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Taking care of your sex life means getting familiar with dyspareunia symptoms and treatment

If you’ve been there, we don’t need to tell you how painful intercourse (often known by its medical name, dyspareunia)affects your libido, mood and relationship. And, let’s face it, it’s not such a glamorous topic to talk about over coffee with your girlfriends (but if you ARE talking about it, go you!). 

We know it can be super frustrating and doesn't add any positivity into your life, however, there is help for you.

What exactly is dyspareunia?

The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia (dis-puh-ROO-ne-uh) — which is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse.”

Simply put, it’s a type of female sexual dysfunction that is characterized by regular pain before, during and after penetrative sex. Definitely something you’d like to get resolved as soon as possible, right? Sadly, dyspareunia affects 12–22% of young, menopausal or postmenopausal women.

If you’re experiencing this, you might be thinking, “Is it normal to have painful intercourse?” The answer is yes, if “normal” means common. But if “normal” means you should just accept it as a part of life and sexual activity, then no way!

The reasons a person might have dyspareunia symptoms can be as unique and varied as snowflakes. Perhaps you’re attempting sex for the first time, post baby and rather than a wonderful union of new found parental bliss (we can dream), you feel pain and discomfort instead. Maybe you’re a survivor of sexual assault and your trauma makes it difficult to enjoy consensual sexual encounters with your loving partner. Or you could be experiencing dyspareunia as a symptom of another medical condition or treatment, such as cancer.

Signs and symptoms of dyspareunia

Usually, the symptoms of dyspareunia are pretty obvious - sexual pain. But, the pain may occur in different ways and at various times. Dyspareunia can involve any of the following:

  • Sexual pain during penetration or thrusting (think burning, aching, throbbing or ripping sensations at the top of the vagina)
  • Pain with an orgasm
  • Pain with other types of penetration, like inserting a tampon or finger
  • Pain or symptoms that last after sexual intercourse

There are two types of dyspareunia, depending on where the sexual pain is located – superficial and deep. And, while some of the physical causes of dyspareunia can be put down to vaginal dryness, a lack of lubrication, a skin infection, illness or surgery, the emotional causes of painful intercourse might be to do with partner issues, stress and anxiety.

Superficial dyspareunia occurs with penetration, and can be caused by (but not limited to):

  • Your partners penis size being too large for the vaginal entrance (maybe as a result of menopausal changes or skin conditions) 
  • Prolonged use of contraceptive injection known as Depo
  • Lichens Sclerosis
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
  • Candida albicans (Candida) 
  • Trichomonas vaginalis
  • Genital herpes
  • Pudendal neuralgia
  • Vaginal stenosis (spasm of the pelvic floor muscles that cause short-term narrowing of the vagina)
  • Vaginal cysts
  • Vaginismus (primary or secondary)
  • Vulvodynia
  • Central sensitisation
  • Congenital abnormalities (problems from birth such as Mayer–Rokitansky–Küster–Hauser syndrome (MRKH) or vaginal agenesis)
  • Sexual arousal issues and more.

Deep dyspareunia symptoms cause deep pain and usually can show up at the first try of vaginal penetration, or (annoyingly) begin spontaneously after a pain-free and enjoyable sex life. And because our emotions are deeply intertwined with sexual activity they also might play a role in pain during sex. 

If you’re wondering about what conditions and illnesses add to the cause of painful sexual intercourse with here are some of the ones closely linked with deep dyspareunia symptoms:

  • Adenomyosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Retroverted uterus
  • Uterine Fibroids
  • Cystitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Ovarian Cysts 
  • Adnexal tumors and infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Cervical polyps
  • Cervicitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Endometriosis
  • Endometritis
  • Episiotomy scars
  • Fibroid uterus
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Intravaginal foreign bodies
  • Levator ani spasm 
  • Lower ureteral stones
  • Malfunction of an IUD
  • Pelvic adhesions
  • Pelvic congestion syndrome 
  • Retroverted uterus
  • Vaginal prolapse
  • Thrombosed hemorrhoids 

It can also occur due to surgeries or medical treatments such as: 

  • Scarring from pelvic surgeries
  • Hysterectomies
  • Radiation treatments
  • Chemotherapy 

Emotional and psychological factors can also impact pain and symptoms, including: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Concerns about how your body looks
  • Fear of intimacy 
  • Relationship problems
  • Stress
  • History of sexual abuse

What can you do to ease the pain?

If you’re experiencing superficial or deep pain before, during or after sex you don’t have to put up with it. And no, it’s not all in your head. The road to recovery is possible and it’s different for everyone. So, chatting to your doctor or pelvic physiotherapist and starting a personalized treatment plan is best done sooner rather than later. The good news is you don’t need a referral for this! 

We get it. It can feel embarrassing to talk openly about what’s going on for you. So, be gentle with yourself and find a professional you can trust. Don’t be afraid to seek a second or third (even fourth) opinion if you need to. With the right products, information and support, dyspareunia symptoms can be treated and your quality of life can improve.

Experiencing dryness?

Vaginal dryness and a lack of lubrication can cause pain and discomfort which can affect enjoying intimacy with your partner. It’s not something you have to close your eyes, grit your teeth and put up with (no siree). No two lubricants are alike so make sure you find a quality one which suits your body. We love Intimate Rose’s silky smooth, water-based lubricants which are natural and nourishing, and can help make a painful situation smooth again.

Want to control penetration during sex?

If you’re experiencing deep dyspareunia symptoms and want to control the level of penetration during sex, we can’t recommend the Ohnut enough. Designed to fit around the base of the penetrating partner, it helps you to control how deep (or not) your partner goes. Knowing these boundaries allow you to be more in the flow while giving you the flexibility to get saucy and have fun in new positions once more. 

It’s made with a soft squishy material and can stretch to accommodate all men and most toys. Ohnut often feels like an extension of your body, with a little hug.

Have you been advised to use a vaginal trainer or dilator?

We have just the right solution for you. Silicone dilators are designed to help your body learn to relax again. They can also help gently stretch the vaginal walls to make penetration easier and less painful. They can even be warmed for extra comfort – love!

Vaginal dilators can be used to retrain the pelvic floor and are sometimes also referred to as vaginal trainers. Known as desensitization therapy they can be used as a tool to learn vaginal relaxation exercises that can decrease your pain - relaxing your pelvic floor and desensitizing your vulvar and vaginal area. 

Intimate Rose’s dilators feel like the real deal, they’re perfect for helping your body to feel safe again with touch around the vulvar or in the vaginal area. It really helps to use a product that feels like a human being and not a plastic toy. Helpful if your next partner isn’t made of plastic! Check out this guide to find the right dilator for you!