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What Causes Painful Sex,
and What Treatments are Available?

By Lizzie De La Cruz
June 8, 2021

People today are all about a holistic approach to health and well-being, and that includes having a healthy sex life. But what happens when intercourse is painful to the point where we can’t enjoy it and may even be avoiding it? Formally known as dyspareunia, research indicates that 10 to 20 percent of U.S. women suffer from recurring and persistent pain associated with sexual activity. It’s not enough that these women are robbed of the pleasures of sex, but it can also affect their mental and physical health, their relationships, body image, and their efforts to conceive children. When problems like painful sex affect us, knowledge is power, and it’s the first step in finding solutions that can help. The most common causes of painful sex include vaginismus, vulvodynia, inadequate lubrication, postpartum dyspareunia, and vaginal atrophy. Once the issue is identified, treatment may include lubricants, hormonal treatments, pelvic floor physical therapy, or surgery. Whatever the issue, there’s no need to go another day missing out on the health and wellness benefits of pain-free sexual intercourse.

Vaginismus, involuntary pelvic floor contraction

The involuntary pelvic floor muscle contraction formally referred to as vaginismus brings all kinds of sexual headaches. Pain, anxiety, and/or penetration issues all indicate this may be the issue that is causing intercourse to be less than enjoyable. If that’s not awful enough, the condition can last six months or longer. When vaginismus strikes, therapy often includes pelvic floor physical therapy as well as Botox injections, which have most recently shown great promise in tackling this issue.

Vulvodynia, a pain that burns for no good reason

Vulvodynia is typically described as a burning pain that has no known associated reason. Unprovoked, sufferers say that its burning pain is essentially continuous. It can also be a provoked burning sensation brought on by intercourse or by inserting a tampon. In many cases, vulvodynia has been associated with psychiatric issues, including depression and anxiety. The worst part is that experiencing the symptom of vulvodynia may, in turn, put women at greater risk of feeling depressed or anxious, perpetuating the issue. Thankfully, there are treatments available to ease the pain of vulvodynia, including amitriptyline and lidocaine ointment. When these don’t do the trick, surgery has been found to be effective up to 80 percent of the time.

Inadequate lubrication, the dryness discomfort

When our bodies fail to produce adequate lubrication, friction in the vagina may cause trauma to the vulva and the epithelium, sometimes to the point of becoming chronic vaginal dryness. Part of this can be attributed to the inability to maintain sufficient lubrication and swelling in response to feeling sexually excited. The causes of this response are many and include dissatisfaction in a current relationship, a negative body image, fear, sexual abuse or trauma, and even personal beliefs around sex that tend to be restrictive. In addition to emotional causes, there may be an underlying physical issue, such as hormonal imbalance, vascular, neurologic, or iatrogenic – chemical in nature – issues. The good news is that, in most cases, chronic vaginal dryness is easily treatable with a vaginal lubricant, which is easily available for online order and delivery.

Postpartum dyspareunia

Postpartum dyspareunia is one of the more common, and under-reported, disorders responsible for painful sex. In fact, over 40 percent of women experience this issue after their first vaginal delivery. Causes can include the stretching and lacerations that often occur during delivery, as well as undergoing an episiotomy. Increased estrogen associated with breastfeeding can also be the culprit in this case, drawing out the dyspareunia timeline. Again, lubricants can offer a great relief in this case and are often the first go-to while women wait out the issue. In critical cases, surgical perineoplasty revision can also eliminate the issue.

Vaginal atrophy, an estrogen issue

As many as 50 percent of postmenopausal women will experience dyspareunia as a result of vaginal atrophy. When estrogen levels drop, symptoms may include thinner, dryer, and less elastic vaginal mucosa, lost vaginal rugae, irritation, and a shorter, narrower vagina. While women have long suffered this condition in silence, it’s actually highly treatable with estrogen preparations, including creams, rings, or tablets that can drastically reduce uncomfortable symptoms.

Take the pain out of sex with Wisp

At Wisp, we believe in the health and wellness benefits associated with a healthy sex life. We also believe everyone deserves discrete access to the treatments they need to make sex the best experience it can be. With Wisp, people can schedule online licensed medical provider visits for reproductive care, ask any questions they have, and order a local prescription online for pick up when orders are placed during regular operating hours.* That includes treatments for pain, dryness, genital inflammation, irritation, and more. Don’t suffer painful intercourse for one more day.

*Most prescriptions are sent to your pharmacy within 3 hours of completing your medical intake form and phone call or video chat when necessary.

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Estradiol Vaginal Cream

A hormonal cream that soothes vaginal dryness caused by menopause, or during postpartum, especially with breastfeeding.

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Wisp Non-Hormonal Vaginal Moisturizer tube and applicator on a red surface with a pink background

Non-Hormonal Vaginal Moisturizer

Hormone-free moisture for all life stages, including breastfeeding, postpartum, and menopause.

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Original Harmonizing Lube

Silicone-based to reduce friction and make sex easier, more pleasurable, and more fun.

Starting at $10.00

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Toy-Safe Harmonizing Lube

A hybrid formula that works with your favorite silicone toys.

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