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Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia) – Symptoms and Causes

One of the benefits of having sexual intercourse with one’s partner is for pleasure. Sex and pleasure go simultaneously with each other and it feels good which is one of the reasons why we do engage in it. However, research has had it that about 30% of women don’t have pleasure during sex. Instead all they get is pain.

Most women do undergo severe pain during sex and this has caused serious problems in relationships and ultimately marriages. There are so many reasons why painful sexual intercourse occurs in women. This problems may vary from psychological concerns to physical problems.

Medically, painful sexual intercourse is termed as dyspareunia. It is defined as the constant experience of persistent or recurrent pain within the genitals before, during or immediately after sex.


This pain can be caused due to several reasons which could include:

1. Lubrication problems

This occurs when there is inadequate lubrication during foreplay. It may also occur due to insufficient foreplay. During breastfeeding,some days after childbirth or after menopause, there is a drop in the levels of estrogen in the body. This might also be a cause of lack of adequate lubrication.

Likewise, there are some medications that have been known to affect sexual desires and sexual arousal. This can cause a decreased level of lubrication and this can cause very painful sexual intercourse.

These medications may include antidepressants, medications used to control high blood pressure, anti histamines and some certain pills which are used for birth control.

2. Irritation, injury or trauma

This kind of painful sexual intercourse is caused due to the presence of an injury or irritation which could have been a result of an accident. It can also be caused from genital surgery, female circumcision, or a incision made during childbirth in order to enlarge the birth canal to allow for free passage of the child.

3. Skin problems, inflammation, or infections

When there is a presence of an infection or a foreign body in the genital tract or urinary system, it can cause severe pain during sexual intercourse. Skin problems as well inflammation in the genital area or urinary tract can cause intense pain during sex.

4. Vaginismus

This is a very common condition in women. This is the involuntary contraction of muscles present in the vagina. This can make penetration very painful or even cause severe injuries during sexual intercourse. This involuntary muscle spasms can be as a result of intense fear of the woman concerning sex.

5. Congenital Abnormalities

When there is a problem at birth which is as regards the vaginal formation of the female child, this can cause painful sexual intercourse. This abnormalities can include the absence of a fully formed and well developed vagina otherwise known as vaginal agenesis.

It can also include the development or formation of an imperforate hymen which is a membrane that blocks the opening to the vagina. These abnormalities can cause severe pain during sex.

6. Vulvodynia

This usually refers to the intense pain that affects a woman’s genitals which collectively are known as vulva. The vulva includes the clitoris, the vagina, the labia minors and the labia majora.

Most times, it affects different areas at once or sometimes it may just affect only one area. Most physicians do not know what causes it and hence, no cure known yet.

Some women however suffer deep pains which occurs with deep penetration. This means the deeper the penetration during sex, the more intense the pain felt by the woman and this can be caused by two distinct factors:

1. Illnesses and diseased conditions

Some disease can cause intense pain as penetration runs deep. Illnesses such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases (P.I.D), the prolapse of the uterine wall, the presence of retrovated uterus, presence of uterine fibroid, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and hemorrhoids.

2. Surgery or medical treatments

Some injuries might occur when carrying out a surgery which might lead to scarring of the vaginal tissues and invariably causing deep vaginal pains. Likewise hysterectomy can cause severe pains during sexual intercouse.

Some radical treatments of some diseases such as cancer which includes chemotherapy and radiation will cause the death of some cells and lead to changes which makes sex quite painful almost unbearable for some women.

For some women, they may not be experiencing any disease or the presence of a physical underlying fact. It could be as a result of some emotional factors which may include:

1. Physiological problems

Some physiological problems can reduce a woman’s ability to enjoy sex instead it causes her pain. Such problems include anxiety, depression, concerns about one’s physical appearance, fear of the entire process, fear of sexual intimacy, as well as certain relationship problems may affect the woman’s ability to enjoy sex and as a result of low level of arousal can cause penetration very painful.

2. Stress

Stress can be a very important contributing factor. Once a woman has undergone severe stress, and muscles in the body responds to this change most especially the muscles of the vagina. This can lead to severe pains during sexual intercourse.

3. Trauma

A person who has been sexually abused or traumatized sexually may have the inability to enjoy sex. Due to their traumatized state, they may still be translating sexual pleasure into sexual pain.

Symptoms of dyspareunia includes

Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia)

  1. Pain felt during penetration I.e during sexual entry
  2. Pain felt at every penetration and this also includes the insertion of a tampon.
  3. Deep intense pain during intercourse.
  4. Burning sensations during sex.
  5. Severe throbbing pain that lasts even after sex.

If you always have a recurrent pain before, during or after sex that always seems mild or severe, contact your doctor.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker

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