.
How is Dyspareunia Diagnosed
There is no test for dyspareunia, but a doctor will take several approaches to diagnose this condition, including:
- Having a conversation about the pain (how long have you experienced this pain, do you only experience this pain at certain times or with particular partners, do you experience more pain in certain positions or due to specific circumstances).
- Asking about what you have done in the past to relieve your pain (sexual lubricants, more foreplay).
- Performing a pelvic exam.
- Testing for infections that might be causing vaginal pain.
- Ordering a pelvic sonogram, CT scan, or X-ray test to look inside your pelvis.
If your symptoms and exam suggest an infection, your doctor will treat the infection and follow up to make sure that was the only cause of pain.
When to See a Doctor About Dyspareunia
Unfortunately, many women accept painful intercourse as inevitable, depriving themselves of healthy intimacy. Women are often reluctant to seek medical assistance to discuss sexual difficulties in part due to a general tendency to accept pain as an unavoidable part of intercourse, as well as due to worry that a doctor might dismiss their complaints and concerns as unfounded. While not all clinicians are attuned to the nature or presence of this condition, we are comfortable discussing such intimate matters with discretion and care.
How Advanced Gynecology Can Help: Treatment Options for Dyspareunia
If you are suffering from painful sexual intercourse, Advanced Gynecology is here for you.
Our board-certified team of women’s health experts are ready to help you with diagnostic care and a range of treatment options.
We will counsel you about the best options for you and your health. We are well-versed in talking through intimate matters of sexual health in a caring yet professional manner. Your sexual health, including your physical and emotional health, is of utmost importance to us.