How to rethink intimacy when sex hurts

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When did you last have a really honest discussion about your current experiences of and during sex?

At some time or another, almost everyone thinks that they are doing it wrong, could do it better or that something is wrong with them. The truth is many of us have faced challenges in the ways we experience sex, not only with what we enjoy or dislike, but also in how it feels. Many women have, or do experience discomfort or pain during penetrative sex. If that’s you, then you are in a similar situation to many others.

Why is pain so common? 

There are lots of reasons why women experience pain during penetration. These include: 

  • recent birth
  • recent surgery
  • menstrual issues
  • menopause
  • Cystitis, Thrush or other infection
  • vulvodynia — pain in the vulva due to oversensitive nerve fibres
  • vestibulodynia — localised pain the vaginal entrance
  • vaginismus — involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles. 

To be clear, the term ‘vulva’ refers to the clitoris, labia and vagal opening. The vagina is the stretchy, spongy canal that runs from the vaginal entrance to the base of the womb or cervix. If you are experiencing pain in any of these areas and you don’t know why, contact your GP first and get yourself checked out. There may be a simple solution. 

That said, sexual issues are not always medical issues; they can be physiological. Penetrative sex can be be impossible for some and, for others, uncomfortable. Some people might want to carry on as normal rather than face the challenge or tricky conversations with a partner. We want to persuade you that broaching the subject is worth the effort. It often brings couples closer together as exploring other options for sexual pleasure can be surprisingly fun and novel. 

Redefining sex

There’s no ‘right’ way to have sex. However, if you are experiencing no pleasure at all, that’s definitely a wrong way for you. For many people, sex means penetration. This definition is limiting and can lead to feelings of inadequacy if you’re not enjoying it. Here’s the good news: you get to choose what sex means for you. 

Some people feel like penetration and orgasm is how you know when sex is over. If you’re up against this mental barrier, decide on another stopping point. Set a timer, create a plan to go through some new techniques, this could include stopping when something isn’t quite working for you. . When you get used to the idea of a wider definition of sex, you won’t need this type of structure, if it’s helpful right now, then go for it. 

Start close in

Maybe you had a good handle on your genital’s erotic hotspots before you started to have issues or perhaps your own pleasure has always been a mystery to you. In either case, masturbation is your friend at this point. It’s important to learn what feels comfortable for you. If you can articulate your limits and delicacies to your partner, you’ll both be able to relax and have more fun. 

You can also experiment and practice during masturbation. Try different spots, a range of temperatures and pressures, test out toys and sample lubrications. The latter is a must in many cases and you need to find one that doesn’t make the problem worse. If your sensitivity is due to skin issues or infection, do a little research and find out what natural lubricants others in your position are using. 

It may also be important to make friends with your genitals again. Bear with me if that sounds too out there for you. If you develop a new issue in your body, it’s easy to feel angry, frustrated, disappointed and a host of other emotions. None of these are conducive to sexual pleasure. Relax and give yourself the credit you deserve. You’re not giving up on the potent power of your sexuality. Even by reading this article, you’re demonstrating a commitment to finding a connection to pleasure again. Be patient with yourself and engage in positive self-talk around your sexuality and health every day. It isn’t about papering over real issues with false optimism. It’s about encouragement and faith in the idea that you can experience sex in a way that’s right for you. 

It can be helpful to talk to other women who are going through, or who have got past this problem. A word form the wise:

“When sex hurts, then your mind gets anxious which causes your body to tighten up, which causes sex to hurt even more. It’s a spiral that is hard to break without really good relaxation techniques”

Involving a partner

If you feel comfortable, you can involve a partner in all the above. If not, then decide when you feel ready to start teaching your partner what you’ve learnt. Be clear with them about what is possible and what is a no-go when it comes to your body. 

You may like to introduce a safeword. This is a word that is nothing to do with sex that you can say when you want everything to stop immediately. It’s often associated with kink practices but it’s a useful tool in any intimacy situation where you are exploring edges. ‘Stop’ often feels too harsh and people draw back from saying it when they need to. A safeword such as ‘yellow’ is softer. It often means, ‘give me a second to regroup and offer feedback on what happened for me.’ Remember, the more secure you feel, the better this is going to be. 

If the clitoris is available during sex, then you can try oral or finger stimulation. Simulated sex may also be an option. It can feel very sexy to grind together, even with clothes on. When you’re ready, try this naked. If your partner angles his penis to rub your clitoris with each thrust, you’ll both experience yummy sensations and possibly orgasm. All the motion, none of the penetration. 

If the entire vulva is off-limits, it may be that none of the above are options for you. Luckliy for us our whole body can be an erotic zone. If you didn’t know it, one square inch of skin can contain 1,000 nerve endings — that’s a promising place to start. Once you take the focus away from the clitoris, you’ll notice the power of sensations in other parts of the body. Toes, hands, ears, bottom and, of course, nipples are all great places to start. 

Sex toys — friend or foe? 

The answer to any sex-positive question is always, it depends. For example, some people find vibrators help their muscles relax. Others find them irritating. There is a form of therapy for vaginismus that involves using progressively bigger dildos starting with a very small one. These are all options to explore. 

If your partner is missing the penetrative aspect of sex, it’s ok to talk about that and find a solution. If you both want to simulate penetration, there are male masturbation toys you can incorporate into play to revive that aspect. 

It’s all in the mind

Sex is fun, healthy and completely adaptable. Intimacy with another person is an endless exploration that can benefit from facing challenges together. It’s about sharing experiences and exchanging ideas. Don’t let conditioning that reduces sex to a single act of penetration stand in the way of claiming your pleasure and making sex work for you. 

If you want to join a more frank, shame-free conversation about our wonderful bodies including how we can enjoy them and keep them healthy, please connect with us on our PeeSting Instagram account. You’ll find others feel the same and you can be part of our growing community

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Janeen
Janeen
July 11, 2021 10:57 am

Gréât article about a topic we rarely discuss openly. Very informative, thanks.

Pamela
Pamela
July 13, 2021 1:56 am

We need to normalise conversation like this. Sex is a part of life and this content is valuable education for all women out there. I’m sharing this with my girlfriends, maybe it will help open a discussion with them and their partners. Thank you

Helena
Helena
July 18, 2021 9:24 pm

BRAVO!!! Finally an open and honest article and discussion for women about sex!!
As women we are largely taught to feel shame and suppress our enjoyment and pleasure of having or even discussing sex. Women face so many challenges in experiencing the pure pleasure of having sex, not only in what we like or dislike or how it feels. Some women don’t even know the difference between their vulva and vagina.
This article teaches you that it’s ok to bring up the subject of sex to your partner if your having any issues in this area. It then educates a woman on different ways to enjoy having sex and any issues surrounding this, suggestions of ways to explore solutions to this.
I love the quote “It may also be important to make friends with your genitals again”. Woman are not openly taught that it’s ok to explore your own body and experience pleasure from it or how to masturbate and orgasm. Some women never even experience an orgasm in their life!!
I also love how this article provides solutions on involving your partner and how to involve your partner and having clear boundaries!!
Finally a refreshing, open and honest article that is a very healthy approach for women for their bodies and sex life!!

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August 30, 2021 12:51 pm

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This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options.

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