7 Helpful Things You Can Do to Make Sure Sex Doesn't Hurt

Photo: Sleepy Jones

I think we can all agree that even when it's amazing, sex is… weird. Not only does it involve body parts, gooey textures and intense chemical reactions, but it also puts you in the most emotionally vulnerable position possible. So when something doesn't feel quite right during sex (like pain), things can get extra weird.

Do you experience regular pain from sex? You are so not alone. According to estimations from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nearly 75% of women will experience painful sex in their lives, either temporarily or long term. (By the way, we know that there are just as many—if not more—definitions of "sex" as there are human sexual identities, which is to say, a lot. But since much of women's pain comes specifically from penetration, that's mostly what we're going to talk about here. I also hate the word "penetration," so I'm going to try not use it.)

When you think about it, 75% is a sky-high amount, but most women never talk about their experiences with painful sex, and there are many complicated reasons for that. Felicia Clark, a body image coach and teacher of Tantric sexual healing says women often avoid talking about painful sex simply because "one of the unwritten rules of a committed long-term relationship is to tolerate bad sex." As Clark puts it, "Just as women are pressured to fake orgasms, women are expected to pretend to like painful sex in order to support the male ego." When sexual fulfilment doesn't happen, blame is so often placed on the woman, even though most people (of all genders and sexes) are pretty uneducated about what it takes to please a partner.

Unfortunately, painful sex is often misunderstood by the medical community as well. "I believe so few women talk about it because many of them have been to countless physicians who were unable to treat their pain," says Lisa Valle, a board-certified ob-gyn who runs a practice solely devoted to female sexual dysfunction. "A typical patient I see in my office has seen approximately 10 to 15 health professionals from various specialities prior to coming to see me," says Valle. She explains the reason is that many physicians are not taught about female sexual health concerns in medical school, so they're not able to treat many patients appropriately.

The truth is that there are dozens of specific causes of painful sex—from niche medical conditions to emotional factors. But today, we're just going to talk about the most common ones. That said, we're not trying to get all WebMD on you, so it's best to consult with an ob-gyn you trust before moving forward with any sort of treatment. But to get you started with a bit of information, read on to discover seven common reasons women experience pain during sex (and what you can do about them).