Regular sex is good for your body and your mind. Painful sex, on the other hand, when the woman experiences pain around or in the vaginal or pelvic area during intercourse, is not normal or healthy and more often than not it is a symptom of another, underlying problem.
Sex is a natural part of a loving relationship with your partner. There is plenty of research to suggest that as well as being pleasurable it has a number of health benefits, including encouraging the release of “feel-good” hormones, improving posture, improving relaxation and fitness levels, and even reducing the risk of heart disease.
What causes painful sex?
The following are the most common causes of pain in the vagina during intercourse.
Yeast infections and those caused by bacteria (see p.00) can show no symptoms, but they can make sex painful, because the infection inflames the mucus lining of the vagina walls, so the rubbing motion of the penis causes stinging and burning. Genital herpes (see p.00) also causes painful sex.
The marketplace teems with products that can irritate the delicate lining of the vagina. Among them are contraceptive foams, creams or jellies, latex diaphragms and condoms, vaginal deodorant sprays, laundry detergents and bath or shower products. Scented tampons, wearing unscented tampons for more than 4 hours at a time and wearing panty liners or pads when you are not menstruating can also cause irritation. Follow the advice on pages 00–00 for how to keep your vagina healthy, and avoid irritants as much as you can (but that doesn’t mean stop using condoms!).
Sexual arousal causes the walls of the vagina to excrete mucus that lubricates the vagina, keeping intercourse pleasurable and pain-free. When there isn’t enough lubrication, sex can be painful. Lack of foreplay or feeling nervous or tense about having sex are the most common causes of reduced lubrication. In addition, during the years preceding e menopause, when oestrogen levels start to fall, the walls of the vagina can become dry. If you are anxious about sex it is really important to talk to your partner, or if you can’t talk to him, to a friend or doctor, about your concerns. Never do anything you aren’t comfortable about doing. If dryness is caused by hormonal changes, find a natural lubricant that is completely free from petrochemicals, parabens, glycerine, silicone and other irritants. I recommend Yes Pure Intimacy in my clinic, which is available worldwide (if you have problems obtaining Yes go to www.naturalhealthpractice.com)
Vaginal tightness can occur when you feel tense or are not fully relaxed when vaginal penetration occurs. This condition can occur even when there is enough vaginal lubrication produced. Not surprisingly the first few times you have sex your vagina may be tight because your hymen is unstretched.
This serious condition causes strong, involuntary spasms in the muscles of the vagina that often make penetration impossible, even by a finger or tampon. It usually results from psychological trauma associated with intercourse or penetration and it’s very important that you talk to your doctor about it so that he or she can advise you accordingly. He or she may advise vaginal dilation, in which you use a dilator, which is about the size of a small finger, to penetrate your vagina. Over time, the size of dilator increases until you use one that has a circumference similar to that of a penis. The process should go on at your own pace, so that you are comfortable with every step.
This chronic (ongoing) condition causes a burning and/or stinging sensation of the vulva (the genital area that includes your clitoris, labia and vagina opening, making sex extremely painful and uncomfortable. Your doctor can make a diagnosis only when he or she has ruled out other conditions that cause vulva pain, such as yeast infections and STDs, and will probably prescribe you anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines to help control the symptoms.
The wall of the vagina is sensitive to compression, so during penetration if the wall of the vagina is squashed between two hard objects, such as the man’s erect penis and a stool lodged in the colon, this will cause pain.
Deep, thrusting penetration can cause pelvic pain. This is no more normal or acceptable than vagina pain and it’s important to get to the bottom of it. Labour problems that tear the ligaments supporting the womb, botched abortions, violent intercourse or rape, hysterectomy, infections of the cervix or uterus, PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), ovarian cysts, fibroids and a retroverted uterus are all potential causes of pelvic pain during intercourse.
If you do experience painful sex on a regular basis remember it is never a part of normal sexual intercourse. Don’t be anxious about telling your partner as he may have no idea you are uncomfortable unless you talk about it.
THE NATURAL APPROACH
All the natural therapies recommended below can offer relief, but as painful sex is usually a sign that something else is wrong, you first need to seek advice and treatment from your doctor.
Using your diet
A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains ensures that you are getting enough fibre to keep your bowel movements regular (see above), which in turn will not only help to balance your body systems (by making sure that toxins and old hormones are finding their way out of you) so that you are in prime health, but also prevent painful sex as a result of constipation.
In addition, drink plenty of fluids. Aim for six to eight glasses of water a day, as this will help encourage lubrication and prevent constipation. To keep track of how much you are drinking, fill a glass bottle with your daily water intake and aim to empty it by the end of the day.
Make time for foreplay
If you don’t become sufficiently aroused during intercourse, you may have trouble lubricating properly. Talk to your partner about what turns you on, and make sure you have plenty of time to get in the mood for lovemaking.
Shed the baggage
If you feel any anger or resentment toward your partner, you’ll find it hard to be intimate with them, and even harder to become aroused. Try not to let any problems in your relationship fester or accumulate – deal with them as they come along. Use the technique in the box, opposite, to help you get your relationship back on track.
Believe you are beautiful
Poor body image can inhibit arousal in much the same way as difficulties within a relationship. Large, small, round, long, your partner thinks you are sexy – it’s why he or she was attracted to you in the first place. Sometimes something as simple as a little light exercise every other day can make you feel better about yourself. As soon as your body image improves, so will your willingness for intimacy. If things are really bad, consider seeing a counsellor.
Take a post-pregnant pause
If you have had an episiotomy or vaginal tear during childbirth, sensitive scar tissue can make penetration difficult or painful. Wait at least six weeks after the birth before you have intercourse.
Find the right doctor
If you find it hard to talk to your doctor or your doctor can’t find anything physically wrong with you, be persistent and get a second, third or fourth opinion until you find a doctor who has an understanding of your condition and will offer you the right guidance and help.
Have an annual gynaecology check-up to make sure you don’t have endometriosis, fibroids, yeast infections or STDs.
Keep a diary
If you often have painful sex it might be sensible to keep a track for a few months of when it occurs and under what circumstances. This will help you find out if it occurs at a certain time of the month, in a certain position, when thrusting is deep, when there isn’t enough foreplay or when your partner withdraws.
Abstain from pain
Don’t ever have sex to please your partner when you know you will experience pain. There are plenty of other ways to be intimate and to have sex without the need for penetration. Talk about various options with your partner before you have sex.
Letting things niggle away at you can be disastrous for all aspects of a relationship, including in the bedroom. It’s important to talk things through your with your partner as soon as issues arise, so that you learn to understand, appreciate and respect one another’s point of view without having an argument. With any luck, once communication is easy, intimacy will be, too. These are my top tips for positive and effective communication.
- Make time to talk. There’s no point in trying to have a meaningful, serious conversation when you are waiting for the plumber to come, or the kids are still up. Set aside talk time and respect it. Turn off all phones and unplug the TV. Put a little relaxing music on, if you like – something you both enjoy.
- Own your feelings. Talk to your partner with I statements, such as “I’m having a problem with,” or “I feel that …”. Don’t say “You do/don’t do this…”, which apportions blame and will put your partner on the defensive.
- Take turns. Agree before you begin that you will each have a chance to talk. Don’t interrupt each other. Simply listen and then when it’s your turn, respond. Not only does this prevent a verbal tug of war, it gives you time to reflect on your responses so that they are more considered and conciliatory, rather than knee-jerk, defensive or argumentative.
- Make a date. When you’ve both said all you need to, make a date. Schedule some time for the two of you to do something you both enjoy together. This might be a walk in your favourite park, a quiet supper together, or a hike in the hills. Try to make it something that’s conducive to conversation between you. You might both enjoy the movies, but unless you go for dinner afterward this doesn’t present an opportunity for reconnection. Try to establish some intimate physical contact – hold hands as you walk or across the table, or play footsie!