Painful sex: Why women put up with it, and what can be done

ABC – For the first seven years of her marriage, Ing couldn’t have sex. It was too painful.

“It felt as if there was a tear in my vagina … I would feel a sharp pain for two or three days afterwards,” she says.

“Every time my husband touched me, my whole body would break into a sweat.”

Ing says she couldn’t tell anyone. She felt too embarrassed.

“I felt like I was a failure or something … because everyone was having sex, everyone was having a baby, and it seemed like I was the only one having this issue, so it must just be me.”

Ing was unknowingly suffering from a condition called vaginismus.

Vaginismus is when the muscles in the vagina — which typically relax with sexual stimulation — spasm involuntarily, creating a feeling of tightness that can make penetration painful, if not impossible.

“It can feel as if there is a brick wall or something blocking the vagina, so that nothing can go in,” explains Anita Elias, head of the Sexual Medicine and Therapy Clinic at Monash Health in Melbourne.

Ing says it took seven years for her and her husband to get help.

“It [the pain] was very intense, and I never told anyone,” she says.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 75 percent of women have experienced painful sex.

For many women, this pain is transient. It may the result of inadequate foreplay, a skin infection, a urinary tract infection or thrush.

For other women, pain with sex is more persistent. An Australian study of 20,000 people found 20 percent of women had experienced pain during sex for at least one month during the past year, compared to just two percent of men.

“It’s far more prevalent than most people realize,” Dr. Elias says. Read more. 

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