Painful Sex


Dyspareunia is a medical term that simply means “painful intercourse”. It is a general term used to describe all types of sexual pain. Sexual pain may occur upon penetration, during intercourse, and/or following intercourse. It can exist anywhere in the genital area—the clitoris, labia, or vagina, etc. The pain may be described as sharp, stinging, burning, bumping, or cramping. 

There are many causes of sexual pain (dyspareunia) and  vaginismus  is one of these. Vaginismus is uniquely characterised by involuntary tightness of the vagina due to the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles. With attempts at intercourse, vaginal tightness may cause sexual discomfort, sensations of burning, tightness, pain or inability to penetrate. 

Vaginismus is also closely related to any of the other forms of dyspareunia in that any type of general sex pain may trigger vaginismus. In these cases,  vaginismus becomes a complicating discomfort or pain condition in addition to the original pain problem and typically remains even after the original problem is resolved or managed. A woman may, in fact, confuse the ongoing problems of vaginismus with the original pain problem, believing that the original problem is still unresolved. 

With any kind of sexual pain that is ongoing and seems to have no physical cause, vaginismus should be considered as a possible contributor or perhaps the primary cause. 


Possible Causes of Painful Sex (dyspareunia) 

  • Vulvodynia & Vestibulodynia (Vulvar Vestibulitis or Vestibulitis)

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

  • Genital or Pelvic Tumours 

  • Ovarian Cysts 

  • Urethritis

  • Urinary Tract Infections

  • Interstitial Cystitis

  • Vaginal Dryness

  • Insufficient vaginal lubrication

  • Childbirth Trauma (postpartum) 

  • Vulva Cancer 

  • Radiation Therapy 

  • Vaginal Infections/Irritants – Yeast or bacterial, some STDs, etc.

  • Skin Conditions – Lichen Sclerosus, Lichen Planus, Eczema, Psoriasis 

  • Side-effects to certain medications 

  • Age-related symptoms associated with menopause and/or aging 

  • Allergic reactions to clothing, condoms, contraceptive foams, and/or spermicides 

  • Painful pelvic examination 

  • Trauma to the pelvic/genital area 

  • Bartholin’s Cyst

  • Endometriosis

  • Fordyce Spots


What can be done about painful sex?

If you have concerns about painful sex please see your Gynaecologist or GP.