Sexual Intercourse Pain

Sexual PainSexual intercourse pain is called dyspareunia by doctors. It may occur superficially near the outside as the penis initially enters the vagina, during deep penetration of the penis, or may be a mixture of both.

Infections of the vagina caused by a fungus (eg. thrush) or bacteria may inflame both the vagina and the vulval tissue around the outside. These infections are usually accompanied by a discharge. Irritation of the inflamed tissue during sex will cause pain.

Deeper infections in the lower part of the belly involving the bladder (cystitis), urethra (tube that drains urine from the bladder), bowel (eg. diverticulitis), lining of the belly (peritonitis) or an abscess in the pelvis will be aggravated by intercourse.

Sexual IntercourseA lack of the female hormone oestrogen after menopause may lead to a dryness of the vagina, which makes sex difficult and painful. The natural lubrication of the vagina is maintained by glands that are stimulated by oestrogen. Some women may notice that their vagina is drier at some stages of their menstrual cycle than at others due to variations in the level of oestrogen. Underactive thyroid, pituitary or adrenal glands, which affect the functioning of all cells in the body, may also cause vaginal dryness.

A prolapse (dropping) of the uterus, usually as a result of childbirth, age or obesity, may cause a backache that is aggravated by sex.

Causes of superficial pain during sex include:

  • vulvodynia,
  • Bartholin’s gland infection (glands near the opening of the vagina that produce its natural lubricating fluid),
  • genital herpes infection (painful ulcers around the vulva and the lips of the vagina),
  • an episiotomy scar (cut in the back wall of the vagina performed to allow the baby’s head to emerge more easily during birth),
  • vaginismus (strong spasm of the muscles in the vagina that prevents the penis from entering),
  • an allergy to soaps, perfumes, detergents in underwear or other substances may cause a swelling and inflammation of the delicate tissues of the vulva.

Causes of deep pain during sex include:

  • cervicitis,
  • salpingitis and pelvic inflammatory disease (infections of the fallopian tubes and other organs in the pelvis),
  • endometriosis,
  • fibroids (hard balls of fibrous tissue that form in the muscular wall of the uterus),
  • an ectopic pregnancy (a foetus in the Fallopian tubes instead of the uterus)
  • tumours or cancer of the cervix, uterus or ovaries.

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(Last modified: 20th Oct 2014)

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