Sex should be intimate and fun — so, when things aren't so swell down there and you experience pain during sex or pain after sex, it can make it hard to embrace that time between the sheets for all of its positive benefits.
Unfortunately, several causes might lead to some not-so-pleasant bedroom action. If you find yourself having painful sex, don't worry. You'll be able to alleviate the pain by discussing it with your gynecologist and coming up with a game plan.
Here are some of the most common women's health issues that might lead to painful sex, as well as expert advice on how to find relief. Fingers crossed that pretty soon you'll go back to loving every moment of it!
Since UTIs are pretty common, having one won't put you out of bed commission for long.
"A UTI causes pain and sensitivity in the bladder and urethral area. Since the bladder and urethra lie right on top of the vagina, it is very common to have sensitivity and even pain during intercourse when you have a UTI," says Dr. Jennifer Landa, gynecologist and chief medical officer at BodyLogicMD in Maitland, Florida.
Think you have a UTI? There are several things you can do to alleviate symptoms and get back to your normal sex life. "You should go to the doctor and get a urine culture and sensitivity so the doctor can determine what type of infection you have and what medication would be most appropriate," Landa says.
Because of the high rates of antibiotic resistance to UTI's, you might want to avoid them if your UTI is just mild. Instead, Landa suggests getting more hydrated or taking 500mg of cranberry tables twice per day.
"You can also get either prescription or over-the-counter tabs containing pyridium, and that can help with the burning from a UTI," she says.
If the over-the-counter treatment doesn't work within a couple of days, make an appointment with your physician to seek out alternatives, stat.
2. Yeast Infection
Unfortunately, a yeast infection can also impact your sex life — causing pain both during and after sex. A yeast infection manifests itself by causing itching and burning around the vaginal opening.
"This is similar to having dry, cracked lips with tiny cracks that burn when exposed to fluids or with pressure," says Landa.
In fact, a paper in Science Translational Medicine showed that chronic yeast infections could lead to persistent vaginal pain in mice — which shows a possible link to humans, as well.
While suffering from a yeast infection, your vulva is very sensitive due to irritation and redness, so wait to have sex until the infection is treated. Once it's gone, you should be ready to go.
"One way to get relief fast is using over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to quiet the itching and irritation. You can use this while you’re also treating the yeast infection whether with an OTC cream like Monistat or with an Rx tablet like Diflucan," she says (the latter is prescribed by your doctor).
Landa also adds that using 600 mg of boric acid suppositories twice per day may also be effective in treating a yeast infection.
Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (also known as VVS and provoked vestibulodynia), is an inflammation of the opening of the vagina and the tissues immediately surrounding it.
"Women with this issue will be exquisitely tender to the touch in this area [and] tend to have a challenging road and see many specialists," says Landa.
Unfortunately, VVS is more difficult to tackle on your own, so a doctor is the best guide there is. Some women choose injections, lasers and even surgery to resolve their symptoms — but it all depends on your physician.
VVS is not always treatable, as the causes of it are generally unknown. As a first at-home remedy attempt, a sitz bath, where only the butt and hips are immersed in water, is a good place to start for pain reduction.
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
"In this syndrome, women wind up with multiple cysts on their ovaries because they aren’t ovulating properly [and] the cysts may not resolve for many months," says Landa.
Ovarian cysts can cause pelvic pain, which can lead to painful sex, especially deep inside the vagina, explains a study in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.
"To improve PCOS, lifestyle changes to improve insulin and blood sugar levels can be effective. These include a low sugar and low carb diet, exercise, supplements including cinnamon and chromium piccolinate, and even a medication called metformin," says Landa.
Birth control pills can also be helpful because they decrease free testosterone levels and masculinizing symptoms. If you experience PCOS-related pain during sex, it might be wise to speak to your physician to find the best solution for you.
Read more: Foods to Avoid When You Have PCOS
Endometriosis is a chronic condition where abnormal endometrial cells implant on the pelvic organs, which creases inflammation every month during your period, as well as scarring and adhesions.
"Sex often is painful, usually with deep penetration, often at a particular site, in a particular position," says Karen Brodman, a gynecologist in New York.
Treatment depends on the condition and severity of symptoms. "Often people start with birth control pill to quiet down the endometrial implants, and if not responding to OCP, can use stronger meds to shut down the production of estrogen," she says.
Also, "sometimes extensive surgery is needed to remove adhesions, and sometimes hysterectomy and removal of ovaries is necessary for severe cases," she adds. Speak to your physician to figure out the best method available.
According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, fibroids can be a cause of painful sex.
"These are benign growths on the uterus, sometimes they become very large and on occasion become painful or are in locations that get pushed on with sex," says Brodman.
According to her, women might experience occasional sharp pain which might worsen with deep penetration or in certain positions that allow for more depth.
In order to diagnose, one must take a pelvic exam and sonogram.
"If the fibroid is causing pain, it can be removed surgically (myomectomy or hysterectomy) or it can be treated via interventional radiology procedure called Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE)," says Brodman.
No matter what might be bringing pain into your sex life, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Speak to your gynecologist about the best way to handle the situation and get ready to have enjoyable sex again.