Approaching Painful Sex

People who suffer from pain during sex often say nothing. Whilst we are surrounded by unrealistic depictions of sex in film and pornography, the idyll of verbal enjoyment and simultaneous orgasms frequently instills an expectation that people feel they need to meet - and adopt a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ mentality. Label explores why pain during sex has become a social taboo, and how to tackle the silence.

1 in 10 women report feeling pain during sex. I have personally had a lot of painful sex, and would bet my student loan that every sexually active person I know has experienced painful sex at some point. Yet this side of sexual activity is something rarely talked about, and can often be uncomfortable to explain to a partner. The silence comes partly from the expectation of screaming ecstasy society has placed on sex; we see screaming characters reaching a climax in 10 seconds, and instead of being honest when we don’t feel this, we often fake it. There is none to little emphasis in sex education placed on the enjoyment, or lack thereof, that comes from sex. As a result, the idea that sex can be uncomfortable for some is usually not a concept that young people are aware of, and the aforementioned ‘movie sex’ takes the educational place that school education could pioneer. 

As well as this, telling your partner that the sex is painful can be an embarrassing venture on both ends of the scale. For the aforementioned reasons, there can be an element of shame attached to feeling pain during sex. For some, admitting that the sex isn’t always enjoyable can feel like admitting you’re not ‘doing it right’ - that you’re not the picture-perfect porn fantasy you aspire to be. On the other side, hearing that you’ve caused this for somebody you care about can be difficult. It is therefore important to emphasise that there shouldn’t (usually) be any blame attached to this. With any sense of shame or blame established, a helpful conversation can begin.

So what can be useful when approaching a conversation like this? Firstly, honesty is of course always the best policy. Explain exactly where and what kind of pain you feel, and whether you know what is causing it. This way, there is no confusion on either side, and the concept can feel normalised to take away any feeling of embarrassment for either party. Once this has been explained, the more mechanical details can be focused on. Are there any positions which particularly hurt, or actually feel better than others? Make sure that the best positions for you are laid out carefully. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that sex isn’t SUPPOSED to hurt. Therefore, dictate exactly how rough you can handle it. If it’s the intensity of the sex which is the problem, it is okay to point this out constructively. 

Remember, painful sex can result from a physical problem, from an illness to an infection, or even a psychological problem. Common problems include thrush, or something as simple as low sexual arousal. Therefore, seeing a GP is advisable, since painful sex is not something that should simply be accepted as the norm.