Let’s set the record straight: sex is to be enjoyed. Sex is for pleasure; it is not supposed to hurt. If it does, there’s usually a reason why. And most of the time it’s something that can be fixed! So why do accept painful sex as a part of life?
And why does it happen so often?
If penetrative sex hurts, stop and investigate.
There is a cultural belief that having penetrative sex for the first time is supposed to be a painful experience. So when it hurts the first time, and even the times after, we accept the experience and don’t do anything other than grin and bear it.
Over time, we come to think of sex as a painful experience, and sometimes we give up on our hope of having great sex completely. As a result, our health and our relationships suffer.
Some of us have been taught that the hymen breaks when we have sex for the first time (it doesn’t) and this causes the vagina to bleed during sex. But the hymen doesn’t break, and bleeding during your first sexual experience is usually due to a lack of lubrication.
The vagina is a long canal that, when you become aroused, elongates, becomes wider, and often lubricates. It knows how to prepare for penetration. So if sex is painful, any number of things that can be happening.
You might need to slow down and lube up.
Lube is love, truly. If you’re not naturally lubricating enough, (and so many of us simply don’t), you need to help your vagina out and add some quality lubricant. This prevents friction and tearing, which is the main cause of bleeding during sex.
Scared to pull out the lube? Think of it this way: you’re not broken if you need lube. You’re smart to use it! And a lack of lubrication doesn’t mean you don’t desire your partner. On the contrary, breaking out the lube means you not only want it but you want it to feel good.
Lubrication makes penetration more pleasurable, which sends the message to your body that “this is enjoyable.”
You may also need to slow down and build up to penetration with more foreplay. Anxiety or nerves keep the vagina from being ready for penetration. Spend time doing things that make you and your partner/s feel relaxed and don’t jump the gun.
Or lay off the penetration (who needs it anyway?!?!) and explore all the other ways you can have sex: oral sex, mutual masturbation, massage and hand play, etc.
You might have a totally fixable condition called vaginismus.
Vaginismus is a female sexual dysfunction where the pelvic floor muscles that surround the vagina involuntarily contract in response to penetration. This makes penetration extremely painful or impossible. In severe cases, it can seem like there just isn’t a vaginal opening at all.
It can happen during sex, while trying to insert a tampon, or during a gynecological examination.
It’s an automatic response that you don’t have control over, and it can be caused by several things. Sometimes, it’s caused by a fear of penetration following a bad, painful, or traumatic sexual experience.
Vaginismus can be caused by emotional or sexual abuse, a painful medical examination, menopause, fear that your vagina hasn’t healed fully from surgery or childbirth, or shameful indoctrinations around sex.
But it can also be caused by anatomical or muscular issues. Some women suffer from increased muscle tone and mass; this creates a barrier and makes penetration impossible.
In many cases, however, the cause can’t be found. It’s important to note that the response is not simply mental anxiety; vaginismus is a physical response as well.
Vaginismus is a self-perpetuating cycle.
If penetration is difficult to achieve because of vaginismus but happens anyway, it is extremely painful. This experience teaches the body to anticipate pain and contract the muscles, even more, the next time penetration is attempted. This contraction then creates more pain again.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Vaginismus is not to be confused with dyspareunia, which is the feeling of pain during or after sex. There are many causes for dyspareunia, aka painful sex, and vaginismus is one of them. However, in the case of dyspareunia, penetration is still possible even though it’s painful.
If it sounds miserable, well, it kind of is. Who wants to have painful sex? It can make you feel hopeless, but the good news is that in the case of vaginismus, there is a ton of hope for you.
Nope, sex doesn’t have to hurt.
There are two types of vaginismus: primary and secondary. Primary vaginismus happens from the first experience with penetration. The vagina contracts, causing pain, and does so every time penetration is attempted.
Secondary vaginismus occurs when a woman who was once able to enjoy penetration has an experience that teaches her body that penetration isn’t safe, and vaginismus happens. Childbirth, rape, surgery, or hormonal changes are some common reasons.
Regardless of the reason, the condition can be treated quite easily. A combination of psychological therapy and physical treatment is typically needed and the success rate is high.
To receive a diagnosis, your doctor will perform a gentle exam to identify whether your vagina is contracting in response to penetration. Treatments include:
- Psychosexual therapy (talk therapy)
- Relaxation Therapy
- Pelvic floor therapy
- Vaginal dilators
Vaginal dilators are small cones that are inserted into the vagina to allow you to become acquainted with the experience of penetration at safe levels. Gradually, the size of the cones is increased and eventually, penetration becomes possible.
It’s a process of sending the body new messages about the experience of penetration. But often, a pelvic floor physiotherapist is needed to combine physical treatment with psychological therapy, especially if you’ve experienced trauma.
Why is pain during sex so common?
The incorrect notion that sex hurts sometimes, especially for vaginas, stops us from ever investigating our pain. But the thing is, there’s usually an underlying reason. Medical conditions like endometriosis can cause sex to be painful, yet uterine conditions are notoriously underdiagnosed because of cultural stigma around sex and menstruation.
Remember, sex is for enjoyment only. If you’re in pain, stop what you’re doing. Don’t repeat experiences you know will be painful. Second, start prioritizing pleasure over penetration. After all, there is more to sex than penetration.
But if you love penetration, look into the issue. It doesn’t have to hurt and you have the capacity to enjoy it. Slow down, lube up, and if that doesn’t help then talk to a sex-positive physician.
Be proactive about getting a proper sex-education if you haven’t gotten one. Sometimes unlearning shame is a huge step to having great sex. Download Emjoy and you’ll be on your way to becoming a sex-positive person.