| Tara Langdale

Painful intercourse medical term: dyspareunia causes, treatments

For most people, the medical term for painful intercourse, dyspareunia is unfamiliar. For those who suffer from pelvic pain, you're all too familiar. Dyspareunia is when women experience pain during vaginal penetration, a pelvic exam, or even when inserting a tampon. The penetration pain can occur before, during, or after sexual activity. While it's a more significant concern in women's health, men can have dyspareunia, too.


Sexual pain symptoms can vary from person to person. The penetration pain may be felt in the vagina, bladder, or urethra. It may come with an aching, itching, or burning sensation. Some sufferers report a feeling similar to menstrual cramps (a stabbing pain). The pain may occur:


  • during or after intercourse
  • when penetrated
  • deep in the pelvis during sexual activity
  • when inserting a tampon
  • after pain-free intercourse
  • happens only with certain people or situations


Causes of dyspareunia

Determining the underlying cause can be difficult for those with dyspareunia. Sometimes there's no discernible reason, and other times it's connected to a physical condition or emotional state.  Medical professions can divide the pain into two categories: outer and inner pain.


Outer pain

If you experience entry pain in the vaginal genitals or anus, then this is dyspareunia outer pain. The causes of pain in the outer area may come from different conditions.


This condition is unexplained chronic pain at the vaginal entrance that lasts more than three months. When the pain is around the vaginal opening, it's also known as vulvar vestibulitis.  The burning pain associated with vulvodynia makes sitting for long periods or sexual intercourse unbearable.   


Lack of lubrication  

Experiencing painful intercourse may come from a lack of lubrication. The reasons for the feminine dryness may come from various reasons, including:


  • not enough foreplay
  • breastfeeding
  • smoking
  • excessive stress
  • cancer treatment (pelvic radiation)
  • rigorous exercise 
  • removal of the ovaries 
  • taking birth control   


Inflammation, skin disorder or infection  

Dyspareunia may be caused by inflammation, skin disorders, or infections. Inflammation makes the vaginal skin tight, sore and throbbing leading to painful intercourse. Skin disorders, such as eczema and psoriasis, can cause painful bumps and itching in the genital area.  When scratched or rubbed against, the condition worsens. 

Vaginial infections, including urinary tract infections, yeast infections, or sexually transmitted diseases, can cause dyspareunia as well.   


This condition is uncontrollable muscle spasms in the pelvic floor muscles. It can make it impossible for any penetration from sexual activity, tampon insertion, or undergoing a gynecological exam.   

Congenital abnormality   

While rare, women may have a congenital abnormality that makes sexual intercourse painful, including a retroverted uterus or vaginal agenesis. Vaginal agenesis is when women have an incomplete or missing vagina.


Congenital concerns can affect the genitals, vulva, cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes. The diagnosis may occur at birth, during puberty, or when becoming sexually active.


Inner pain


Pain during intercourse may have deep pain inside the vagina or anus that has a severe impact on sexual health. While the exact cause can be hard to determine, the following factors may play a role.   

Certain illnesses or conditions  

Dyspareunia may have a direct link to physical causes and conditions, including:

  • interstitial cystitis 
  • pelvic inflammatory disease 
  • ovarian cyst 
  • endometriosis 
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 
  • hemorrhoids  

If you suspect you're experiencing any of these illnesses, speak to your healthcare professional as soon as possible.   



Menopause is a period in a woman's life when her reproductive years come to an end. While a normal part of the life cycle, the leading cause is plummeting estrogen levels. Estrogen is the female hormone responsible for many essential functions, including fertility and the menstrual cycle.

It also helps with lubrication, supple skin, and feeling balanced. Living with depleted estrogen levels results in vaginal dryness for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.  

Surgeries or medical treatments

If you've had pelvic surgery, you may have had surgeries or treatments that affect the vaginal wall.  Breast cancer or prostate cancer treatments usually include pelvic radiation to remove and prevent cancer cells from returning. Pelvic floor radiation can change the shape of the vagina and leave the vaginal walls dry and papery, making sexual intercourse extremely painful. 


Emotional factors  

The cause of painful intercourse may come from emotional factors, including psychological issues and stress. Both can wreak havoc with your sex life. Psychological problems may stem from a history of sexual abuse or experiencing a traumatic event, such as a physical assault or attack.


When you experience sexual abuse, it can have long term effects on sexual behavior and satisfaction. Stress from your job, family, or mental health may make sex painful, as well.

Diagnosis & treatment options  

The first step is to see your health care practitioner for a diagnosis. Your doctor takes a complete medical history, conducts a pelvic examination, and may send vaginal samples off for testing; it may be that two conditions may be the cause. In that case, you need a differential diagnosis to determine which one is causing dyspareunia.


Undergoing behavioral therapy

Decreasing pain associated with dyspareunia may happen with therapy. Popular choices are

cognitive therapy, sex therapy, or desensitization therapy. Therapists give you medical advice and treatments to overcome female sexual pain through talk therapy, mental health exercises, biofeedback.


Vaginal dilators  

One of the best health solutions for treating painful sex in women and men is vaginal dilators or trainers. Vaginal dilators are tube-shaped devices that resemble a sex toy but are proven medical treatment for dyspareunia.

America's safest dilator company, VuVatech, offers dilators in various sizes to help ease the searing pain and discomfort associated with painful sexual intercourse. In the privacy of your own home, you use vaginal dilators to stretch and relieve painful vaginal tissue and walls. There are no side effects of using vaginal dilators, and treatment is at your speed and comfort level.


Thousands of people trust VuVatech dilators as one of the best home remedies for dyspareunia. In a double-blind placebo study by Physician Care Clinical Research, 80% of all participants reported a reduction in pain after undergoing treatment with VuVa™ magnetic vaginal dilators. Try vaginal dilators today, to help you overcome dyspareunia.


VuVa Helpful Links:

7 Reasons for a Tight Vagina and How to Loosen 

How to use Vaginal Dilators 

How to Relax Vaginal Muscles, Vaginismus & Sex  

Vaginal Stretching - Keeping in Shape with Dilators 

Do Dilators Really Work? Yes, and They can Improve Your Sex Life!

Shop for VuVa Vaginal Dilators


VuVa Dilators on Netflix!

Well what a surprise!!! A few years back we received an email from the props department on the Sex Education show on Netflix. They asked if we could send them a vaginal dilator set for their show. We couldn't say yes fast enough! 

Checkout Sex Education on Netflix: Season 2 Episode 8