More Pain than Pleasure: 1 in 13 Women Say Sex Hurts

painful sex

Forget about “the big O” that some women are still searching for in the bedroom, a new study reveals that 1 in 13 women find sex in general to be quite painful.

According to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, these women are in fact experiencing dyspareunia or painful penetration that can result from a variety of causes including STDs, anxiety, lack of arousal or previous trauma to the vaginal area.

For many women, painful sex can result from something as simple as lack of lubrication. Dr. Kirstin Mitchell, senior research fellow at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at Glasgow University, and lead author of this latest paper lists several reasons that may explain why women are having such a difficult time enjoying sex:

“In the older age group, this is likely to be due to the hormonal changes in the menopause. In the case of the 16- to 24-year-olds, it may be about young women not feeling sufficiently aroused and therefore not lubricated enough, so that penetration is painful. Young women may then grow up thinking sex hurts.”

Working in sex education, I always try to stress to teenagers and adults alike that foreplay serves a purpose. The body needs time to prepare for sex and be aroused, and when you are only focusing on penetration you may miss the opportunity to bond with your partner and build anticipation. There’s a whole lot more to intercourse than penetration and orgasm. And let’s not knock a little extra lubrication. Lubricated sex not only enhances pleasure, but also keeps you safer by eliminating the opportunity for tears and cuts that can occur from dry sex and put partners at higher risk for transmitting STDs like HIV (if in fact the virus is present).

Dr. Mitchell also emphasizes that pleasure is just as much about healthy communication as it is about climax. Since dyspareunia can be attributed to so many different causes, it’s important that women be prepared to have honest conversations with medical providers about their sexual behaviors and be able to pinpoint when and where the pain is occurring. Clear communication with partners is key as well, according to Dr. Mitchell:

“Trust and respect are key foundations for good sex.”