Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia)

What is Painful Intercourse?

Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) eventually occurs in most women. It is characterized by tenderness before, throughout, and after sexual intercourse takes place. It has many causes including an underlying physical condition such as scaring or illness, lack of sufficient lubrication because of hormone levels or medication, or physiological problems. For some, the problem goes away without concern or explanation, but for others the condition is far more serious and requires medical attention.

50 to 60% of women experience this phenomenon after childbirth. This issue is known as postpartum dyspareunia and can last up to six months after delivery.

What are the Symptoms of Painful Intercourse?

The symptoms of painful intercourse can greatly vary. In some women the pain is deep and caused by specific positions, and in others it is not as easy to determine. The pain can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of dyspareunia may include:

  • Pain only during sexual entry
  • Pain with every type of penetration including tampon usage
  • New or worsening genital pain
  • Deep cervical pain during sexual intercourse
  • Genital burning or achiness
  • Throbbing pain that continues long after intercourse

Additional symptoms that require medical attention may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Genital sores

How is Painful Intercourse Treated?

The treatment of painful intercourse depends on the underlying cause. A pelvic exam, medical history, imaging and other tests may be used to determine the reason and the best course of action. Treatment may include:

  • Sex counseling or therapy
  • Vaginal desensitization therapy
  • Changes in medication
  • Lubricant use
  • Positioning techniques
  • Medical treatment of underlying cause

Pain during sexual intercourse can start a cycle of painful events. The pain can cause anxiety, tension, and involuntary muscle contractions which can result in more pain. Underlying medical conditions can worsen and/or cause other complications. Dyspareunia can also cause serious relationship and emotional problems if the condition is left untreated.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017