Woman with hands over her abdomen experiencing symptoms that can cause pain during sex in females

What Causes Pain During Sex In Females?

Written on November 24, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Many women experience pain during sexual intercourse, and you may want to know some of the common causes of pain during sex in females. If you or someone you know experiences pain while having sex, read this article for everything you need to know.

Types Of Pain

Pain during intercourse, otherwise known as dyspareunia, is defined as persistent or recurrent pain that occurs before, during, or after having sex.[1] Several different types of pain can be experienced, including:

  • Pain during penetrative sex
  • Pain during the thrusting motions of sex
  • Pain that results in burning or aching of the female reproductive system
  • Pain persisting long after sexual activity is over

It is estimated that almost 75% of women report experiencing some pain during sexual activity.[2] However, just because this is a common experience doesn’t mean that it is supposed to happen. While occasional, mild soreness is considered normal, if you are having more intense or frequent pain, that is not considered to be normal.

This is also an area that deserves greater attention and screening by qualified healthcare providers, as this is often underreported due to feelings of embarrassment or confusion. There is often a stigma around women’s sexual health, and for this reason, pain during intercourse often goes undiscussed.

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What Causes Pain During Sex?

There are many reasons why females may feel pain during intercourse. Some of the most common reasons include[2-9]:

  • Dryness: This can occur in women of any age and can result in pain during intercourse. Dryness can occur naturally as women age, because of birth control use, or due to breastfeeding.
  • Endometriosis: This is a condition in which the uterine tissue grows in areas that it is not supposed to. Many women with endometriosis report pain during sex, thought to be due to the inflammation of the tissue in the vagina and rectum.
  • Interstitial cystitis: This is a condition that can be very debilitating in which individuals have bladder pressure, bladder pain, and pelvic pain. This frequently results in pain during intercourse as well as insufficient lubrication.
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction: This is a condition in which people cannot relax or coordinate movement of the muscles of the pelvic floor. Having this condition affects a woman’s reproductive health by affecting her uterus and vagina. A side effect is pain during sex.
  • Vaginismus: This is a condition in which the vagina is tense. As a result, pain during sex is a commonly reported side effect.
  • Infections: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur for millions of people each year. These diseases irritate the genitalia, which can subsequently create pain during sex.
  • Ovarian cysts: These are fluid-filled sacs that form on or in the ovary. Cysts can put pressure on the ovaries, creating pain during sex.
  • Fibroids: These are benign growths of muscle and connective tissue that affect anywhere from 60-80% of women. They can cause pain during sex depending on their form, size, and number, and/or if irregular menstrual bleeding or cramping is experienced due to the fibroids.

How To Reduce Pain During Sex

Depending on the origin of the pain experienced during sex, solutions for reducing and/or remedying this pain will vary.

Some methods of reducing pain during sex include [10-12]:

  • Using lubricant: Using water-soluble lubricants can aid in reducing irritation or sensitivity.
  • Medications: If you have an active infection, treating the infection may aid in reducing pain during sex. In addition, if you are taking any medication that affects vaginal lubrication, discussing this symptom with a qualified healthcare provider may be helpful as they can potentially adjust your medications. Some medications are known to help treat dyspareunia, and these may be helpful for you.
  • Therapy: Undergoing individual and/or couples therapy may help in reducing pain during intercourse, especially if someone has a negative emotional response to sex.
  • Vary technique: Using different techniques and different positions may help to reduce pain during sex.
  • Physical therapy: Undergoing pelvic floor physical therapy may be helpful for reducing vulvar pain by strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor. The muscles of the pelvic floor can sometimes become weak due to age, childbirth, and/or other physical strain.

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  1. Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/symptoms-causes/syc-20375967. September 17, 2022. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  2. What Women Need to Know About Pain During Sex. Cedars-Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/pain-during-sex.html. September 12, 2018. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  3. Endometriosis Symptoms: Painful Sex (Dyspareunia). Endometriosis Foundation of America. https://www.endofound.org/painful-sex-dyspareunia. Published December 28, 2020. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  4. Tonyali S, Yilmaz M. Sexual dysfunction in interstitial cystitis. Current Urology. 2017;11(1):1-3. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000447186.
  5. Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14459-pelvic-floor-dysfunction. Published 2017. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  6. Vaginismus: Dyspareunia, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15723-vaginismus. Published October 28, 2020. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  7. What Causes Painful Sex? Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-causes-painful-sex. Published September 22, 2023. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  8. Ovarian Cyst. Cedars Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/o/ovarian-cyst.html. Published 2019. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  9. Fibroids: Are They Making Sex Painful for You? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-treatment-uterine-fibroids-besides-hysterectomy/. Published February 22, 2017. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  10. When Sex Is Painful. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/when-sex-is-painful. Accessed November 19, 2023.
  11. Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375973. September 17, 2022 Accessed November 19, 2023.
  12. When sex gives more pain than pleasure. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/when-sex-gives-more-pain-than-pleasure. Published May 1, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2023.
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