Painful sex

Sex can sometimes hurt, especially if you're a woman. If you feel pain in your vagina or pelvis during sex, it may be caused by one of the following.

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Inadequate foreplay

There could be many reasons why sex is uncomfortable. An unstretched hymen can cause pain the first few times, but in every case it’s important to be relaxed and aroused, and for the vagina to be sufficiently lubricated before penetration. The trick is to take time getting intimate with your partner, just kissing, touching and caressing. Aim to make sex an extension of this foreplay, rather than an act in its own right, and things should go more smoothly.

Lack of lubrication

A woman’s natural lubrication can be reduced by many things, from boozing to breastfeeding. As a result, you could be tickled up by the world’s greatest studmuffin and still feel as dry as a desert state. There are plenty of lubricating products on the market, however, just avoid anything oil based (such as massage oil, moisturiser or Vaseline) as this can damage condoms and be hard to wash out afterwards. Instead, go for popular water-based brands. Some of them have a spermicidal action, check the packaging.

Vaginal infection

A number of local infections can make sex painful for women. Thrush is one of the most common causes – an easily treatable yeast infection that causes the vagina to become raw and itchy. If in doubt, however, see your GP or local GUM clinic, as some sexually transmitted infections such as trichonomas, chlamydia, genital warts or herpes can cause vaginal discomfort during sex. In every case, reduce your risk of STI infection by avoiding unsafe sex and using condoms.

General soreness

The vagina is a sensitive area, easily irritated by perfumes, strong soaps and bubble bath, nylon underwear, and tight fitting trousers. All it takes is a little ‘penis chafing’ to inflame the situation, and bang goes your chance of a good time. Avoid the problem by using a mild, unperfumed soap when you wash, steer clear of vaginal deodorants and talcs, and stick to cotton underwear.


This is an involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles, which can make penetration difficult, painful and often impossible. The cause is generally believed to be psychological, and often rooted in sexual anxiety. Even so, a vaginismus sufferer may not consciously identify with such problems, and counselling may be needed to help resolve the issue. For further help, see your GP or visit your local family planning clinic, and ask them to refer you to an appropriate therapist.

Deep pelvic pains

Pain coming from deep in the pelvis, rather than the entrance of the vagina, can have a number of different causes. Common reasons for the discomfort include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID, often caused by chlamydia infection) and endometriosis (where tissue similar to the womb lining starts growing outside the womb). Both of these are linked to ill health and fertility problems, so it’s good to seek medical attention if you have this symptom.


The bottom line is sex shouldn’t hurt, so if it continues to be a problem then see your doctor. They can check for any local infection that could be causing discomfort, plus it’ll give you a chance to talk about contraception and safer sex.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015