Painful Sex & Women’s Health

Months ago, when we put out a call for posts discussing sex (You know, sex! An important part of relationships and marriages!) we were overwhelmed by a flurry of posts about painful sex and difficult sex lives. It turns out that those of you with happy, easy sex lives didn’t have much you wanted to write about, and those of you going through difficult periods (which happens to most all of us at some point) deeply craved connection and discussion. We picked this post because of its very clear message: sex should not hurt. If it does, seek help. If the professionals you talk to tell you nothing can be done, get a second (and third, and fourth) opinion, till you find someone that will work with you. And in the meantime, hold each others’ hands, and know you’re not alone… and you’re very definitely not broken.

My husband and I had sex on our wedding night.

I hear this is actually pretty standard. But for my partner and I, this was a triumph. Instead of slipping into the haze of post-coital pleasure on our wedding night, I leapt out of bed and broke out my victory dance, complete with butt-wiggle and fist-jabbing, exclaiming, “We did it!”

I suppose I should back this story up a bit. For over eight years, I suffered from an undiagnosed pelvic floor disorder called dyspareunia. In the beginning, sex was uncomfortable, but my partner and I managed the pain by using specific positions. We came up with all sorts of creative explanations and excuses. But as the years passed, the pain worsened. Finally, intercourse became impossibly painful and even oral sex became uncomfortable. Worst of all, I had no idea what was going on with my body.

When I finally worked up the courage to tell my doctor that sex was painful, my gynecologist explained that nothing appeared to be wrong with me. She could find no physical explanation for my pain. She sent me home with the advice that we should use more lubrication, and I should try to relax with a glass of wine at dinner. None of my friends or family members ever talked about sex being painful. So with no explanations forthcoming, I drew an illogical but deeply shameful conclusion: I was messed up.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I was selfishly denying my partner. I felt unfeminine and worried about how we’d ever get pregnant. Any sort of physical intimacy was fraught with stress. I pulled away from backrubs and kisses, worried they would lead to greater intimacy. I coped with these devastating feelings by trying to ignore the problem.

But as it turns out, sex is really important for relationships. I could feel close to my partner through cuddles on the couch and long talks, but my fiancé felt increasingly cut-off and rejected. We tried to talk about the problem and find work-arounds, but often these conversations ended in tears, and I would walk around with oppressive feelings of shame, guilt, and anger bubbling in my gut.

Last summer my partner finally sat me down to talk about these problems. “Things aren’t OK,” he softly explained, “and they don’t seem to be getting any better.” As a result, we bought a few books on pelvic pain. I devoured these books! I read revolutionary ideas like, “Sex doesn’t have to hurt!”[1] Empowered with new terminology and facts, I finally went back to my gynecologist and asked to be sent to a pelvic pain specialist. Though this specialist was able to diagnosis me, she unfortunately sent me home with misinformation. I now know this is much too common—many doctors know very little about helping women with pelvic pain.

Because I had been prescribed the wrong medications and treatments, my symptoms worsened. Frustrated, my partner and I turned to the internet. We searched for experts in the field who could help me recover. Through the wonders of, I found a wonderful team of pelvic pain physical therapists, right here in San Francisco[2]. I started seeing them just three weeks before our wedding. For the first time, we had an accurate diagnosis and an explanation for my pain. It wasn’t in my head! I wasn’t frigid! I simply had some unhappy skin, muscles, and connective tissue.

It turns out pelvic floor dysfunction is incredibly common—it can be caused from seemingly mundane traumas like a fall on the tailbone or recurrent yeast infections. Some sources say up to 20% of women experience symptoms like mine at some point in their lives! But here’s the craziest part: pelvic pain disorders are totally treatable and manageable.

Finally armed with an accurate diagnosis and a positive prognosis, I started yoga, daily treatments that I could do myself, and weekly sessions with the physical therapist. My partner learned to do many of the hands-on techniques. Some of the work was incredibly painful, but it was the best pain I’ve ever had! It was mind-boggling! My physical therapist could recreate the same feelings of pain that I felt with sex, just by gently pressing on an external trigger point! For the first time, we felt optimistic, excited, and even a little bit dirty about our future sex-lives.

We’re only about two months into the physical therapy, and my husband and I haven’t reached the end of this struggle yet. I still have flare-ups of pain during the day, and we can’t yet manage rigorous sex. But we’re gradually working our way back towards comfortable and regular intimacy. We now have a plan, a way of talking about the pain without recriminations or guilt, and I’ve been able to let go of my feelings of shame and incompetence. Best of all, I know with conviction that my husband will stand by my side and champion me, even when life’s problems seem dark and seemingly insurmountable.

Photo by: LeahandMark

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  • an

    Thanks for this . I am so glad it is getting better, and that you found the advice you needed. I can relate so much to the feelings you describe:
    “I felt like a failure. I felt like I was selfishly denying my partner. I felt unfeminine and worried about how we’d ever get pregnant.”
    And to convincing yourself that you are broken.
    It is good to know we are not alone in these subjects that are not usually talked about:

    • It’s amazing how much pressure we place on a few organs to make us feel complete, not broken, and feminine. I’m sick of it. I’m so grateful that when I tell my husband I’m feeling broken because of what is or isn’t happening there he tells me I’m not and I’m just what he needs and that I’m beautiful.

  • Ceebee

    This is a brave post from brave people (I say people because you are writing as you and your husband – a unit. Please don’t say he knows not of this).
    The real triumph is, even after all the tears, rejection, seclusion, self denial, you talked and conquered instead of staying silent. You used this personal space you’ve created together to look life in its eye and say I’m not living with this forever.
    A lot of us relate to that, sex or otherwise.
    I relate to that being depressed for 4 years and not knowing it. At all.
    My very patient and quiet partner too was as ill equipped as the rest of the community. We just lived with it. And test our endurance. Even when the laughs stop (i famously thunderously laughed a lot). Even when I could not be not reclusive anymore. Even when our distance is always more than a foot apart for years. Even when I could not live a day without crying.
    All I wanted to do was get through the day and go to bed. Repeat.Worse, a lot of times, I became so incapable that I was just a one-man-act that projected the day’s comic or rage drama from work and family issues into my one-man-audience. All days I was so desensitized that I feel no emotion and sensation, I couldn’t feel guilt or pain, and he was silently denied of everything. Denied of the love from the love of his life. I was dead, he was suffering. We thought it was us. We thought we hit the end. We called it quits.

    A year on I finally found living with myself alone or otherwise is still too painful. I checked myself in. With partial dose of antidepressant I was good in 3 months! When I talked about it, everybody-family, friends, colleagues) say shush (mental health = crazy). Don’t run yourself down (depressed = self-pity).
    And if we’ve only talked about it (it = any non-standard issue that makes us feel like we’re the only ones messed up in the universe), how much relief and happiness would come out of it.

    • Amy Lou

      Congrats on feeling better! It is unfortunate that so many people are unwilling to talk about or recognize the effects of depression. I’m glad you can open up here and I hope more people enter your life who will be supportive and encouraging of you from here on in.

      Good luck!

      • riverdragon

        Talking about depression is so important! For me it was really empowering to read about other people who have depression, because it made me feel less alone. I also have a really good friend who has depression difficulties, and we find strength in supporting each other because we can talk about it.

        I feel like painful sex is one of those things that people are afraid to talk about, but is really important to talk about. Sex shouldn’t hurt, just like waking up to discover that your slippers are on the other side of the room shouldn’t make the rest of your day suck.

        Eeep! But there I go using that pesky “should!” I guess what I mean is not that you’re broken or bad when those things happen, but that when they happen it’s much better to acknowledge what is going on and work with it than to pretend it’s ok.

  • Carly S

    Your relationship with your husband sounds awesome! Congrats on your new-found sex life and I wish you two the best :)

  • Anon

    Thank you for this post. I’ve had recurring yeast infections for about four years, but even when I don’t have an infection and doctors say I’m okay sex is usually painful for me. You’ve given me the courage to seek help and look for information on the subject. And I’m so happy to hear you’re coming out of it.

    • Other anon

      Have you had the doctor look in to your partner? I used to have a ton of yeast infections, and my partner at the time was uncircumsized. Getting him on a round of antibiotics at the same time I was really helped – it seemed that we were passing it back and forth. Though he had no symptoms, the lucky jerk.

    • Anne

      “I’ve had recurring yeast infections for about four years, but even when I don’t have an infection and doctors say I’m okay sex is usually painful for me.”

      I thought I had recurrent yeast infections too. Most of the time, though, it was just the dyspareunia flaring up. The symptoms can be similar. Good luck!

  • Cass

    You are not alone, and this post sounds almost like I could have written it. I’ve had almost the same story, except I haven’t found any specialists in my area. The one doctor I used to have who worked with this — moved to Hawaii.

    Thank you for this post!

    For those with this problem, this advice does VERY LITTLE. “She sent me home with the advice that we should use more lubrication, and I should try to relax with a glass of wine at dinner.” With advice like this, we are told that it’s “all in our heads.” While chronic pain does have a psychological component, there really IS something wrong when sex hurts.

    • Meg

      ALL my doctors have told me that I have vulvodynia, which they claim is only caused by psychological sexual trauma. I have never been sexually abused, but they sent me to counselling anyway.

      Thanks for inspiring me to do some more research! It’s been almost 3 years since this started.

      • Marisa-Andrea

        REALLY?? I have this and have done TONS of research and erm, no.

  • So brave and generous of you to share your story. Good luck to both of you as you keep walking this path!

  • Anon for this

    Mostly – this post makes me feel not so alone. So thank you.

    I have struggled with sexual pain for close to two years now. At the risk of sharing too much, intercourse is very painful for me – and involves a burning, rubbing friction that we can’t avoid, no matter how much lube we use. It’s frustrating, and shameful.

    I have asked for help from doctors on at least three separate occasions. The first time I asked for help, the doctor told me that since I’m a young lawyer, I’m probably just “depressed and stressed” and should try to relax a little. I cried in the office, that time, leading her to refer me to a psychologist…. The next two doctors figured it was some kind of recurring yeast infection, but when they got the test results back, there was nothing there. So I was given the standard advice that the author of this post got – drink some wine, loosen up, use lube.

    It’s gotten to the point where if it wasn’t “in my head” at the beginning, it is now. Every time we’re intimate, I know that pain is just around the corner if we attempt intercourse or any kind of penetration. It makes sexual intimacy very difficult, in part because my partner also feels guilty and shameful that “he can’t do it the right way” or because he’s hurting me.

    It makes me so angry that the standard medical response to this is – if we can’t see the problem, it’s not there, it’s in “her” head. If a man walked into a doctor, and asked three times for help for a sexual problem, he definitely wouldn’t be told that his pain is “in his head.”

    Anyway, it’s hard to talk about this, so thank you, thank you, thank you. You may have given me the courage I need to go ask for help … again. We’re worth it, right?

    • kate

      “It’s gotten to the point where if it wasn’t “in my head” at the beginning, it is now.”
      Yes. It’s such an awful spiral because even if it was originally in my head, now it is so much more so.

      “Every time we’re intimate” we’ve basically stopped being intimate… I honestly don’t know how he does it. I feel so guilty.

    • “It makes me so angry that the standard medical response to this is – if we can’t see the problem, it’s not there, it’s in “her” head. If a man walked into a doctor, and asked three times for help for a sexual problem, he definitely wouldn’t be told that his pain is ‘in his head.'”

      This thought occurred to me as well as I was reading this but also, I have an immense sadness that the “in your head” explanation is being used so broadly for so many things these days. I went into my doctor about five months ago because I was chronically tired and her immediate response after assessing my life as a mostly at-home grad student was that I was probably depressed and needed more time outside and with people. She didn’t even give me a chance to tell her that I exercise outside daily and spend at least three days a week hanging out with our friends. I was livid and demanded blood work which she agreed to as if she was handing a crying child a lollipop. After a long battle with that doctor, I found out I was hypoglycemic and had been dealing with it for years. Her only suggestion was to snack between meals which didn’t seem to change much for me. After a lot of work on my own, I found that changing to a vegan diet dramatically improved my symptoms. I also found a new doctor who listens before rattling off blanket advice.
      But the same thing has happened to so many women I know. If there’s no immediate explanation, they’re told it’s something mental, often depression. I’ve also been told I have an infection when no real evidence exists. It baffles me.

    • Jo

      As someone who has been there (and still is to some extent), may I recommend that in addition to going to get help (GO! Now! There are helpful doctors out there!!) you should talk about this. With trusted friends or family, and regularly and often with your partner. It is so hard, but it is up to the two of you to work through it, and back towards each other sexually, and the only way I know to do that is to be as honest as you can be with one another about the pain, the challenges, and your scary thoughts. You can do this!!

    • GingerJess

      ANON FOR THIS – Have you ever been tested for bacterial vaginosis? It often doesn’t have many symptoms and a lot of women don’t know they have it. When I get it, really the only symptom I have is pain like you described which is apparently an uncommon symptom according to my doc, but maybe it’s not really as uncommon as she thinks? Might be worth looking into.

    • Sheryl

      What’s with doctors and this “it’s all in your head” business?

      While I realize that yes, non-physical conditions can manifest physical symptoms, I hate the feeling that I get from a lot of the medical profession that when women are sick/in pain and there’s no obvious cause it’s “in our heads”. Or doctors who offer to take you and your future husband as new patients “as long as she’s not crazy”.

      I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard those ideas from the medical profession directed towards women. And it’s bullcr*p and not fair.

      What does that do to encourage women to be open and honest about their health and the issues we have? Beyond which, if doctors are just going to dismiss our concerns, how are they ever possibly going to see the underlying issues?

      Which is all to say that I’m sorry you have had such a terrible time getting help.

    • Anon for this

      Thanks everyone. Reading these comments all day and seeing all the “Exactlys” was really helpful and empowering (isn’t APW just the best?) I haven’t really spoken with anyone but my husband about the problem, but I did get a referral to a new Gyn from a colleague, and I will make an appointment tomorrow. Armed with some of the information posted here, I’ll be ready for the discussion, and to advocate for myself. I don’t know why advocating for myself is so hard – I’m an attorney and do it for other people on a daily basis…

      Also, thank you to those who posted about bacterial vaginosis and the pelvic pain society. Those seem like promising leads.

    • When faced with symptoms similar to what you’re describing, my obgyn recommended I have an ultrasound done, to check for perhaps a tumor, or something. My pain is troubling to me mostly because I have been with my husband for a long time, and we used to be able to have intercourse without pain.

      I still haven’t had the ultrasound. I know I should, and when I was younger I was totally fine going to the doctor, but now the logistics of getting to a doctor, plus the expense, plus the missing work…its harder for me to convince myself its worth it. There is also not a huge change they’ll find something – she just couldn’t think of anything else to suggest.

      • thesasha

        I don’t know you, I don’t know anything about you, and I have no business telling you what to do. But please, if your doctor thinks there is even a small chance there is a tumor, go get that ultrasound. If you can’t do it for you, do it for your husband and everyone else in the world that cares about you. Because probably the ultrasound won’t help, and it is nothing. But if there is a tumor there and you catch it and remove it, it will make so much of a difference in terms of “when” and sooner is so so much better. And maybe it will help, and solve the problem, and that is wonderful. Or maybe you will be annoyed you wasted tat effort, and treat yourself to an X that they have near the dr. that is so hard to get to.

        Best of luck.

    • Tegan

      Here’s a SUPPORT for non-testing. Think about how many friends you have who are hyperchondriacs (I have about three… :-\). Now think about the medical industry. Also think about the insurance industry. Most people’s insurance will not cover unnecessary testing (bloodwork, CAT scans, x-rays etc.). In an effort to not have patients forced to pay full price for expensive tests (and turning around and blaming the doctor or hospital) many doctors are attempting every approach that does not involve testing. Yes, it may sound like they’re saying you’re crazy, but I had a crazy ex-roommate who really really REALLY needed therapy due to past trauma and would not accept that — she kept wanting her inconsistent medical problems to be physical and not have to talk to a therapist. Sometimes therapy is the RIGHT answer, and sometimes it’s to cover all the bases.

      [At one point during her therapy, she told me how the doctor asked a question that she didn’t want to answer, so she did not SPEAK for the entire rest of the appointment.]

      A little rambling, but I think my point comes through. To wit, insurance companies suck.

    • Casey


      I’m not sure if you’re still checking this post, but I just discovered it and had to give my two cents. You talked about the “burning, rubbing friction that we can’t avoid, no matter how much lube we use” and I wanted to suggest having your doctor prescribe you Lidocaine.

      I have the same burning problem and at first the doctor just said to use baking soda to neutralize the acid. What?! That didn’t do anything. So I did some research into vaginismus and the doctors treating that have used Lidocaine mixed with lubricant as an anesthetic for a temporary amount of time for women needing help stretching their muscles. I told my doctor about it and she reluctantly prescribed me a tube, warning me that Lidocaine is strong and should only be used sparingly.

      It has been so great for me to be able to put it on about 30 minutes before sexual activity and have the burning reduced by a ton! I don’t know what the next step is once I run out, but for now it has really helped and I would suggest checking it out (or another “caine”) to treat the burning friction feeling.

  • Also Anon for This

    Thank you so much for this post. While rationally I know I’m not alone in my struggles with sex, it still sometimes feels very, very lonely. My endometriosis, arthritis of the hips/spine/SI joints (and most other joints), my gastrointestinal condition, and an autoimmune condition that makes my glands dry (including lady ones) all collude to make it hard to focus on the pleasure past the pain. I actually like pain in a sexual context, but there is nothing sexy about your hips screaming with every thrust or feeling like puking with any movement that’s too deep. There was a time where my fatigue and pain were so great outside of sex that we only attempted it maybe once every 3 months. Not good. All sex must be quick for us, before the pain catches up to me too much. At least it’s gotten better. I’ve convinced him that quickies are preferred (they are) and not to feel guilty for not going on for ages. I’ve become much more vocal about what is and isn’t working. My guilt and feelings of “brokenness” are still very much a work in progress, but I’m getting there. I initiate sex more often and I don’t shy away from his touch as much. Best of all, medical treatments are helping some. My husband deserves a gold star for dealing with this so patiently for the last 3 or so years. And I deserve a gold star for getting through it, and continuing to get through it. So do all you ladies with similar struggles.

  • Thank you so much for this post. I have struggled with painful sex for years with no resolution and the same annoying advice. It is less painful or pain-free in certain positions and sometimes that doesn’t even work. The first year of our marriage it was the worst it’s been. There was a lot of tears, frustration, and intense guilt and shame and I felt horrible for my husband. People really don’t talk about these things and I am glad to know that painful sex is more common than doctors would have one think. Again, I really appreciate your bravery in writing and sharing this.

  • Carbon Girl

    I can relate to this too. Several years ago, I had a burning pain when we were having sex. My gynecologist prescribed me some topical cream (which I think is usually used for an STD but this was an off label use) for it but it only made it tons worse. It kept flaring up over the next year until I had to switch doctors due to an insurance change, and my new doctor asked me all sorts of lifestyle questions. She found out I rode my bike everywhere and suggested I get one of those split bike seats that take the pressure off sensitive areas. Within a month, the pain was gone.

    So find a doctor that looks at the entire picture and isn’t just going to throw some prescription at the problem without delving deeper.

  • Class of 1980

    Well people, doctors are dependent upon medical research. If there isn’t enough research on a problem or the doctor hasn’t caught up, then they just don’t know.

    There was a famous doctor who wrote books in the 1970s and he wrote that menstrual cramps were not real … that they were all in the head. And then they discovered that the uterus is contracting during menstruation, much like it does in labor. Oops. As someone who suffered utter misery from cramps, I wanted to punch him repeatedly for writing something so smug.

    In the nineties, I had an endometrial ablation procedure done. But not before hearing that my mother’s doctor considered it ineffective, while my doctor had done several and knew it was effective. Needless to say, one doctor was up-to-date and one was not. It worked for me.

    You must advocate for yourself and don’t stop at one opinion. Do your own research too! The only reason I knew about the procedure was from my own research and I interrogated my doctor about it. I avoided a hysterectomy as a result of my own efforts.

    Medicine is probably in the early stages of understanding pelvic pain, so you will need to find specialists.

    • Marina

      Oh my god, DUH that the uterus is contracting during menstrual cramps… I would think that would be kind of obvious to anyone who’s HAD menstrual cramps because that’s EXACTLY WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. Ugh, that makes me so angry… I know there are a lot of wonderful male OBGYNs, but sometimes I really just want to kick them all out of the industry. If you haven’t had PMS, you don’t get to say it doesn’t exist.

      • Class of 1980

        I’ve had the same thought many times … until I realized that a female doctor who never experienced my monthly hell would also be clueless.

        I’ve heard grown women express concern about taking Advil, whereas I had to take Arthritis-strength aspirin to control the cramps in my teens, until Advil was invented. I even had a prescription (Naproxen) for cramps for a while.

        Clearly a woman who is fussed about taking Advil can’t relate to someone who wouldn’t even have been able to go to work without it! The majority of women don’t have excrutiating cramps. And if I was a doctor, I would not know what painful sex was like, because I’ve never experienced it.

        • Melissa

          An hour and a half late to work today due to painful menstrual cramps. This is my third day of pain, and I may get a fourth. Unfortunately my painkillers make work and thinking extremely difficult.

        • Edelweiss

          I agree, I’ve had women tell me that cramps weren’t that bad and Advil/Midol was just a placebo for that kind of pain. I actually converted one woman I work with who believed that until she saw me white in the face about to pass out from pain before I managed to pick up some medicine.

          Everyone’s body is different and as women I think it’s very important for us to remember that – although I’m not personally in that world yet I’ve heard a lot of very judgemental assumptions around pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. We are not doing a service to our gender by assuming one woman’s experience is reflective of everyone else’s and that others simply have “lower tolerance levels”.

          • Class of 1980

            Anyone who makes pronouncements about the difficulty of menstruation, sex, childbirth or nursing based on THEIR OWN experience is someone whose IQ I fear for.

            They might want to spend some time learning about all the possible complications before speaking.

            For example, the severity of cramps is tied to prostaglandins, and women who have severe cramps usually have more prostaglandins in their blood.

            Heavy flow can add more prostaglandins too. Heavier flow can be caused by an incorrect ratio of estrogen to progesterone in the monthly cycle (estrogen dominance) … as well as other causes.

            (I had estrogen dominance.)

            Advil or prescription Advil actually lessens the amount of prostaglandin in the blood, making it the best remedy for cramps for most women.


          • “We are not doing a service to our gender by assuming one woman’s experience is reflective of everyone else’s and that others simply have “lower tolerance levels””


          • thesasha

            As someone who used to have debilitating cramps–this! Not just men, but women, would be dismissive about the whole issue.

            Also, in thinking things based on your own experience, or your own and someone else, I always enjoy the quotation, “the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data”

      • As I like to say about male OB/GYNs:

        Would you take your car to a mechanic that doesn’t own a car?

        Unfair? *sigh*, perhaps. And yet, WOULD YOU? I wouldn’t.

    • I knew that women had menstrual cramps, so I never figured mine were excessive. Until I started noticing other things. When I put it together I felt for sure I had endometriosis. When I went to a male doctor (think the doctor on Biggest Loser type personality), I told him a few symptoms and he said he could pretty much guarantee I had endometriosis. I felt validated.

      I was taking 3 ibuprofen every 3-4 hours for 3-4 days every month. I never added up just how excessive that is. Last month I had surgery for endometriosis and it has completely changed my life. My last two cycles I took 6 ibuprofen total.

      My doctor told me the only thing a uterus knows how to do is cramp. Mine did a very good job at it.

      I don’t really care about the gender of my doctor as long as they know what they’re talking about and can communicate well with me.

      • Class of 1980

        I would take that much Advil (Ibuprofen) too for one or two days, except I didn’t have endometriosis. They did a uterine biopsy before my endometrial ablation procedure to rule out cancer and endometriosis.

        Severe cramps can come from endometriosis, fibroids, or just plain too much of the hormone prostaglandin.

        • Very true. It was a combination of symptoms that made us pretty sure we’d find endometriosis during the surgery.

          I just wish I hadn’t spent my 20s thinking my level of cramps were the normal level. I knew women on prescriptions or women who had to take a day off each month and while I never enjoyed it and would suffer through a few days, I wasn’t them so I didn’t think I was really that bad. No doctor until this year even bothered asking about them. A few questions at any point might have led to figuring things out before now.

          Discomfort is one thing, pain is something else. I love that the writer of this post wasn’t going to settle for someone telling her that pain was normal.

          • Lucie

            I understand what you’re going through! I had 2 operations, and 5 doctors before I was refered to the endometriosis expert in our city. Only then did I feel like it wasn’t in my head, and that it wasn’t my fault. At 16 a doctor told me hat once I had a child all my problems would be resolved and then at 21 that I was too young to have these symptoms, endometriosis din’t have anything to do with getting pain when I had sex, that I had Irritable bowel syndrome, that all the scarring I had “shouldn’t be causing my pain”, that the ovary they removed from my bowel “wasn’t a big issue”. Its just so tiring. Now after finally getting a doctor who listens and understands I feel so much healthier and normal. I have nerve blocks to reduce the pain and after my third operation my specialist finally determined I have severe endometriosis, even cutting scarring off my diaphragm. Keep fighting. Eventually you find someone to help. You are not alone and there is someone who will listen to you. It gets better!

  • Thank you for sharing this brave, brave post. And I’m glad you finally found someone who can help you. I agree with so many of the above comments– it is tragic that so many of us have problems that doctors don’t know what to do with/don’t want to take the time to figure out. If you have this happen, keep looking. There is someone out there who can help, even if it’s not the first, or second, or third doctor you see.

    I would also reccomend looking into alternate, non-Western medicine options if traditional M.D.s don’t seem to be helping/helping enough.

  • Such a courageous post! I am an OBGYN provider on faculty at a major medical center. Dyspareunia, which literally means “painful sex,” is an often misunderstood condition. If your provider isn’t helping, go elsewhere! There’s new research and treatment options for dyspareunia, and those providers who haven’t kept up with changes in medical practice may not be aware. Look for a specialist, and if one isn’t available, an academic institution may be your best option since the nature of our job is to stay up to date on the latest in medical research.

    Best of luck to all the women out there!

  • Anon

    I have a similar history. The discussions on this very website in previous posts have helped me to try some things that have helped. I also have a pretty good doctor who had some ideas. From her, I learned that with long term hormonal birth control use, the skin inside your vagina can be shed more frequently, and as a result your nerves are only protected by immature skin cells. I was prescribed a topical cream for this which helped… but it was kind of icky, so not a great solution.

    Then, based on what I read here on APW (I think it was even a comment from Meg) I decided to give up my NuvaRing (having already kicked the Pill) and use condoms only. That was about four months ago and I feel like a different person! I don’t even use the icky cream anymore!

    My husband was very happy to switch to condoms because I was more interested in sexytime than ever. He admitted one of his greatest fears was falling into the pattern of having less and less sex over the years (the old chestnut that you’ll have more sex the first year of marriage than the rest of your lives or whatever). . . the fact that we have turned a corner in our sexual relationship AFTER the first year of marriage and five years together is really fantastic. I have to give APW the credit!

    • Class of 1980

      That’s interesting about the long-term use of birth-control pills.

      • Anon again

        I’m no expert, so I might have a few of the details muddled. But my ob/gyn even did some labwork on my skin cells and confirmed that they were immature. Ouch!

    • Anonymous

      This is probably a dumb question, but don’t you worry at all about potential condom mishaps? They’re only effective 99% of the time, yadda yadda. I say this because I would LOVE to ditch my birth control pill. I hate the concept of dosing yourself with extra hormones, tricking your body into thinking it’s pregnant, etc. It’s just unnatural and it makes me feel icky. Plus, lately I’ve noticed a decrease in my sex drive and I’m pretty sure it’s from the Pill. We use condoms in addition to my birth control pill because we are super cautious like that. I want to switch to just condoms only, but we’re paranoid. Did you/do you ever feel like that while using only condoms, too?

      • The only type of birth control that is 100% is abstinence.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, Giggles. But obviously that is not an option I (or any married people here, I’m sure) had in mind.

          • Of course. Just pointing out that no matter what you do, if you’re having sex, there is no absolute guarantee.

      • Anon again

        Hmmm – well – I don’t worry, but I think my husband might (a little)! He’s more paranoid than I. I certainly worried more back in the day when I wasn’t on the Pill, but even so, condoms are pretty effective. And if not, there’s always the Morning After pill, no?

        These days I’m married, have a graduate degree, and a job. We hope to have kids eventually, so if I happen to get pregnant a little early – eh. That little chance is not worth the hormone side effects to me.

        You might be in a different situation, which is totally understandable. I can tell you that I have used condoms many times and haven’t been pregnant yet :)

        • Agreed. My hubby is vigilant about making sure that thing is on, and early! and correctly! and always! (Thank god for him, otherwise I’d be spitting out my 4th child.)

          I think if used correctly, condoms are very effective.

          Every time I’ve gone off birth control, I notice that I am more keen to have sex. The pill really does a number on my sex drive.

        • Anonymous

          That’s our situation too: he is more paranoid than I am! But, your comment is reassuring. :)

      • Jessica

        One thing that might help you feel more confident using condoms alone is to learn a bit more detail about how your cycle works. My fiance and I practice fertility awareness, and one of the aspects of it we choose to use is abstinence during my most fertile days. If you’re interested, Tony Weschler’s book “Taking charge of your fertility” is a great place to start.

        • Anonymous

          After reading the above comment above adverse effects on the body from long-term BC use, I did a little Googling and came across the web site Take Charge of Your Fertility. I am definitely intrigued and willing to give it a shot. Thanks for the tip!

        • At the very least it helps arm you with information about your own body. And knowledge is definitely power in this area.

      • Class of 1980

        What about a diaphragm along with a condom? Do people use them anymore? ;)

        • Anonymous

          Also an option!

        • I’m probably about the only person who still does, but I love my diaphragm!

        • Yes, people use them. Some places seem to think they aren’t being made any more but they’re wrong. The pharmacy here has to order them in but they come real quick.

          • Sarahkay

            I loved mine, but alas. I got it after my last pregnancy and it was great for a couple of years. But then I tried to use it after an extended break and it just didn’t fit right, and my partner could feel it and found it painful.

      • Aims

        I am having very similar symptoms to the writer of this article and have been seeing a Gyno regarding it for about 8 months. She said that use of the birth control pill for over 10 years (I was on it for about 13yrs) can cause many side effects including vaginal dryness, loss of sex drive, pain, etc. I have been off the pill since then and things definitely improved within the first 3 months. We are still working to diagnose the underlying problem, but the pill was certainly a contributing factor. I definitely recommend talking to your doctor about extended use of the pill regarding its affects on your body.

      • Jade

        So… you know how there is “perfect use” and “normal use” statistics? Well they lump people who “forgot” to use or just didn’t use a condom into the “normal use” statistics if the person classifies them-self as a condom user. Just FYI.

      • R

        Copper IUDs are non-hormonal but have similar efficacy rates as hormonal birth control (better under normal use since you don’t have to remember to use them daily). Of course, they do tend to make your flow heavier, and there are other pluses and minuses (cost, insertion, etc.) but if you’re looking for a non-hormonal backup to condoms it’s pretty much as good as it gets.

  • Anon for now

    Thank you for a courageous post and best of luck for the future!

    Just a thought. A related problem which I know many of us have is menstrual cramps. Mine were causing so much life disruption, pain, vomiting etc. After seeing a gynacologist she told me I have an inverted uterus (it’s tipped backwards towards my lower back) which is very common. This can be a cause of painful sex.

    I researched and found a Maya Abdominal Massage practicioner. I went for one session – they all teach self-care massage which i do at home every day which is the best thing about them I think.

    This sounds far-fetched, but the self-care massage has actually done the trick. No more vomiting and very little pain. I’m slightly flabbergasted at how much it has helped. It sounds too easy I know, but if nothing else has worked for you then give it a try. It might also help with painful sex.

    • I love hearing about solutions/therapies like this! There’s so much we can do for ourselves without drugs–if we just knew how! Very cool!

      • Anon for now

        Thanks Linsey!
        I’ve wanted to share this with people for a while. I hope it might be helpful to someone else. I’ve had three months in a row of ‘good’ periods now. I needed to wait for three in case the first one was just a coincidence.

  • anon

    Thank you so much for this post. I wonder if Meg couldn’t give you my email – I’ve struggled with similar issues for quite some time, and would love to have someone to talk to about it.

    • Anne

      I’d be more than happy to :)

  • Jo

    Thank you brave poster, and thank you APW. You are cracking open such SUCH important issues. I read the title of this post and thought, Welcome to my life. And yes, there is definitely definitely hope. But dang, is it quite the challenge!

  • I believe I just got the kick in the pants to go see my ob/gyn again. I went off of BC because it was causing low-level (and occasionally not-so-low-level) depression. But ever since we started having sex, it’s hit or miss whether it hurts. And I worry so much that my husband wants sex more often (although neither of us have high libidos) that I will push through the burning pain that I get during sex. I did talk to my nurse practitioner (tip – I’ve found that they are *much* more willing to discuss things and less likely to blame it on your brain) while on BC about improving my sex life. It turns out that I tear nearly every time we have sex. No bleeding, but stretching & tearing. We talked for quite a while about positions that would help to gently stretch – so ones we could start with before moving on to more interesting ones. It was amazing to find someone in the medical field who would actually talk about these issues, so we as women need to know that we should never settle for less.

  • Anne


    I’m the author of today’s post. Your comments have me tearing up, and I’ve shared many of your comments with your husband. Thank you for your kind words!

    I wrote this post four months ago. Since then, our sex life has only gotten better. We actually have sex, on a regular basis! I love it, and my husband loves it. Sex has become a source of intimacy and rejuvenation in our relationship.

    I’ve also shared some of the details with my close girl friends. Like you, they’ve all been sympathetic and nonjudgmental. The crazy part, though, is that TWO of them were dealing with the same problem.

    Problems with sex can feel shameful and isolating. It’s incredible that we can share our experiences here on APW.

    • Edelweiss

      Thank you. I have a fear of doctors and have been putting off getting this looked into, while feeling completely unfair to my partner and secretly worrying about the other health issues this might be indicative of. Hearing your happy ending has motivated me to start making some appointments.

    • So glad that things are working out for you! Pain during sex is such a frustrating issue, and yet people rarely talk about it. Your post was fantastic, and I’m so happy to hear that things are getting better.

  • Anonymous

    This post and these comments have all been very helpful for me too – I really didn’t know this kind of pain during (and for me, it’s really after) sex was something that happens to other people. I’ve spent the last two years dealing with that pain and UTI symptoms without having UTIs, and have been seeing doctors about it.

    I was actually referred to a urologist who did some crazy things to determine if there was anything wrong with my bladder. In case anyone else is sent to a urologist, they filled my bladder with a catheter (while asking “how badly do you have to go now? and now? as they filled me up… !), and then put a camera inside of me to see if there were any problem areas. I was totally unprepared for all of this… it was not a fun visit, and I would have liked to know more than 10 minutes in advance that they would be doing it!

    And in the end, he said nothing was wrong with me. I just went back for a 6 month follow up, and he said there was still nothing wrong. I needed to “train myself” to go to the bathroom less. No advice for the pain, just use more lubricant.

    Thanks to this post and these comments, I’m going to try and work out what’s going on. And think about that nuva-ring issue.

    • Anne

      About the UTI, I know that issues with urgency can also go along with pelvic floor problems. At the PT clinic, they treated women with similar problems. One day, as I was leaving a session, one of the other woman exclaimed, “I just want you all to know, I do NOT have to pee right now.”

      • Anonymous

        That is really good to know – thank you! And I just read your update comment, I’m glad everything is going so well for you now!

      • “I do NOT have to pee right now”

  • Victoria

    It’s good to know that I’m not alone. I’ve been dealing with this issue for years and have tried many different doctors, departments and treatments. It is so demoralising to be told that what you’re experiencing ‘shouldn’t be happening’, followed up by being dismissed by the doctor. However, this post has given me hope again. Thanks! xx

  • RachelC

    Thank you ladies, all of you. <3

  • Sara

    So glad to see this post! While I have been lucky not to deal with this specific issue, I happen to work at a physical therapy clinic in Southern California that specializes in pelvic issues like these. I don’t know if it’s OK to post a link to our clinic, but if anyone is interested, let me know.

    A good resource for information and finding information and sympathetic/knowledgeable practitioners (doctors, physical therapists, etc.) is

  • Aims

    Anne, thank you times a million for this post!

    I’m dealing with a very similar issue and have recently noticed my anxiety about it getting worse and worse. Though I am working with a gynecologist, I still have lots of worries, fears, etc. Hearing about your experience as well as those of other readers is extremely helpful. There are also a lot of good resources in here; I feel more prepared to talk with my doctor already.

    So seriously, thank you.

    • Anne

      AIMS — I feel like the quagmire of emotions around this issue may be harder to deal with then the actual pain. Getting informed and knowing that I wasn’t isolated/crazy really helped pull me out.

      For my husband and I, we suddenly have a new vocabulary to talk about sex when things go wrong. We still have to manage the pain sometimes, but now I can say, “Oh, that hit one of my trigger points. Let’s try something different.” We both know specifically what’s going on and neither party feels responsible. It’s been SO helpful.

      Good luck to you and hugs!

      • Aims

        You rock! :) And hugs back to you. Congrats on your regained sex life!

  • YngMadeline

    Thank you for this post. Sex is often painful for me and I get frequent UTIs. I’m going to start talking to my doctor about this. If this solves my reticence about sex, I’m eternally grateful.

  • Billie

    All I have to say is thank you. I cried…you just put into words what I have been feeling for a while now in my relations and now marriage. And I am going to be showing my husband this as a way to describe what I’m feeling.

    • Anne

      Billie —

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Billie. I just told my husband what you wrote and he summed it up, “That’s awesome that you’re able to use a little bit of our experience to help you.” Good luck to you on your journey; remember that you have people cheering for you!

  • I’m so glad to hear you have found proper treatment.

    This isn’t quite the same, but just in case anyone out there has a similar experience I wanted to share: Just before I left for grad school it started to feel like I had the mother of all yeast infections, but only during sex. Monistat didn’t work. I didn’t have insurance at the time so I went to Planned Parenthood. The first doctor I saw said I should shave to “keep more clean.” Um, WTF? I tried Monistat again. It didn’t work. I went back to PP. I told the doctor (who was also a nun, love those radical nuns!) about my last experience and she was pissed. She looked at my culture for a solid half hour to try and figure it out, but couldn’t. She prescribed antibiotics and it kind of helped.

    Then I went off to grad school. Everything would be fine until my future husband would come to visit and it was HELLO mysterious sex-only yeast infection! I went to the university health clinic. They thought I might have a general candida inflamation-no wheat, no sugar and lots of yogurt. Nope.

    I went to a private doctor through referral. She said that my vagina just “wasn’t used to a foreign object” and it would throw off the ph level. I should try capsules of boric acid from the health food store – the same crap I used to kill cockroaches. If that didn’t work (I bought them but couldn’t bring myself to try it) that when I graduated and moved back it would resolve. It didn’t.

    It had now been two years. I finally got a job and good insurance. I went to a private doctor and she prescribed a super duper antibiotic that was just on the market. In three days my two year struggle was gone.

    In other words, its sort of the same moral of the story – keep going to different doctors until someone truly listens to your story, understands it, and can diagnose you correctly.

  • Florence

    Thank you for this brave post. It seems it’s still a taboo to talk about painful sex, because sex should only be about orgasms, and if it hurts, then you’re just not doing it right…
    I find it kind of sad to see how many of us have experienced painful intercourse, and how little most doctors care about it.
    I’m very happy to know that at least your pain is treatable!
    I’m 20 and I’ve had endometriosis since I was 15. Sex is extremeley painful. I’m happy to know I’m not alone in my struggle, even though it doesn’t take the pain away. I hope someday, doctors will care enough to find us a real treatment…

  • Is it possible to subscribe to the comments of this post? Thanks.

  • Jennifer

    *raises hand* Been there, done that… and SO GLAD you found a Physical Therapist who specializes in pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. They are a god-send. And for those who don’t know, you can ask your GYN for a referral for pelvic pain Physical Therapy, even if your GYN doesn’t treat pelvic pain.

    I was a virgin when I got married, so I expected discomfort with early sex. But I knew something was wrong when sex was getting increasingly more painful rather than getting more comfortable. Turns out, Nuvaring can cause a local reaction to vaginal tissues and I was diagnosed with Vulvar Vestibulitis by a wonderful NP. After about 8 weeks using an estrogen topical creme, soaking in the tub, and stopping the Nuvaring… I healed :)

    I wish you and your husband the best… and great sex :)

  • chesapeake

    I don’t know if anyone is reading this still, but for those women out there who are having painful sex (or cannot have sex at all), I urge you to look into a condition called vaginismus. It’s the involuntary contraction of the PC muscles at the entrance of the vagina. Pain occurs when any or all of the following is attempted: a vaginal exam, insertion of a tampon, or insertion of a penis, dilator, etc.

    I have vaginismus. My husband and I are in the process of overcoming it. We’ve been married 8 months and have not had penetrative (penis into vagina) intercourse. He googled around and discovered the condition after several failed attempts at “regular” sex and with my consent, ordered a book and a kit called “Completely Overcome Vaginismus” by Mark and Lisa Carter. I HIGHLY recommend the entire kit.

    I’m slowly working through the steps and have gone from “I can’t even insert my own finger” to “Wow, I can’t believe that I just stuck a dilator the size of a penis into my vagina.” TMI? I hope not. I hope this post helps some/all of you. I had never heard of the condition before and have struggled with feelings of shame for a long while. I’m happy to hear I’m not alone! What a relief.

  • Katee

    This post is lovely.
    My partner and I are young, have been together for 5 years.
    I suffer from CFS, so sex, or even a good makeout session, is a rareity.
    I know my partner, particuarly as a man, has needs, and I feel horrible that I am restricting the gratification of such needs.
    But my partner is so supportive, understanding and he is always assuring me that we will get through. He even says that if we don’t, a life without sex is better than a life without me.
    At such a young age, I know all of my friends in relationships believe sex is a huge, important part, but, I feel that this experience has bought me so close to my partner, because I know that when all the looks, sex and excitment fade away, we will still be happy together. We don’t need naughty adventures in the bedroom to stay interested or in love. I suppose my detrimental condition is a blessing in disguise.

  • Sian

    I too read all of these comments with growing surprise that up until Chesapeake nobody had mentioned vaginismus. I had a boyfriend leave me because of this condition before I *sort of* identified it, and then it was another two years before I finally spoke to a doctor about it and got a referral to a doctor specialising in this. I thought that if anyone was reading this and still feeling lost I almost had an obligation to share my own experiences and tips with you, because this is HARD and there is so much information out there, both correct and incorrect, that it’s hard to wade through it looking for someone to describe EXACTLY what’s happening to you. I’ve felt like a failure, I’ve felt like nobody could ever love me and stay with me if I couldn’t manage sex…I basically resigned myself to a single life, at the age of 22/23!

    For me, the pain is like a sharp kind of shooting pain, and I can feel myself unwillingly ‘tensing up’ beforehand. It’s tied in with muscle contraction. I’ve never been able to “figure out” how to use tampons. Certain angles work better, there’s a certain “point of entry” when it starts hurting, usually. While I don’t believe it’s entirely mental (my specialist in fact refused to talk about it from that angle, believing treating it as a physical problem to be much more helpful) it does become mental in a way, as the almost subconscious fear and panic (“I won’t be able to, it hurt last time it’s going to hurt this time”) overrides desire and common sense and obviously when that happens it always does hurt! The times when the fear has been less present and I’ve been more fully calm and into it have been the times that have seen so much more success – but I want to stress that I’m talking about vaginismus here, and with other conditions (or possibly even vaginismus for other people) you could be as calm and willing as you like and it would still not work, because it’s a physical problem you need to treat. This is just my description of my own experience!

    Here are my suggestions, most of which have been discussed above:

    1) Find the right doctor/specialist.
    Doctors are not always right. This is a hard lesson to learn. Growing up, we think doctors know everything about health. Like, everything. No. Doctors are wrong, All. The. Time. A doctor’s expertise regarding a condition depends on so many things: what they’ve read, what patients they’ve had, what teacher they happened to have one week in med school…and usually you get, what, fifteen minutes in an appointment with a general doctor? It’s not like a shrink or specialist who might read up on your condition to be more informed and helpful about your specific problem next time you come in. You get fifteen minutes and if they don’t know then, they don’t know. Try and do a little research on your own at home if you can, and see if that research leads to a list of doctors in your area that can help. If not, don’t stress! Just shop around! I think I spoke to two doctors before finding one that even knew their shit about this specific issue enough to know who to refer me to. And this is important as well: you should always shop around for a doctor you like and trust and feel comfortable talking to ANYWAY. For some people this is easier – I know my parents are “whoever is closest will do” people – but for me, after years of doctors visits (I had heart surgery last year) it took a long time to find “The One”. I’m bummed that I’ve moved cities and have to go on some more “first dates” to find a new doctor!

    2) You have to want it.
    The reason it took me so long to go see a doctor for a diagnosis and then go start seeing a specialist was because I was lazy. I didn’t want it enough. This was probably because I was single at the time and didn’t have any pressure on me. When you want to get it sorted out – REALLY want to get it sorted out – that’s when you’ll make progress.

    3) You have to work at it.
    Okay, but you know what? It’s hard and not that fun, sometimes. I don’t want to use the dilators every night! I go through long spells of just not bothering. If you want to get better, though, it is YOUR responsibility, and if I’ve seen specialists and gotten the kit and I’m the one not putting in the effort, it is on ME. Part of putting in the work is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and part of it is motivation, leading me to:

    4) If you’re in a relationship you value and want to continue, you have to work at it.
    Your body is your own possession. You don’t have an obligation to have sex, ever, if it’s not what you want. But you do, I think, have an obligation to think about what a relationship means to you and your partner, and where sex fits into that. If you want a great sex life and you’ve found the eternally patient guy who you want to have that with, you owe it to the relationship not to be a lazy dick about it. It’s not fair to him to keep putting him off when you’re not even trying at all. If you’re trying, and you’re not ready yet, that’s a different story. But be honest with him and yourself about where you’re at and what you want. I have a guy friend who was with his girlfriend for a long time, and when I once opened up to him about my own condition he told me that she had the same thing, except she never bothered with doctors or treating it because she just didn’t want to. Is that her right? Sure, totally! You don’t HAVE to want sex if it’s not a priority to you! It was also his right to want to be with someone that he could have a happy sex life with. Would he have stayed with her patiently if she’d been wanting to fix it and was working towards that? Yes! But she wasn’t, and he left.

    5) You have to be with the right person.
    This is probably not so much of an issue as so many of you are married and you’ve already figured this part out! However: The guy that made me feel pressured about it, told me it made me unattractive to him, told me that my condition gave him self-esteem issues and cheated on me? Yeah, he was never going to be someone I worked through this with. Either fortunately or unfortunately, sexual conditions are often a great indicator of whether you’re with the right person. I was not. Now I am, it’s AMAZING how much happier I am just doing certain things that aren’t even pain-relatied. You know how the specialist said that she wouldn’t talk about the mental with me? I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the condition – from a purely clinical perspective – but the fact is that some people do suffer from vaginismus because of psychological problems (both severe, i.e. trauma, and ‘minor’, i.e. just being slightly stilted in the sex department, or whatever!) If you think this could be you, combining a specialist for the physical symptoms and a therapist for the psychological might be right for you. I know that being with someone who I know doesn’t have an agenda, who I can trust so completely, and someone that I genuinely get excited about making happy, is going to make all the difference for my condition.

    6) Reoccurrence is not failure.
    Sometimes it will come back! Sometimes you’ll have awesome sex for months and then something will trigger your nerves and all of a sudden it’s hard again. My specialist says that this is really common, but here’s the important thing: once you’ve successfully treated it once, it’s usually easier and faster to do it again.

    I hope someone finds this and finds it useful! I hate to think of people suffering the way I did, feeling like there’s something wrong with them and not even having a name for the condition.

  • Charles Runels

    There’s a new treatment for dyspareunia to cause stem cells to generate new healthy tissue. The procedure is called o-shot which has been very effective with my patients.

    More can be seen at

    Hope this helps.

    Charles Runels, MD