Painful Sex: 5 Tips for Handling (and Not Ignoring) the Discomfort

Pain during sex is not normal. Here's what you can do about it

Updated 01/27/19
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The ugly truth is, there is very little research on the causes of vaginal pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia). Google searches about it often yield results like “vagina cancer”—not particularly helpful.

The reasons behind that aren't clear: There likely isn’t enough money in vagina research or perhaps doctors (mostly male, unfortunately), don’t value female sexual pain enough to invest time and resources in solving these very real problems.

Many women associate pain with sex. And nearly every woman will feel pain at some point in her life during intercourse. This is not normal thinking, we’ve just normalized it.

On top of that, there are even more sinister, chronic pain-causing disorders such as endometriosis, chronic vulvodynia, or pelvic floor spasms, to name only a few, that can cause painful sex.

Some doctors and experts suggest seeing a physical therapist, while other experts say therapy helps, and others suggest SSRIs or vaginal dilators (different sized dildos placed inside the vaginal canal to help with spasms). Your medical professional may prescribe a combination of a few of these methods.

While these are great ways (but also time-consuming and money draining) to get started, they are not the only ways to treat pain. We’re not suggesting you go it without a doctor's input, but there are a few things other you can do to help relieve (at least some) of the pain you experience during intercourse.

Make sure you’re primed

If you occasionally have pain during sex, you may just think "this is the way it is." But it’s not normal for sex to be painful.

You need to be well-lubricated, and your vagina needs to be expanded and ready to accommodate a penis or dildo. When the vagina is not aroused, the walls lie flat against one another, making penetration painful, uncomfortable, and (for lack of a better word), icky. Plus, you will be dry, dry, dry.

A dry vagina can lead to tearing, abrasions, and even vaginal infections. Oh, and did we mention pain? This is one of the reasons society has normalized painful sex for women: Because women getting physically aroused before intercourse hasn't always been a mainstay of sex.

If possible, have an orgasm before you have intercourse. This will help get your vagina ready to take a penis, dildo, or toy inside of it.

Use lots of lube

Again, vaginal dryness is the number one known cause of pain during sex. But sometimes just being properly stimulated isn't enough.

You need lube. Lube, lube, and more lube. Using lube during sex does not mean your vagina has something wrong with it. Every single woman on the planet should use lube!

Stock your lube arsenal stocked withCocolube, an all natural, oil-based, amazing smelling product that doesn’t leave anything gross on your hands. Plus, oil-based lubes stay in place—this is especially important for women who experience painful sex.

Oil corrodes latex so if you and your partner are using condoms, opt for water-based lube instead. The go-to? Sustain Natural. It’s glycerine, paraben, and chemical free.

Give the OhNut wearable a go

The OhNut is a product revolutionizing painful intercourse due to chronic conditions. Much of the pain associated with intercourse has to do with the thrusting element of sex. As Glamour’s Carolyn L. Todd explains, the collision of a penis, dildo, or other toy within the vagina (most often against the cervical region or vaginal walls) causes discomfort and even completely unbearable pain.

The OhNut looks like a caterpillar made of medical-grade silicone. It comes with four squishy rings. The person doing the penetrating wears the OhNut during sex. This spongey, ingenious invention allows you to control the depth of penetration; You stack the rings to control how deep a partner can go.

I didn’t know how wonderful the OhNut was until fellow sex writer and pelvic pain savant, Nicole Guappone began singing its praises on Twitter (and later, many publications followed). Guappone says that she has not unable to enjoy penetration of any kind for years. Now that she uses OhNut, her sex life is all but pain-free. Mind blown.

Try a CBD-infused lube

Sure, lots of lube is always the way to go, but a CBD-infused lube can help relieve pain caused by all different types of vulvodynia, pelvic floor pain, etc. It is THC-free and therefore, legal everywhere.

(According to Healthline: “CBD oil is a product made from cannabis. It’s a type of cannabinoid, a chemical found naturally in marijuana and hemp plants. It doesn’t cause the ‘high’ feeling often associated with cannabis, which is caused by a different type of cannabinoid called THC.”)

Our favorite CBD lube is Foria’s Awaken. It offers 100 mgs of broad spectrum CBD. It helps your pelvic floor muscles relax and it relieves much of the symptoms associated with vulvodynia. On top of that, it increases blood flow to the clitoris for heightened sensitivity and can drastically improve natural vaginal lubrication (a big culprit in dyspareunia, as we mentioned).

Another amazing option from Foria? Their classic suppositories. If you have period pain, chronic pelvic pain or pain from endometriosis, this long-lasting dose of CBD can help.

Don’t push yourself to have penetration if it hurts too much

If you’re feeling especially sensitive, aren’t seeing results from pelvic floor therapy, and none of the above options seem to be helping, give yourself a break.

You don’t need to have intercourse to have enjoyable sex—it's a huge myth culture perpetuates. All forms of sexual activity are healthy and normal, and intercourse is not the end-all-be-all of the so-called “sexual hierarchy.”

Do other things, and do not push yourself through pain to please a partner. A partner who loves you and who has empathy for you as a human being is not going to want to put you through pain. Have oral sex, hand sex, or get into mutual masturbation—anything that works for you. Don't forget, your comfort and pleasure are the top priority here.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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