Pain during sex is also known as dyspareunia and can affect men and women. It can be the result of:
Whether you experience pain during sex once or regularly, it should always be checked by your GP. They'll be able to diagnose the cause of your pain and arrange treatment if necessary.
If you feel pain deep in your pelvis during sex, you may have an infection. This might be candida (thrush) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia or genital herpes.
Painful penetration caused by dryness in the vagina may be the result of the menopause, lack of sexual arousal or anxiety. Vaginal dryness can also be a side effect of some medications, including certain anti-depressants and high blood pressure treatments.
If the muscles in your vagina close tightly when having sex, you may have vaginismus. This causes painful penetration, making it very difficult or impossible to have sex.
Other reasons for pain during sex in women include:
Pain during sex which is accompanied by itching may be an infection such as candida (thrush) or an STI. An infection can also cause painful, swollen testicles during sex.
A tight foreskin can cause a man to experience painful intercourse. Stinging pains during sex may be small tears in your foreskin.
Prostatitis (prostate gland inflammation) – which is most likely to affect men aged 30 to 50 – can also cause pain during sex.
For women and men, emotional issues such as anxiety, stress or previous sexual abuse can trigger pain during sex (dyspareunia).
To diagnose the cause of your pain during sex, your GP will ask about your general health and sexual history.
Your GP will ask how long you’ve been experiencing this pain and the intensity and location. To check for infection or other possible causes, your GP will carry out an examination. Your GP will also ask about any medications you’re currently taking.
Your GP may refer you for an ultrasound scan, or to a consultant for more investigation. If there’s an emotional or stress-related reason for your pain, your GP may recommend you talk to a counsellor.
Sometimes, simple changes to your sex life can relieve or reduce pain during sex (dyspareunia). You could try different sexual positions, asking your partner to spend more time on foreplay or using a lubricant.
If the menopause is causing painful vaginal dryness, your GP may suggest applying topical oestrogen to your vagina.
If you have an infection, your GP will prescribe medication and, if needed, refer you to a sexual health clinic.
A tight foreskin or other anatomical issues can often be successfully treated surgically.
If another underlying condition is responsible for your pain during sex, your GP will recommend treatment depending on your diagnosis.