Pain during intercourse is very common—nearly 3 out of 4 women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives. For some women, the pain is only a temporary problem; for others, it is a long-term problem. The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia, defined as persistent or recurring genital pain that occurs just before, during or after sex.
Pain during sex may be a sign of a gynecologic problem, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. Pain during sex also may be caused by problems with sexual response, such as a lack of desire arousal.
Pain during sexual intercourse can be a warning sign of many gynecologic conditions. Some of these conditions, which can lead to other problems if not treated, include skin disorders of the vulva (contact dermatitis), vulvar pain (vulvodynia), inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis), pelvic muscle tightening (vaginismus), and vaginal dryness due to hormonal changes.
Additionally, women who have had an episiotomy or tears in the perineum during childbirth may have pain during sex that may last for several months. Treatments include physical therapy, medications, or surgery. Other causes associated with pain during sex include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and adhesions.
If you have frequent or severe pain during sex, you should see an ob-gyn or other health care professional. It is important to rule out gynecologic conditions that may be causing your pain. Your provider also can help you address issues with your sex life and emotional intimacy.
Medical and sexual history, signs and symptoms, and findings from a physical exam are important factors in determining the cause of the pain. A pelvic exam or ultrasound often provides clues about the causes of some kinds of pain. Further evaluation, sometimes involving a procedure called a laparoscopy, may be needed.
Other health care professionals may be consulted for further evaluation and treatment, such as a physical therapist or dermatologist.