I’ve been having sex with my husband for about six years. However, only recently was the first time I had sex where I felt no pain. I have been dealing with painful sex for the entire time that I have been sexually active.
I met my husband in college. We immediately connected mentally and physically, and we had sex for the first time after about three months. The first time we had sex we were both very gentle and cautious. It was the first time for both of us. I felt some discomfort, but I expected it, and just focused on the task at hand.
We tried again the next night, and again I was more focused on successfully making my partner happy and satisfied than my own pain.
I did not worry much about the pain I felt during sex in the first months because I was just excited to be exploring my new partner and being open with each other. For quite a while I hid my discomfort from him because I just wanted us both to be happy with the experience together.
In fact, I tolerated the pain for three years. Yes, three years.
Over the course of this time, slowly opened up to my partner about the extent of the pain I was experiencing, which was worsening over time. As we developed a very secure relationship, I became open and honest with him, so we would sometimes stop midway when it became too painful. I often ended up crying because I felt horrible for having to stop and not fully pleasure him. And he tried unsuccessfully to comfort me and tell me that he understood and would be patient.
...I was having casual sex, of course I was using condoms, that’s just what one does. Right? I mean, while it was always my intention... Read more
After three years, I went to my annual gynecologist appointment and, looking at the intake paperwork, realized there was a list of issues for a patient to check. One item on that was “painful sex.” I finally had the courage to check this box. During my appointment, I explained to my doctor about the pain I felt while trying not to cry in shame. My doctor also saw that the exam was painful as well. She had many questions. Did we do foreplay before trying to have sex? Yes. Was I lubricated enough? Yes.
At the end of my appointment, my gynecologist wrote me a prescription for physical therapy. The process of physical therapy includes biofeedback to try to relax muscles, using dilators, and practicing a variety of stretches. I went to two different physical therapists and gave it a try for about five sessions. It didn’t seem to be working. I felt discouraged, and stopped going, and kept suffering through the pain.
I continued to put on my happiest and bravest face. My partner knew of the pain, but I still don’t think he understood its extent. It was a burning and sharp pain that lasted for at least an hour after sex. I started to spend a good amount of time in the bathroom after sex in order to just give myself time to stop throbbing. I tried applying cold washcloths and icepacks to ease the pain afterword, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Not surprisingly, the frequency of sex also decreased significantly. I kept track of how often we had sex and tried to make sure it wasn’t too infrequent for my partner’s sake, but I started to dread it every time. Even if it started out fun with foreplay, I always hoped that it would lead to other sexual acts instead of the vaginal intercourse.
Skip to my next annual appointment. Again, I was feeling distraught and hopeless, and I again brought up my pain with my doctor. She prescribed physical therapy yet again. I decided to give it another try again really focus on being open to the possibility. At this point, I was engaged and was getting married within a year. I wanted to have this problem solved before we went on our honeymoon!
I found another physical therapist who I hoped would make me feel more comfortable; going every week, taking off my pants, and laying on a table was not a fun experience. This time, it seemed like physical therapy was starting to be successful. Sex was still painful, but I was able to relax my muscles more after penetration. The pain and throbbing did not go away, but I felt like I was making some progress.
However, my insurer decided that my problem should be solved on their time frame, so they only covered eight sessions. My physical therapist successfully assisted in securing additional coverage, but again I ran out of sessions. Only so much that can be accomplished in such a sort time for such a pervasive problem. I told my physical therapist that I would continue the exercises at home.
However, I didn’t make much progress.
Recently, I had another OBGYN appointment. This time I had scheduled the appointment with a physician assistant in the practice due to scheduling issues. She conducted my exam, and then asked me if I was experiencing any issues. I explained to her that I was having significant pain during sex. She told me about physical therapy, again. However, this time I had had enough. I told her that I had tried this and it didn’t work. I was sure there was something else. I had done some of my own research at this point and realized my issue was more than the doctors had previously realized. The physical therapy was supposed to help muscle spasms during sex and help a woman relax her muscles to stop the spasms. I explained that my pain was not just internal, but external. In fact, I had learned to control my internal muscles quite well and I knew that physical therapy was not the answer to my pain. I explained that I thought I needed a treatment beyond physical therapy.
This is when the PA did something that made all the difference. She took me seriously. She left the exam room and went to consult with a doctor that she worked with. He had had other patients who had this kind of pain! He explained to me that there is something called vulvodynia, more specifically he thought I had vulvar vestibulitis, terms that I had never heard. He prescribed a compound cream that might help the pain. He also told me that if the cream didn’t work, there were further options, albeit more aggressive.
Finally, I felt hope again. After six years, during three of which I was trying to find a solution, I had someone who understood the extent of my pain and gave me options.
I used the cream daily for about three weeks before my partner and I tried to have sex again.
And when we did… I felt satisfied after sex, which I have never felt before!
I didn’t think it was possible. I cannot describe the amount of relief I feel knowing that there is a solution. I still have some minor pain, but I know I am on the right path now. I know that I have a positive sex life on the horizon.
So why am I sharing this? I am sharing this because sexual dysfunctions should not be shameful and stigmatized. While coworkers could talk about pain they were experiencing during work, I couldn’t share mine, which just made it more shameful. I couldn’t explain why I had to leave work early for a weekly physical therapy appointment when it seemed like nothing was wrong with me. I lied and told them I had a pain in my hip.
I am sharing this to let other women know they are not alone. Years of research magnified my awareness; I know that sexual issues are not uncommon. People just can’t talk about them.
No, I am not 100% cured. But for the first time, I am hopeful, and I wish for all people in similar situations to one day feel the same hope as I do tonight.
Comments on I have been dealing with painful sex as long as I’ve been sexually active
Wow! What a long and arduous journey.
I hope you have the most amazing fun now. Cheers!!!
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for most of us. Once you get used to a certain level of pain, ‘bearable’ just becomes what you aim for.
It’s weird that this seems like a VERY common problem among women (both before and after childbirth), and yet I’ve never heard of anyone getting a quick and easy diagnosis. Most women suffer through it for years without being diagnosed. I too have been to multiple doctors and specialists regarding painful intercourse and have never been prescribed anything that helped. I’m so glad that you finally found something that worked!
I went to 4 doctors before being diagnosed. It was awful – I was told I was a slut and/or that my fiance was cheating on me, and that I MUST have an STD (even though I always tested negative for them). Just the journey of getting a diagnosis was one of the worst experiences of my life.
A DOCTOR told you were a slut? For real? And you reported this awful person to your local medical board, right? Holy crap.
It was implied by more than one doctor. Conversations often went like this:
Me: This hurts
Dr.: You must have a STD
Me: Been tested for all of them. Nope.
Dr: Well, how much sex have you had?
Me: A few partners in the past but I am in a long term relationship now.
Dr: Well maybe you shouldn’t have had so much sex. You probably have an STD. Or your partner is cheating and gave you one.
This happened more than once.
I still haven’t done anything about my problems, and mine’s so bad that I can’t even HAVE sex. We’ve just given up and up do foreplay followed by non-invasive handjobs.
Anyway, the one time I tried to tell my gyno (I can’t see them anymore because they don’t help and are always so MEAN), she said that of course my then-boyfriend (now-husband) was cheating on me because he was in the Navy and all sailors cheat. And this was at the end of my evaluation THAT WE COULDN’T COMPLETE because my muscles wouldn’t allow ANYTHING in there, and she told me to get that HPV vaccine and I said no because we were both virgins. And she laughed in my face and was like “Oh sweetheart he’s probably cheating on you, there’s no way he’s a virgin.”
I’m not sure why I didn’t tell her supervisor, but I was 21-years-old and my jaw was on the floor.
I actually find the less often I have sex, the more painful it is – it’s like my body has to get used to it all over again. So my response would have been “Well maybe if I was sluttier (by your definition) I wouldn’t have this problem!”
As a point of some hope for those suffering, my diagnosis was fairly easy. When I realized I was have pain from sex beyond the expected first time and beyond jitters making me tense, I told my doctor at the clinic about it. She referred me to an OBGYN who specialized in pain. I saw him, he did an exam where he poked a couple spots and noticed I automatically tensed from pain. He showed me those spots and how they were red and irritated, he diagnosed me with vestibular vulvodynia and prescribed me a cream. That wasn’t the end of the journey, but it was far from a rocky start.
I’m glad you had a better doctor who was able to get you help more quickly! I finally had an exam like that, a year and a half after I started having symptoms, and 4 doctors later.
this information is all ok i have suffered for 25 years. just finally been diagnosed with vulvodynia. i have tried all medications, none work. Like alot of these sites you get the odd person that found something that helps. But they never tell you what it is called. So might I add what is the poimt!
THANK YOU FOR WRITING ABOUT THIS. I have the same problem, compounded by endometriosis. May I ask what cream you are on? I am on lidocaine only, and take an anti-depressant to try and calm the physical nerve endings (Elavil). I am curious to try what you are doing, because this combo is barely working out for me at all.
PS- For those of you who do not have vulvar vestibulitis, the ‘test’ they do is they poke your genitals with a Q-Tip, and if you scream, they go “Yep! That’s what you have!” It is seriously that painful.
I am glad you appreciated this piece. It’s nice for me to see other people in the same situation as well. You’re right about the “test,” but unfortunately some doctors don’t even know about vulvar vestibulitis and think that this test is an indication of vaginismus, which is wrong-which leads to the wrong treatment. I will let you know privately about the cream =)
Thank you 😀
I feel like saying thank you as well for posting this. But I always have mixed feelings about reading about it, it’s good to know I’m not alone, but all the comments show me how common it is and how difficult it is to get better/well. It’s the same with sex, I have very mixed feelings, I both love and hate it…
I’ve been trying different exercises, and creams – but would like to hear what kind of cream you used. Any tips on how to maybe get better is a good thing.
Hi Ann – I never heard from you. Is there any way I can get my contact info to you so we can get in touch? Thanks!!
To be honest, Ann isn’t my real name. As much as it sucks that this is stigmatized so much, I didn’t want this article to come up when my name is googled. I’m still new in my career. I’m not sure how to privately give you my contact info because I don’t mind getting in touch privately… If you have an email and want to share it, I will definitely reach out to you.
I am not ashamed of what I’m going through and I think this topic should be way more mainstream, but again, I didn’t want my name attached to this situation when I am googled.
Oh, I realized you’re the same person who asked to talk to me earlier. I saw that you liked the post on facebook, so I messaged you (or someone named Laura-I hope it’s you too). You will need to go to your messages and check your “other” folder, but I did message you! If that wasn’t you or if it didn’t work, I can email you if you give me your email like I said in the other comment.
Hi Ann and everyone on this thread. I am 26 yrs old and got married 2 months ago. I’ve been a virgin until our wedding night. The pain was so extreme that we just couldn’t go in with it and had to use lidocaine for several days on our honeymoon until we were able to start having sex. We stopped using lidocaine now and we use a lot of lubrication (am on a birth control pill since the wedding and it kinda dries me up). So anyway, sex has become slightly less painful that I can ditch lidocaine. But everytime, we have to take our time to achieve penetration and it always hurts upon entering. Then, during intercourse the pain kind of disappears. However, some days during intercourse it feels so sore inside like it’s stinging and burning even while using lots of lubrication. It’s been 2 months now, and I keep telling myself that it will get better with practice, that penetration will be painfree eventually, but it doesn’t seem to be the case now. I had a checkup at my gyno right before the wedding and she said I had a thick hymen and that it requires a few times for sex to become painfree. But this doesn’t to be the case and I believe there’s something wrong with me and that it might be a life long issue. And it’s making me feel very upset and sad especially that we’ve waited so long to be married and finally experience sex and all. It was nothing like I expected and I feel like am a defected woman.
Ann, can you please share with me the name of the cream so I can suggest it to my gyno? (can you share that privately, although am still new to this forum and do not fully know how that works).
I’m really sorry to hear that you’re doing through this. Just know that you’re not alone and hopefully you can find a solution. Unfortunately women expressing painful sex is typically dismissed. I would say that you OBGYN saying that you have a thick hymen doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. Persistent pain is not normal and solutions do exist. You need to see a specialist who can really look into the issue and help you find a solution.
Unfortunately I do not remember the cream that I talked about in this article because it ended up not working for me. I thought it did when I wrote this, but it really didn’t help long term. I ended up seeing a specialist. The office is called the Drexel Vaginismus Center in Philly, PA. They are absolutely amazing. I ended up having a surgery called a vestibulectomy with partial flap advancement. It was very scary initially, but it was the solution I needed because I have been having pain free sex for a year and a half now.
Please find a specialist who can really help you =)
Thank you Ann for your very helpful feedback. I am so happy you found a solution to this and that you are finally getting to enjoy it!! Unfortunately I do not live in the US but I will be doing some research regarding this surgical procedure.
Thank you so much again and I hope this suffering ends for all women.
I just want to echo the suggestion to find a specialist, a doctor who deals specifically with pelvic pain. Depending on your particular problem, there should be a range of treatment options. Your problem is solvable. You are not defective!
Luckily my doctors were not assholes, but I too suffered for years, from the first time I tried to put in a tampon to having sex with my husband, before finally figuring out what was causing the pain. I saw 3 different gynecologists who told me I had nothing physically wrong with me, then saw a sex therapist because I thought it was psychological, before finally going to a pelvic floor specialist who diagnosed me with vulvar vestibulitis (which causes the sharp pain at the opening of the vagina) and pelvic floor dysfunction (tight muscles, which can cause deeper pain). I was prescribed a cream for the vestibular glands – estradiol 0.01% – to be applied by q-tip to the several vestibular glands located at the entrance of the vaginal canal. I was also prescribed a low dosage of an oral drug, Nortriptyline, that is supposed to target the nerves that are causing the pain in that area (in higher doses it is prescribed as an antidepressant). For the pelvic floor dysfunction I was prescribed physical therapy and valium suppositories. Things have gotten better, though still not perfect, but I have hope now that pain-free sex is indeed possible. Go see a specialist, you will thank yourself. Unfortunately gynecologists are not always taught about this stuff. Just one more reason to love our healthcare system.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaginismus this how i know of it in puerto rico there is actually a center. I am so glad you found relief…
Oh man, ARE YOU ME? Well, I had a different diagnosis, but your insurance company did exactly the same thing mine did. I found I only made noticeable progress in relaxing the muscles when I went twice a week, but then the allotted sessions ran out way too fast. And they made me fill out a form documenting my progress, which they apparently ignored– they always limited me to the same number of sessions, regardless of how fast or slowly I was progressing.
Also, TOTALLY experienced the thing about not being able to talk about PT.
Random person: [says something related to physical therapy]
Me: “Oh man, physical therapists are great! I loved mine!”
Random person: “Oh, what did you go to one for?”
Anyway I was diagnosed with vaginismus, and didn’t end up making a lot of progress through treatment. Happily, my vagina is better now, and I’m not sure what fixed it. I went off hormonal BC, and my life is much less stressful now. Those things might have contributed, or might have just been coincidental.
Either way, genital pain sucks, and I hope you continue to make progress.
I was diagnosed with vaginismus too!
Vaginismus twinsies! But seriously, sounds like you had a pretty rough time for awhile. Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad things have gotten so much better for you.
Yay!!! you use twinsies too!!!
I’m happy your symptoms went away! That is great. It would be nice if insurance companies, and the medical field in general, started taking women’s sexual health more seriously, so that we could get easy access to the treatment and doctors that we need.
Whoa, I wonder if going off hormonal BC would help me too… I didn’t have problems when I first started, but I do now (and it’s the same partner, so nothing has changed there). I did start BC though, I wonder if that could have anything to do with it. It’s worth looking into now. Thanks for the heads up, just in case!
I will emphasize that I am in no way a doctor, and no doctor ever suggested a connection between the two. I ended up going off the pill for unrelated reasons. But, speaking totally unscientifically, I had always kind of felt like it was messing with my vaginal flora. So if you have good alternatives to hormonal BC, it is worth a try, at least!
I only know what my doctor said in my case, but he is a specialist in pain for it, so take it how you will. When I decided to stop the pills I was on and get a Mirena instead, part of why he agreed it was a good choice for me was that since it has a local hormonal effect, rather than a global one, my pain should lessen, since BC pills are associated with increased pain in those with a tendency towards it already, or pain can itself be a side effect of the pills. So if you have pain, it could definitely be a good conversation to have with your doctor.
That is interesting. Is this a pelvic pain doctor, or someone who deals with pain in general?
I was on birth control for 8 years. During that time I sought help for vaginal pain. For an entire year my doctor believed I had some sort of bacterial infection and treated it with antibiotics.* When I read a book on painful sex, I begged him to order blood tests to check my hormone levels. My body had stopped making estrogen and all of my reproductive organs lost tone and blood flow. My vagina was essentially dying from not having any estrogen. So my doctor told me to get off birth control and prescribed a topical estrogen cream. This treatment helped my level of pain significantly. And once my vagina looked like it was healthy, my doctor could finally diagnose me with vulvodynia and vaginismus, and I was put on a path toward proper treatment.
*Worst treatment for women with vulvodynia. Not only does it prolong the time until proper treatment, but the antibiotics can encourage the growth of yeast, which causes more vaginal pain.
I assume I had this too, was never diagnosed because my GYN basically told me it was all in my head, and that I was making it happen because I was afraid it would hurt, so I’d tense…um, thanks not helpful. We just kinda dealt with it for a few years, stopping when it was too bad, etc, pretty similar story to OP. But then we decided to try for a baby and I went off the pill, and it was the most incredible moment the first time we had sex after being off the pill, and I realized it wasn’t hurting…we laughed and cried all through it! I think it was absolutely tied to the pill, and I LOVE being off it so much, never going back on it ever. I wish doctors would be more open about talking about the side effects of the pill. I had emotional issues on it too, and never got taken seriously about that either. I am so glad we can talk about it here, so we can all be aware of what’s happening and not suffer in silence! If anyone else is having this problem and is on birth control, I would consider a new BC option if you can! xoxox
I recently went off of oral BC and what a difference it has made!!! I have never enjoyed sex until recently. The beginning can still be unpleasant but I can now experience it without dreading it. It’s done wonders for my relationship.
I too have experienced painful sex since becoming sexually active. I became sexually active through rape at the age of 8 and through forced child prostitution. I was in therapy from age 13 till I was 18 to deal with everything. I continued to have sex (for money) until I was 19. I related sex with pain and hatred and would keep my romantic relationships 100% nonsexual. I could achieve climax through clitoral stimulation but never vaginal. I once tried to have intercourse with a romantic partner but had a flashback half way through and injured them. This was in my late teens, when my friends began to become sexually active. They would talk about how great it felt and I began to question why it always hurt. I searched the internet for answers and came up with your basic lube and foreplay remedies. They did nothing. Then when I was 19 I saw a new gynecologist and for the first time she noticed how painful the exam was and asked if sex was painful for me. I told her everything and she diagnosed me with Vaginismus. Finally there was a name and an answer. She said it was brought on by my past traumas and I would need to use a combination of physical therapy through dilators and Psycho-sexual therapy to deal with the mental side of it. We scheduled an appointment to begin the Physical side of it in two week. The weekend before that appointment I was brutally raped, much worse than any previous time, and I closed my body to the world and to myself. I came to the appointment but when she asked me to undress I told her I couldn’t. I told her I would come back when I could tell someone see my body again. I spent the next 2 months in the same clothes, never being undressed. I never went back to her, and then I got a postcard saying she had moved. About a year after all of this happened is when I met my husband, he was kind and gentle, and lived across the country. We dated virtually for 3 years. This time allowed me to slowly rediscover my sexuality. When we began having sex it was painful but stopped, every time. He stopped before I even asked him to. I have never gotten the physical or Psychological therapy I was supposed to do but these past 2 weeks I have enjoyed sex. While not to the point of orgasm I have been having pleasurable sex that doesn’t hurt. I believe it is all thanks to his kind heart and his desire to heal me.
Sorry, that was more depressing than I had invented it to be and a lot longer too xp. I just wanted to share so no one feels alone.
Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve been through a lot and I’m so glad things have started to improve for you.
Thank you, I really hadn’t intended to get so bleak xp I was just explaining a bit and then realized it didn’t make sense without more background.
But yes, life is quite wonderful now. and I have been having intercourse with my husband a minimum of 5 times a day for the past two weeks since it doesn’t hurt.
I’m sure you hear this every time you tell people about what happened to you, and I really hope this doesn’t come off as patronizing, but I just wanted to say that you are so strong and brave to have gone through all that and to still have had the courage to advocate for yourself about issues that many women, even without a history of abuse, feel too ashamed of to seek help with. You’re amazing.
Yeah, I do hear it alot, but I’m not offended, I know my version of no biggy is not everyone elses xp. thanks. I’m really not that amazing, I don’t have the guts to bring anyone to trial and the last guy that raped me murdered a woman a month after he raped me and I could have saved her if I had gone to the police. I wish I was braver.
I once went to an OBGYN with concerns about vaginal bleeding and cramping in relation to exercise/running. After my first run, I bled for a week. Any ab workout causing cramping and bloating. I may have mentioned that I sometimes experience pain during deep penetration. When I told her these things, her only response was, “Well, maybe it was coincidence. I do urge you to continue with the exercise, it’s good for you.” And that was that. Eventually, I found a forum where other women have posted over the last several years with the same problem. Some have it worse than myself, yet not one has received much help medically. Most women have been to several doctors only to not be taken seriously, or thought to be overreacting. Not one woman seemed to have gotten a helpful diagnosis, and many of them have bled every day for years. Personally, I just do workouts that don’t target my pelvic region, and don’t do any long jogs or runs. It’s certainly disheartening that so many women struggle with internal vaginal conditions that are so easily missed by healthcare professionals. Too often we aren’t even taken seriously enough to warrant further testing… at least we have websites like this to share and hopefully help others.
I know your not supposed to give advise on this website, but you should really go to other doctors and attempt to get a diagnosis and treatment. You should not have to deal with those issues. Find a Doctor who will take your concerns and issues seriously. If you don’t get the answers you need, see someone else until you do! I know that is can be a grouling process, but your health is worth it!
Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it inspires others to get help and not stay silent.
Kudos to Ann and the other commenters for persisting in search of treatment in the face of ignorance and hostility.
I just wanted to give a plug for a blog that I’ve found helpful, feminist and evidence-based for (different) gynae issues; here is her post on painful sex that might be useful for some people
“…the answer for pain with sex is never, “It’s all in your head.” There is always a cause and it is your health care provider’s job to figure that out. The most disempowering thing is not not have a diagnosis, because you can’t formulate a treatment plan if you have no idea what you are treating.”
I have an retroverted uterus… which means sex is usually a bit awkward. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Retroverted_uterus
It also meant that when I got pregnant it took 17 weeks before we could hear a heartbeat (yea for ultrasounds, ’cause I was one paranoid Mama when we kept not hearing that heartbeat.)
Anyways… sex isn’t the end-all-be-all. We do loads of fun things and achieve orgasm in many ways. The toughest issue is finding the time in our busy lives for intimacy (2 kids, small apartment… it’s not the easiest thing to work out!) For some reasons scheduling sex feels… less than sexy. But we’ve got to squeeze it in between PTA meetings, work, etc.
I had very similar issues for years. At the time I was married, and we had only been with each other. I went to urologists,different OBGYNs, and lord knows who else. During one of my initial consults with a new OB, he asked how many sexual partners I had had. I said, “one.” To which he replied, “no I meant ever.” It was offensive because just cuz I was young, pretty, and having some sexual issues doesn’t mean I’ve had multiple partners, and why would I lie??
ANYWAY, long story short: they told me I had bladder infections, yeast infections, BV, vulvodynia, etc. Through my own research I discovered that I had all of the symptoms of INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS.
I’m capitalizing it because two doctors told me it didn’t exist, and FINALLY my OBGYNs PA agreed that I had it, and I started treatment: Elmiron.
CHANGED MY LIFE. So much better.
I also, like Elena, have Interstitial Cystitis (IC). It’s a bladder disease that causes pain with urination and, among other things, pianful sex. It’s often mis-diagnosed or under diagnosed. Here is a great website that explains IC symptoms and treatments: http://www.ichelp.org/page.aspx?pid=571
I have been dealing with IC for 4+ years and have had painful sex and painful gyno Dr’s appts recently. I’m in physical therapy (PT) currently, using the cream Ann mentioned, and trying chiropractic and herbs/hormones with mixed results. I’m glad to have a Dr, PT and medical team that is willing to help and offer options!
I’ve read that it takes a women an average of five times of going to the Dr / bringing up an issue to a Dr before she is taken seriously and treated. Where as for a man, it only takes 1 appt! WTF!?! We, as women, have to be very persistent and change DR’s if they don’t listen or discredit us or our symptoms. My PT also told me that ‘painful sex’ for a women is often coded/billed to the insurance companies as a mental health issue. Thus, the ‘it’s all in your head’ diagnoses. We have to fight it and demand treatments that work for us!
I’m in my early 30’s and should not have this much pain with general sexual activities! I will keep trying treatments until something works. Thankfully, my husband is supportive of this and even offered to pay out of pocket to see specialists, if needed.
Hey I take Elmiron, and it has helped tremendously.
I’m from the UK. So we have free health care which is great but overstretched. It’s so hard to get even mundane health issues sorted.
I’ve tried to get sexual health issues sorted and I always just get asked if I’ve had a sti test recently. I’ve had the same sexual partner for 6 years and I trust he’s not messing around but we always use condoms for contraception.
It’s awkward enough to go to a stranger about sexual issues without them assuming and ultimately not helping at all.
It’s always a relief to hear others have issues too and I’m not just imagining it.
Thank you for writing this! I also have vulvodynia, and I appreciate the reminder that it can get better. More importantly, how much does it suck that social stigma means we can’t talk about our medical problems and treatments?! A friend of mine has endometriosis and is very open about her experiences with it, so perhaps I should take a leaf out of her book.
I too just recently was able to have sex with my husband without pain. We have been together since December 2009, and had sex (first time for both of us) around May 2010. I expected the first time to hurt because you always hear that in TV shows and movies. And when it continued to hurt I didn’t think much of it. I just wanted to please him. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in 2012, a month before we got married, which explained the infrequent, overly long periods and the Hirsutism, but not the pain. Last year I finally spoke up. The pain had gotten more intense and I was also experiencing abdominal pain during my day to day life, even without having sex. After a vaginal ultrasound, my regular physician said I could have endometriosis. This made sense with my other symptoms and for me seemed to explain everything. But I wanted to be sure. So I made an appointment with a gynecologist my mother recommended. (It’s kind of strange because he’s my mom’s gyno and because he helped deliver me when I was born. But he’s great.) A few weeks later I was in an OR about to undergo laparoscopic surgery to find the exact problem. They discovered that my ovaries were not only larger than most women’s, but that they were also adhered to my bowel. They removed the adhesions and I’m feeling so much better! I get an occasional slight twinge of pain, which I suppose is my enlarged ovaries. But nothing compared to before and not nearly as frequent. I’m now able to fully enjoy sex with my husband, but we are taking it slow and gentle for now since the surgery was only 3 1/2 weeks ago. I wish I had spoken up sooner, and I wish I had told my husband a lot sooner about the pain. I kept it hidden from him because I was afraid he would be offended or upset. But he’s been totally supportive, even if a little sexually frustrated. Women, we need to be more proactive about our sexual health and overall well being! Speak up, don’t just deal with the pain or whatever problem you’re experiencing. There IS an answer, don’t stop until you get the right one.
I’m glad articles like this are being written and discussed. I have been dealing with vulvodynia and vaginismus for 11 years and because it began the first time I tried to have sex at 16, I didn’t know there was anything wrong. I was told that I just had anxiety about sex. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 23 and by then it had been made worse by a cheating boyfriend and everyone around me talking about what could be wrong with me. I’m now happily married and sex is getting better- it only hurts sometimes but still doesn’t feel awesome. More women should share there experiences so that young women now may not have to suffer for 6 or even 11 years anymore.
I actually had the same issues. We discovered what was going on when I started to get serious about conceiving. I had a hydrosalpinx, 2 6 cm cysts on my right ovary and my uterus had grown attachments to my surrounding organs. In addition to all that, my partner is well gifted, but my cervix likes to drop dramatically when I am not fertile. Since my surgery last year, painful sex is less frequent but it still happens. I feel like it’s just my cervix causing me issues now.
I also dealt with vulvar vestibulitis, and in my case, it meant that my husband and I didn’t have sex for the first three years of our marriage. Not even once — any attempt was just too painful. I went to a number of doctors in that time to try to figure out the problem, and finally, I got referred to The Pelvic Pain & Incontinence Center at the University of Utah (which was pretty close to where I lived at the time). This changed everything! For the first time, a doctor did a really thorough, precise pelvic exam to figure out where my pain was located. It hurt like absolute hell. In my case, the best option turned out to be surgery to remove some of the inflamed tissue (it was such a small amount that removing it didn’t make any difference in appearance even). And now, sex! As much as we want! =)
Painful sex is so unbelievably common and also so hidden. If I could give any advice to another woman who’s dealing with this kind of thing, it would be to FIND A PELVIC PAIN SPECIALIST. Don’t subject yourself to endless appointments with gynecologists who are great for birth control questions and STD testing but who don’t know anything about pelvic pain conditions. That sort of knowledge doesn’t come standard in medical school. See if your regular gyno knows of a pelvic pain specialist or a pelvic pain center in your area and will give you a referral. Or you can google something like “pelvic pain specialist [your city name]” or “pelvic pain clinic [your city name]” to find someone. (If anyone lives near Salt Lake City, the center at the U is excellent.) If you’re not getting anywhere with those methods, get in touch with the Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders — cvvd [dot] org
I have this exact issue. My partner and I have been together for almost 5 years, and had only been having sex for a few months when the pain started. For a while, I was semi able to deal with it as it would go away part way through, or the area would just get numb.
However, now the pain is so bad that the area can’t even be touched. I finally, after about 4 years with this pain, have managed to to convince my Dr. that the pain is real and be referred to a specialist. She’s currently got me on a compound cream as well as a nerve blocker, both of which don’t seem to have a terribly large effect. She did mention that surgery was an option, as the area is so small, so I’m going to advocate for that.
Can I ask what, if any, recovery there was from it?
My surgery was really low-key — I was under general anesthesia, but I went home that same day. There was definitely some pain in the days following, so I took it easy at home, but I had some good pain meds and was 100% again within a week. After the surgery, it was about another 9 months before we were able to have sex, but I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that neither of us had ever had sex before and we’d been failing at it for so long that we were reluctant to try. So, if I had to guess, I would say that your time to pain-free sex would be much much shorter than mine.
Skish, who was your doctor at The Pelvic Pain & Incontinence Center at the University of Utah?
I hope if everyone reading takes only one thing from this conversation (ok, two things), it’s this (these):
1. Sex doesn’t have to be painful.
2. Find a doctor who agrees with #1, and does not say or imply that anyone is a slut.
I absolutely agree with the ladies above who mention pelvic pain specialists. I was very fortunate that, as a student in a big city, the school’s nurse practitioner took me seriously and pretty much immediately referred me to one.
So: pelvic pain specialist. Find one.
As always, OffbeatHome posts something at the exact moment I need to read it. My husband and I have been out of sync sexually for a few years because of pain. We’ve both got issues, he takes a long time to finish and my poor body just doesn’t have the stamina for it. Once we started having pain during sex my anxiety kicked in about it and it’s been difficult ever since. We had to stop so many times due to pain which led to me being frustrated and discouraged about not being good enough that now I don’t even want to do it.
We’ve been seeing a therapist for over a year and she’s amazing and we’ve worked hard to build an amazing non-physical relationship. I just can’t seem to move into the next step and get our sex life back on track. Every time I think about doing it my anxiety of it hurting kicks in and just shuts it all down. I have tried everything the therapist suggested and both her and my doctor think it’s not a physical problem like some of yours but truly a mental issue from my anxiety.
I feel like such a failure as a wife 🙁
I’m so sorry, notanotherjenn. That feeling of not being good enough is so toxic and terrible.
Just in case it is a physical issue, it might be worth finding a specialist and getting a second opinion, if you haven’t already done so.
The anxiety-pain-anxiety-pain loop is really tough. I was so frustrated with everyone else around me seeming to have sex so easily, why was it so hard for me? What was wrong with me?? Why was I broken? Turns out I have vaganismus, which is like an involuntary spasm of the vaginal muscles, which is definitely made worse by being stressed and anxious about sex.
I was lucky enough to find a great sexual counsellor, not a doctor, who was able to help me work through some issues and get a great perspective on how the vagina works etc. She gave me breathing exercises and dilation exercises, and I was able to gradually comfortably masturbate on my own terms while I’m in control, which helps with the stress, because, if I’m not having a good time, then no one else is disappointed, right? The more practice I got, the more confident I was in my own body and the easier sex became. I gave birth four months ago, and haven’t been able to work myself up to sex again yet, which I know frustrates my husband, but I want to be in control and try penetration myself first, but with a baby, I just don’t really have any time or motivation just at the moment.
Hang in there. It’s not just you, and you’re not broken. <3
I’m glad that you’re working with good therapist and working on your relationship. I too have anxiety and pain during sex. I have never been properly diagnosed with a physical disorder but the pain that I feel is definitely not just a mental issue.
My husband and I decided to stop having vaginal intercourse years ago. Best decision we’ve ever made. We still enjoy a very intimate and satisfying sex life without penetration. Neither of us are displeased! I think we think of sex as just this one thing but sex can be so much more. Now that there is no pressure to have sex that hurts me, we initiate it far more often.
You’re not a failure at all. I hope that you can find some creative ways to be intimate!
>> we think of sex as just this one thing but sex can be so much more
Quoted for absolute truth. Realizing PIV isn’t the end-all, be-all of sexuality has been so freeing. It’s not easy, of course — it flies in the face of everything we see in media. I’ve needed some serious reassurance from my SO that he’s having fun, and that’s okay.
I swear I felt like the only person who ever had this problem. It took 4 OBGYNs to believe that it wasn’t a lubrication/foreplay issue. The pain from sex still triggers muscle spasms so powerful that I have a practically permanent tear on my perineum that might need surgery. Currently, I’ve upgraded to using lidocaine ointment three times a day, but it isn’t really providing any long-term help. Would you mind sharing the name/composition of the compound cream you use?
Thanks so much,
The cream contains: Baclofen, Amitriptyline, and Gabapentin
I also had tears on my perineum, and at the base of my tailbone. If you haven’t before, ask your doctor to test your blood for male and female hormone levels. My tears were so bad because my body stopped producing estrogen from years of birth control pills. Once I got off the Pill, my hormone levels came back and my body was finally able to heal the skin.
I have vulvar vestibulitis as well and it has been an arduous journey to say the least! I still don’t have relief! Do you mind sharing what compound cream you were prescribed? I tried the lidocaine but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 8 years and we actually went an entire year with no sex at all because it caused me so much pain. Fortunately, it’s not *as* bad anymore but is still pretty horrid.
I also want to thank you for coming forward about this. It’s not easy to even admit to your friends but I’ve come to the realization that if we don’t talk about it at all, then it will continue with the same stigma and lack of knowledge that we currently have. It isn’t talked about enough! I’ve found a few friends that even deal with it – maybe not to the same degree that I do – but at least they understand. It’s always nice to have a support system.
Because a lot of people have asked, the cream compound contains: Baclofen, Amitriptyline, and Gabapentin. I had to get it from a special compound pharmacy since a regular one cannot make it.
Lidocaine cream is not the solution because it numbs…which is not what we need.
Good luck everyone. I hope this helps people. =)
I accidentally typed “Anny” but I meant to write Ann. I hope this cream helps other people too!
The compound cream that my gynecologist recommended was a topical formula of the antidepressant Elavil (amitriptyline).
I’ve taken Amitriptyline orally. I’d certainly be interested in the topical treatment, particularly in compound with the others. I hope I can find a doctor who will prescribe it… and that it’s not expensive.
Just to clarify, the reason I said lidocaine isn’t good (according to my doctor) is that it numbs…everything, even your partner. It also might exacerbate the issue apparently, but everyone needs to find what works for them!
Thanks! I’m glad I checked back on the thread. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ll ask my Dr. about it.
Your story sounds so much like mine. Except mine is compounded by also having vaginismus, a muscle spasm disorder with deep roots in psychological health.
I also made matters worse by going on birth control pills – my body stopped making estrogen and my vaginal tissues were on the verge of necrosis. Once I got my hormonal issues figured out, diagnosis was much easier.
Even though I have also tried physical therapy, numbing ointments, hormonal treatments, antidepressants, dilator therapy, and sex therapy over the last 5 years, I still have pain and spasms. It’s really like living with chronic pain, except it’s pain that’s so intimate, and no one really knows the cause.
Just this week I decided to “come clean” with my psychologist that I am still having pain, and it’s causing a lot of mental grief. I’m sure the majority of my pain is rooted in some mental anxiety. Since she isn’t a sex therapist, I wasn’t really sure I could bring a problem this big and so specific to ask for help. But I trust her more than I trusted my sex therapist, so I am hopeful I will gain some benefit from treatment.
Oh my gosh! I’ve been getting messages for as long as I can remember that sex is just expected to be painful, so I just always assumed what I was experiencing was normal and I had to accept the pain along with the pleasure. I live an hour away from my boyfriend, and we’ve been trying to visit each other every weekend. I’ve never told him about the pain because I was able to get past it and I thought it was just normal, but this weekend I actually had so much pain that I couldn’t let his penis inside of me. We took a break for a few hours and then I was back to my normal pleasure-mixed-with-pain self, but then I got home and happened upon this post. I don’t know how it will turn out for me, but I am definitely going to bring this up with my doctor. You are so right, that this is a more taboo topic than a lot of other health issues, and I can’t believe that I have just been assuming there was nothing to be done about it! Thank you for speaking up!
Bring this up with your boyfriend too! Make sure you let him know how serious the problem is. At least for me, continuing to have sex despite the pain actually made my condition worse because repeated pain over time is quite traumatic.
There are some things you can do at home to self-soothe before sex, so you can see if any of those ease the pain. Oatmeal baths, a glass of wine, using a heating pad, and extra lube that is free of dyes, perfumes, and glycerol (“warming” lubes), are all things that have lessened the pain for me.
In fact, I use a heating pad before sex just about every time because it’s so fabulous! Look for one that has a large area but is rather thin and can be used wet or dry.