Dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse)

Let’s Talk About It

What is Dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia is the medical term for persistent or recurrent vaginal pain that occurs just before, during or after sexual intercourse.

Many women experience painful sexual intercourse at some point in their lives. It can affect women of all ages, including:

  • young, sexually active women
  • women who have had a baby
  • menopausal and postmenopausal women, and
  • women who have had their ovaries removed due to medical reasons.

Dyspareunia pain may be superficial, felt in the area around the opening of the vagina, or it may be deep, felt within the pelvis when there is vaginal penetration and/or thrusting:

  • Superficial Dyspareunia: the pain may be burning, sharp, or cramping. Pelvic muscles tend to become tight, which increases the pain
  • Deep Dyspareunia: the pain can include burning, tearing or aching sensations.

Painful sex is distressing and can result in the loss of sexual interest, relationship problems, and affect your mood. The fear of recurring pain can make it difficult to relax, which can lead to more pain.

What Causes Dyspareunia?

What Causes Dyspareunia?

There are many causes of Dyspareunia including:

  • physical issues such as a lack of lubrication, a skin infection, inflammation, illness, injury or surgery, and
  • psychological and emotional issues like partner issues, trauma, stress and anxiety.

Superficial Dyspareunia

Pain felt around the vaginal opening may be caused by:

  • insufficient lubrication
  • Vaginismus (involuntary spasms of the muscles of the vaginal wall)
  • injury or trauma from an accident, pelvic surgery, or procedures such as episiotomy (a cut made during childbirth to enlarge the birth canal)
  • nerve damage in the pelvis area (known as Pudendal Neuralgia)
  • hormone changes (commonly caused by a drop in estrogen levels after menopause, after childbirth or during breast-feeding)
  • medications that inhibit desire or arousal (such as: antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, sedatives, antihistamines and certain birth control pills)
  • radiation therapy, which can make the vagina less elastic and can cause scarring
  • inflammation, infection or skin disorder (such as an infection in the genital area or urinary tract, or Eczema or other skin problems in the genital area)
  • congenital abnormality, or
  • lack of arousal due to emotional and psychological factors.

Deep Dyspareunia

Deep pain within the vagina during or after sexual intercourse can be caused by:

  • illnesses or conditions including: Endometriosis, Cystitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, ovarian cysts, Adenomyosis, Uterine Prolapse, retroverted uterus, uterine fibroids, and haemorrhoids, or
  • surgery or medical treatments including hysterectomy and treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy.