A Surprising Number Of Women Experience Pain During Sex

Illustration by Anna Sudit
Pain isn't generally associated with sex. For most of us, it's about pleasure and enjoyment, but according to a new study it seems many more women find sex painful than you may have expected.

Of the nearly 7,000 sexually active women aged 16 to 74 who were surveyed, close to one in 10 women (7.5%) reported painful sex, a quarter of whom experienced it very often or every time they had had sex in the last six months or more.

Around a third of these women reported feeling dissatisfied with their sex life, compared with one tenth of the women who didn't experience painful sex.

The survey suggests that the condition – known as dyspareunia – is common and affects women of all ages, the BBC reported. The age group most likely to experience it are women in their late 50s and early 60s, followed – surprisingly, perhaps – by 16 to 24-year-olds.

Women reported feeling embarrassed by the condition and described it as taboo, with many even finding it too sensitive a topic to talk to friends about.

"Many women don't like to talk about it," one 62-year-old woman told the BBC. "We share all the gore of childbirth, yet women of my generation don't tend to talk openly about sex and the menopause. We should."

Dyspareunia can be caused by a range of factors – from physical to psychological and emotional – which makes it difficult to treat. It is closely linked to other sexual problems, including vaginal dryness, anxious feelings during sex, and lack of enjoyment of sex.

"In younger women, it might be that they are starting out in their sexual lives and they are going along with things that their partner wants but they are not particularly aroused by," said Dr Kirstin Mitchell, from LSHTM and the University of Glasgow, who lead the research.

She said it could also be because they "[feel] tense because they are new to sex and they are not feeling 100% comfortable with their partner," reported the BBC.

Painful sex can also be the result of health problems, such as STIs, endometriosis and fibroids, and menopausal women may experience it because of vaginal dryness.

The condition can be treated by tackling the health problems that are triggering it, by getting advice from a GP or a sexual health clinic. Or, if the cause is anxiety or an emotional reason, you can be referred to a counsellor or sex therapist by your GP or sexual health clinic.

The national survey, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, was carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University College London and NatCen Social Research.
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