What's Up With This?!

Why Does Sex Hurt All Of A Sudden? Don’t Freak Out Just Yet, Says An OB-GYN

Dr. Katerina Shkodzik breaks down why it might be happening — and when to actually worry.

Typically, sex feels good... but sometimes, it (unfortunately) doesn't. If you're someone who usually enjoys pain-free sex, and then you're suddenly like, "WTF! Why does it hurt?" then you should know that could be pretty typical (again, unfortunately). In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as many as 75% of women will experience pain during sex at some point in their lives, whether it's temporary or a long-term problem.

"It is common to feel discomfort when having sex on some occasions," Dr. Katerina Shkodzik, MD, OB-GYN, medical advisor at Mira, confirms to Scary Mommy.

But while painful sex is common, you shouldn't dismiss it or shrug it off, Shkodzik says. If you're experiencing any pain from sex, read on to learn why it might be occurring and Shkodzik's expert advice on what to do about it.

Potential Reasons You May Experience Pain During Sex

There exist myriad reasons pain may not be as pleasurable as usual. "That may be related to lack of lubrication due to decreased sexual drive, psychological tension, chronic stress, and luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, especially a few days before the period, or hormonal contraception," explains Shkodzik. "Additionally, some life stages like postpartum and breastfeeding, or perimenopause, may be associated with vaginal dryness and lead to discomfort during sex."

Pain can happen during sex and after sex, says Shkodzik, which can help differentiate the reasons why pain occurs. For example, pain after sex is commonly associated with uterine fibroids or endometriosis. In contrast, pain during sex is more commonly related to vaginal dryness or some non-specific infections that may cause the inflammation of vaginal walls.

According to Shkodzik, the most common reasons for painful intercourse are:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Endometriosis (retrocervical endometriosis or endometriomas in the ovaries are the most common cases)
  • Uterine fibroids (if they are bigger than 30 mm)
  • Vaginal infections (STIs, yeast infection, and bacterial vaginosis)
  • Vaginismus (vaginal muscle reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration)

What You Can Do at Home to Help

First, talk with your partner about what is happening to you. This way, you're both on the same page and can come together — ahem, hopefully in more ways than one when all is said and done — to determine what will make you feel better. After all, your partner wants sex to feel good for you! (Or at least they should.)

Experiencing vaginal dryness is common at any age, so you might want to use a personal lubricant if you're experiencing vaginal irritation or sensitivity. There are different types of lube, including silicone-based and oil-based, so try a few to determine what's right for you.

Sometimes the type of sexual position causes pain, so don't be afraid to experiment with multiple positions or try oral sex or masturbation if intercourse is too painful.

Be mindful of your stress levels, too. How can you decompress before engaging in sex? Maybe it's running a warm bath, working out, or spending time alone beforehand so you can recharge.

When to See a Doctor

Painful sex is common, but as mentioned, it isn't normal. Shkodzik says to be on the lookout if the pain is: repeatedly occurring, exists during and after sex, has a high intensity or its intensity increases with time, is associated with vaginal bleeding, or decreases sexual drive. If you're experiencing any of the above, she suggests you visit a doctor immediately.

Additionally, painful sex symptoms like painful menstruation, heavy menstrual bleeding, spotting between periods, abnormal vaginal discharge, painful urination, or defecation are the signs of reproductive issues that need immediate consultation with a doctor.