Pain During Intercourse: Why Does It Happen?

Pain during intercourse can be a cause for concern. If you've had a healthy sex life and are all of the sudden finding yourself in pain, one of these common conditions may be the culprit.


Pain during intercourse is sometimes due to a condition called vulvodynia. Vulvodynia is a nerve disorder characterized by a painful sensation around the vaginal opening-- not just during intercourse. The pain can be brought on by inserting a tampon, or even touching certain sensitive areas. Although the pain manifests itself differently from person to person, it's many times described as a burning or stabbing sensation.

It's unknown exactly what causes vulvodynia. Injury, an infection, previous sexual abuse, and antibiotics are all possible risk factors. Diagnosis involves the q-tip test, where your doctor will very gently touch various places in and around the vagina with a q-tip, looking for painful spots. Vulvodynia is sometimes treated with tricyclic antidepressants, nerve blockers, and even physical therapy.


Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles around the opening of the vagina tense up before penetration. The response is usually involuntary, and you may not even realize you're tensing up. As the muscles tighten, pain is felt-- it can be anywhere from a dull ache to a sharp burning.

Vaginismus may be a learned thing, as the result of a painful sexual encounter or sexual abuse. Alternatively, a person may also be born with the disorder. It may only occur with certain people or in certain positions, as well. To diagnose vaginismus, your doctor will listen to your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Kegel exercises are the typical treatment for vaginismus, as learning to relax the muscles is key to relieving pain.  


Vaginitis is a blanket term for a variety of infections that can occur in the vagina. These infections include yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and vaginosis. Symptoms are usually similar-- itching, painful intercourse, and unusual discharge. Certain symptoms may be more pronounced depending on the type of infection you have. For example, yeast infections generally involve intense itching.

Vaginitis can be caused by a number of things, including certain antibiotics, intercourse, and the use of douches. Birth control pills cause hormone fluctuations that may put you at an increased risk of developing vaginitis, as well. Treatment depends on the type of infection present, but typically antibiotic pills or creams are used.

If you are experiencing pain during intercourse, talk with your doctor or gynecologist like one from Women First OBGYN. With the right treatment, you will most likely be able to return to having a healthy, pain-free sex life.