What Is Dyspareunia (Painful Intercourse) And How is it Treated?

Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful sex and involves the experience of pain with sexual intercourse. It is defined as pain in the genitals leading up to, during, or immediately following sex. The condition can affect both men and women, and are more common in women.

The causes of pain include sexually transmitted disease, pelvic inflammatory disease, some forms of cancer sensitivity in the vaginal tissue due to hormone changes, and muscular spasms in the pelvic floor muscles referred to as vaginismus. As you can imagine, all of which can affect your overall sexual health.

What To Do If You Have Pain During Sex?

Sexual Frustration

If you experience pain with sex a visit to your doctor or nurse practitioner is in order. It is important to screen for potentially life-threatening conditions such as cancer or sexually transmitted infections and disease.

If initially testing comes back negative for disease or infection, then pain is most likely associated with sensitivity in the vagina or muscle spasms of the pelvic floor. The good news is that both of these conditions are treatable and it is possible to have pain free sex with the help of a pelvic physical therapist and potentially a sexual counselor.

Women who experience sensitivity of the vagina and vaginal opening often have hormone disturbances leading to vaginal dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls. This often occurs after childbirth, during the period of breast feeding, and surrounding menopause.

A physician may recommend hormone replacements, dietary changes, and use of a good water based personal lubricant to protect the vulva, vaginal opening, and vagina itself.

Vaginal balm may also be beneficial to soothe irritated, red, or itchy skin in the vulva region and vaginal opening. Naturally made products such as Intimate Rose's Organic Feminine Balm help to reduce irritation and soothe dry, itchy, red, or irritated skin around the vaginal opening due to changes in hormone changes, skin sensitivity, shaving, waxing, or tenderness after sex.

What Causes Dyspareunia in Women?

Painful intercourse can be caused by multiple factors but a large number of women who experience pain during sex suffer from Vaginismus. It is a condition involving vaginal tightness that causes:

  • Pain
  • Burning
  • Cramping
  • Spasms
  • Difficulty or Inability to Have Sex

Women who experience these symptoms often feel fear, anxiety, avoid sex due to pain.

The body produces protective behaviors such as muscular guarding or clenching of the muscles in the pelvic floor, buttocks, hips, thighs, neck, chest, and shoulders.

Treating Dyspareunia Through Vaginal Therapy

Therapist often recommend using a dilator in conjunction with therapy as a gentle treatment method that is helpful to reducing pain with sex. Pelvic physical therapy is a specialized form of physical therapy done with a highly trained pelvic physical therapist. Counseling and other forms of behavioral therapy are also beneficial in helping to reach one’s goals for pain free intercourse.

Vaginal dilators are used to gently train the body - both the brain and the muscles to relax to allow penetration during sex. The Intimate Rose Vaginal Dilators for vaginismus come in a variety of sizes to allow women to gently and progressively improve the elasticity and size of the vaginal vault to allow for pain-free sex.

Intimate Rose Silicone Dilators

Use of breathing techniques and daily practice with dilator therapy is an effective treatment for:

  • Dyspareunia
  • Vaginismus
  • Vestibulodynia
  • Post Surgical Vaginal Pain
  • Post Chemo Radiation Vaginal Pain
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Lichen Sclerosis
  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome
  • MRKH

To learn more about breathing techniques, watch our video on how Breathing Techniques Affect Vaginal Pain

Breathing for Pelvic Pain Relief

Additional Resources:


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Medically Reviewed & Updated: September 28, 2022 By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC

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