For women of all ages, painful sex is not only more common than you think — it's also extremely distressing. A recent study conducted by researchers in the UK revealed that approximately one in 10 British women from age 16 to 74 are dealing with dyspareunia – A.K.A. painful sex.
The study, which was eventually published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, surveyed 6,669 sexually active women living in Britain. Researchers found that the age group most likely to experience painful sex were women ranging from 55 to 64, but it was also common in women between the ages of 16 and 24. Additionally, this was the one issue related to sexual activity that women found to be the most stressful.
According to the lead author on the study, Kirstin Mitchell, there are many reasons why someone might feel pain during sex, and in this study they're specifically talking about vaginal sex. She explained that there were three likely causes.
"Some may have an underlying medical condition or infection," Mitchell said. "For some, it may be that they do not feel confident or empowered to communicate to a partner what they like and dislike, and so they end up doing sexual activities that they don't really enjoy — this then means they are not properly aroused and this can make sex painful. Others may feel anxious and tense up, causing sex to be painful, and this can lead to further anxiety in anticipation of pain."
Of course, it's important to note that no one should ever feel pressured into doing anything with their body that they don't want to, and it's important for all partners to obtain enthusiastic consent before engaging in any kind of hook up, even if it's not sex.
But for anyone who experiences painful sex even if they are totally comfortable and enthusiastic, it is crucial to visit a doctor. Mitchell says anyone who feels pain during sex to seek a medical professional in case there is an underlying physical cause for the sensation. The study shows that only a small amount of women with dyspareunia ever receive an official diagnosis, in part due to the stigma attached to painful sex, but also because there is a lack of funding for health issues surrounding sexual function.
It's important for everyone to know that if you are experiencing painful sex, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you or your body, and it also has nothing to do with your ability to connect on an intimate level with others. "Interestingly," Mitchell explains, "we did not see an association between painful sex and happiness with relationships...."