Let’s Talk About Sex
Make Sex Less Painful
How to turn the ouch back into ahh
Sex is supposed to feel good—like, toe-curling, spine-tingling, back-arching good But recent research shows a whopping 30 percent of women are experiencing pain during the act. Though the hurt could be a symptom of a serious issue such as endometriosis, more often the cause is less grave. “Most conditions that cause painful intercourse are very treatable,” says Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. Read on to find sex-wrecking culprits and their cures.
It feels like his penis is made of sandpaper.
Likely culprit: Vaginal dryness. “A lack of lubrication is hands down the most common cause of painful sex,” says Herbenick. Certain meds—including the Pill, antidepressants, and some allergy and cold drugs—can stop your juices from flowing. So can a pre-sex soak in a warm bath, which dries out vaginal tissue.
The fix: Apply a dollop of water-based lubricant to your girl parts during foreplay. An Indiana University study found that women who used lube while doing the deed reported significantly less pain and—bonus!—much higher levels of satisfaction. Opt for positions that allow you to control the pacing (like woman on top) and stop to reapply if needed.
Your genitals itch like crazy, and penetration just makes it feel worse.
Likely culprit: Though various conditions can lead to under-there itchiness, the most common cause is a yeast infection, which may result from taking antibiotics. Research also suggests a link between lots of oral sex and recurrent yeast infections; women who suffer the condition are three times as likely to be on the receiving end of frequent oral loving.
The fix: Self-diagnosis is inaccurate 66 percent of the time, so it’s wise to see your doctor to rule out other causes, especially if you’ve never had a yeast infection before. Meanwhile, put sex on hold for a few days. While your guy can’t catch the actual infection, he may develop temporary itching or a rash on his penis.
It seems as if he’s going to burst through your cervix.
Likely culprit: No, he’s not too big for you (most tab A’s can fit into slot B’s). You’re probably just rushing things. “Many women think that if they feel excited, then they’re ready for sex,” says Herbenick. “But your body needs time to lift the uterus and make room for the vagina to expand. The latter can stretch from four inches long to a fully aroused seven inches.”
The fix: Don’t skimp on the pregame warm-up. Most women need a good 20 minutes of foreplay to make sure their parts are ready for action. Listen up, fast trackers: Simply adding lube isn’t a good shortcut. “It might make entry easier, but it won’t change the length or shape of your vagina,” says Herbenick.
Post-baby nookie leaves you achy and raw.
Likely culprit: New moms, especially those who are breastfeeding, can experience plummeting estrogen levels that leave the vagina drier than the Sahara and the vaginal walls prone to tearing. Scar tissue on a poorly healed episiotomy can also cause penetration woes.
The fix: Take a break from intercourse for a while. Even if your doctor gave you the go-ahead after six weeks, know that many women aren’t physically ready for three months or longer, says ob-gyn Elizabeth G. Stewart, M.D., author of The V Book. Applying a low-dose prescription estrogen cream may help with dryness and make vaginal tissue more elastic (it’s safe to use while breastfeeding). Plus, use plenty of lube.
It feels as if shards of glass are cutting up the outer area of your vagina.
Likely culprit: ulvodynia, a possible nervous-system disorder. It affects up to 16 percent of women and is notoriously difficult to identify. Doctors often misdiagnose it as a yeast infection.
The fix: Prescription lidocaine might help control nerve sensitivity; so might specialized physical therapy. You may also get some DIY relief from a vibrator. Research shows that using one may confuse nerve endings and quell the hurt. Harsh chemicals in personal-care products can make matters worse, so buy fragrance-free soaps.
Your vagina acts like a Venus flytrap. The second he tries to enter, it clamps shut.
Likely culprit: Vaginismus. This painful but treatable condition causes the muscles at the entrance to the vagina to spasm at penetration, making intercourse all but impossible in severe cases.
The fix: Experts aren’t sure what causes the condition, but they do know what helps: stretching exercises that begin with inserting a tampon or a finger and slowly working up to intercourse. Your doctor might also prescribe pelvic-floor physical therapy to break down muscle knots through massage (yes, really!). New research shows that Botox injections also work to relax overactive vaginal muscles.
You get an itchy, hivelike rash around your vulva after sex.
Likely culprit: An allergic reaction, probably due to latex condoms. If you didn’t wrap it up, you might be allergic to your partner’s semen—which is the case for up to an estimated 40,000 women in the United States.
The fix: Choose synthetic-rubber or natural lambskin condoms (just know they don’t offer as much protection against sexually transmitted infections as latex ones do). If you’re in a committed relationship and yours is a semen allergy, good news: The cure is more sex, not less. During a simple outpatient procedure, a doctor inserts diluted semen into your vagina over the course of several hours in order to build up desensitization. Afterward, you need to get it on every two days for a few weeks, then every three days for several months to build up your tolerance, says David J. Resnick, M.D., director of allergy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. If that sounds too intense, start using rubbers.