It’s an unfortunate fact of life that sometimes sex, which is supposed to be super fun and a great chance to connect (or like, have a neat one-nighter with a stranger) can be a little uncomfortable. I don’t mean uncomfortable in the sense of like, “woah, I can’t believe I slept with this idiot and he used the wrong form of “to” in a text”; I mean more like, “ouch, this hurts.” We’ve probably all felt a little bit of pain during sex at some point in our lives, but at what point does it become a concern? If you’re feeling pain during sex often, what’s causing it? And what can you do about it?
We turned to expert Kiana Reeves: a doula, certified sex educator, Certified Innate Postpartum Care Provider, and Certified STREAM (Scar Tissue Remediation, Education, and Management) Practitioner who ran us through the whole gambit of why people with vaginas can experience pain during sex and when it’s time to call your doctor. So, next time you’re dealing with some less than pleasant symptoms, you have no excuse.
Why Pain During Sex Can Happen
Reeves said that pain can be caused by “everyday” sexual issues like a lack of lubrication and micro-tears, or even muscle fatigue if you’ve been at it for days in a row. These still aren’t “normal” per se, but are more common and can be pretty easily treated. But more serious, sharp, and even burning (or persistent) pain during sex can be caused by a whole host of issues.
Untreated UTIs or infections can mess with your vaginal wall and vulva, which can cause discomfort and spread infections which need to be treated. UTIs can happen if you forget to pee after sex, which I learned vicariously through a roommate in college. Using different washes, lubricants, or chemicals can mess up your pH and cause itching and pain; even having a latex allergy that may have just popped up can cause pain if the allergy is left untreated. If you’re sore after using latex condoms (like, more than usual), try a more natural synthetic condom and see if the situation clears up.
Even basic hormonal changes can cause painful sex. Reeves says, “Estrogen declines steeply during menopause and, often, postpartum. This hormone is responsible for much of the plumpness and lubrication in our vaginal tissues. During these life changes, it’s essential to support your tender tissues by using a vaginal moisturizer, lube always, and encouraging a healthy hormone balance.”
Lastly, scar tissue from previous surgeries, episiotomies, and childbirth (ugh) can all cause pain down the line as well. Reeves says, “Injured tissue can inhibit blood flow that’s important for arousal, which impairs lubrication, and can be painful. Lack of lubrication can also cause small amounts of scar tissue to form around sensitive areas. Scar tissue responds well to castor oil and CBD, both of which have anti-inflammatory and healing properties.”
Of course, “other causes of painful sex often go undiagnosed. Hormonal, autoimmune, and inflammatory biochemical factors contribute to these conditions, and there’s often a link to our nervous system’s response to emotions and life experiences.” Issues like endometriosis, vulvodynia, vaginismus, lichen sclerosis, and interstitial cystitis are all issues that your doctor can diagnose, too, and require attention.
What Can Help
Obviously, if you’re experiencing pain, seeing a doctor should be your first line of defense. They’ll be able to more easily diagnose and treat an issue than you a mirror or slamming a bunch of yogurts. That was a yeast infection joke. Did we all get it? Good.
Okay, let’s say you made your doctor’s appointment and you’re just waiting to go in. Now what? Funnily enough, masturbation (there, I said it) can actually help with some vaginal pain. According to Reeves, “Using tools to promote relaxation and blood flow to the genitals while decreasing pain, and rewiring the nervous system to feel safe, is an approach that I have found useful with clients. A number of modalities work on a physical level, to help with pelvic floor function, muscle tension, and somatic awareness. Consider working with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, Sexological Bodyworker, and/or Holistic Pelvic Care provider.”
You can also use products containing CBD and Kava. According to Reeves, a product called Awaken by Foria “is an arousal oil, so it can support the blood flow coming into the erectile tissue beds of the vulva and vagina, which increases lubrication and enhances pleasurable sensation. The kava is analgesic, meaning it is pain-relieving.” She also notes, “The CBD is anti-inflammatory, vasodialating (promotes blood flow by dilating blood vessels), and decreases muscle tension. The combination of these 2 plants with the cacao, cinnamon, mint, vanilla, and cardamom, in a liquid coconut oil is just the right support for enhancing your own arousal capacity and decreasing the tension and inflammation that can prevent pleasure.”
Obviously an oil isn’t going to fix the problem completely (especially if you have scar tissue or a UTI making things… difficult…) but it can help relieve muscle strain.
So remember to take good care of your vagina, and you can enjoy the fun-filled activities she provides for years to come!
Images: Roberto Nickson / Unsplash; Giphy (2)