Ask Dr. Annie K.: Pain

I’m 22 years old and haven’t had sex yet. I’ve had close encounters, but every time I try I experience a lot of pain. Actually any sort of penetration brings severe pain and discomfort (tampons, fingers etc). i’ve had a basic exam from my gynecologist who reports everything is healthy and normal down there. What can I do to finally have an enjoyable sex life?

Over 75% of women experience pain from vaginal penetration at some point in their lives. You are not alone. 12% have severe pain the first time having intercourse. Many women will benefit from you asking about this very important (and painful) topic. Thank you for not being afraid to ask – Dr. Annie K is here for you.

What you are describing is called primary dyspareunia, a.k.a. painful penetration. From your gynecologic exam (which I bet was painful) it sounds like there was nothing visible externally that would indicate an infection or some kind of skin problem.

So what could it be and what to do? When it comes to painful sex, it is never “all in your head.” There is always a cause.

When I hear women talk about pain from inserting a tampon or finger as you describe, my first thought is vaginismus. Vaginismus is is considered a vagina in panic. There is an involuntary tightening of the muscles around the vagina, usually in response to penetration, or even from expecting penetration. Some women describe it as a ripping feeling or a sharp burning pressure that can last for hours or days. Anxiety is common along with frustration.

Although it may sound unusual, the first treatment recommendation is physical therapy. There are therapists specifically trained in pelvic floor anatomy. The entrance to the vagina is through pelvic floor muscles – there is no way around them! The treatment has a very high success rate in women like you who are highly motivated.

When talking sex let’s not forget the basics.

When the time comes, be sure you are with a partner you feel close to. Communication with your partner can be a game changer when a women has pain. This is a medical problem – you are working on it and sex is a priority. This may even bring you closer as a couple.

Technique is important. Allow for adequate foreplay – that part is fun! Most women achieve orgasm by stimulation of the clitoris, not penetration. No medical therapy can make up for a sexual partner who doesn’t like to play.

Lubrication can help many women who have pain with sex. Inadequate lubrication happens. It is ok to use K-Y jelly or go natural and use organic coconut oil or saliva.

Women who have experienced trauma may have painful sex as it may trigger PTSD. Work with a therapist is crucial in solving those issues and being able to move on to have a fulfilling sex life.

Whatever your age, when you have sexual pain, it can affect your self-esteem. Know that it is treatable but may take time. Start with finding the right physical therapist.

Unfortunately the first time is rarely like it looks in the movies. But it gets better! You are on your way to a healthy sex life.

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