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What causes pain during sex?

Painful sex is a common problem, and there are things you can do about it

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Experiencing pain during sex can be frustrating and sometimes upsetting. You may even feel embarrassed about the problems you're having with painful sex. However, experiencing pain or discomfort during sex can be very common. It's nothing to feel embarrassed about, but it is important that you get to the bottom of what is causing this pain so that you can begin to feel comfortable and enjoy sex again. 

Painful sex refers to any form of pain during sexual activity. Some people have pain when their genitals are touched, while others only have pain from intercourse. If you're experiencing pain during sex, speak to a doctor to find a solution.

What causes pain during sex?

There are a lot of reasons why someone experiences pain during sexual activity. 


People with a vagina need time to become to become lubricated when engaging in any kind of sexual activity. If things are not wet enough, it might cause pain and friction, especially if they are being penetrated. 

If your partner tends to rush through foreplay, or if there is never any foreplay at all, then there won't be an opportunity to become lubricated enough. If you find you're still not getting wet enough even after lots of foreplay, you could try using a lubricant instead. Learn more about using lube here.


Thrush is a fungal condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the genital region. It can cause itchiness, redness, and pain. It's possible to get thrush in both the vagina and the penis, although vaginal thrush is a lot more common. Trying to have sex when you have thrush can be a painful experience.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause pain during sex. If you are sexually active, it's important to get regular check ups at an STI clinic, and ask your partner(s) to get tested too. Always use protection like a condom or a dental dam during sex to protect from STIs. Find a list of free STI clinics in Ireland here.


Cystitis is a very common infection of the bladder or urinary system that causes a burning feeling or discomfort when you pee. It can cause discomfort in a number of different ways, and it can make having sex almost impossible. It's best to seek medical treatment from your GP for this condition.


This is a condition where the vagina muscles close up, either partly or completely, during or even before sex. Even if you can manage to have sex with vaginismus, it can be very painful. Your doctor can discuss treatment options with you.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are small fluid filled cysts that develop in the ovary. They can cause general pain and swelling and can make sex painful also.

Forgotten tampons

One of the most common causes of painful sex is a forgotten tampon in the vagina. Tampons in particular can be totally forgotten about, as they are pretty small. You can remove the tampon yourself at home, but it is best to visit your doctor to check if the forgotten tampon has caused an infection, for which you may need treatment.

A tight foreskin

Having a tight foreskin, also known as phimosis, can cause significant pain during sex, because of the difficulty in pulling the foreskin over the head of the penis. If your foreskin is too tight, this can cause significant pain. If you're experiencing this problem, speak to your doctor.

A tipped uterus

Some people have a uterus that faces backwards towards the spine rather than forwards towards the bladder. This can cause pain during sex. If this is causing problems for you, a gynaecologist can reposition the uterus.


Any surgery in the genital region, even for something simple, can end up causing pain. It is important to contact your doctor if you develop pain after surgery.

Size matters

If your partner is well endowed, sex may be painful for you. Couples usually need to experiment with different positions in this situation.

Pain during anal sex

During anal sex, the partner on the bottom may experience pain if not enough lubrication is used, or if they are struggling to relax. This may take some time and experimentation to get used to, but try not to feel pressured into continuing to have anal sex if it is painful or unpleasurable for you.

What you can do about painful sex

Sex should be enjoyable for everyone involved. If you're experiencing pain, you shouldn't feel like you have to continue. Ask your partner to stop, and speak to a doctor or try one of the other options below. You may need to try a few different things before you find a solution that works for both you and your partner. 

Speak to a doctor

You may find the idea of speaking to your GP about sex difficult, but that is what your doctor is there for. They deal with all sorts of issues every day, and it will not be the first time they've heard about this problem. You may be referred to a gynaecologist, a doctor who specialises in reproductive health. Painful sex is one of the most common issues that gynaecologists deal with. 

You could also look into going to see a sex therapist if you feel that there are psychological issues interfering with sex. 

Increase the length of foreplay.

Sometimes sex is only painful because you are not aroused or lubricated enough. Increasing how much time you spend on foreplay can help to solve this problem.

Use lubricant

If you’re aroused, but still feel a bit dry, a lubricant can help a lot. There are tons of lubricants around and you can buy them at supermarkets, chemists and even at reputable online shops. If you are using condoms, make sure to use a water-based lubricant.

Think sensual rather than sexual 

If sex is painful, many sex therapists and doctors recommend that couples take part in sensual activities instead, such as bathing together and massaging one another. Oral sex or mutual masturbation is also less likely to cause pain than actual intercourse.

Try different positions

Some positions can cause pain, while others don’t cause pain at all. Talk to your partner about the different positions you'd like to try, just make sure you are both comfortable with what you're doing, especially when experimenting.

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 11th2013
Last updated Octo­ber 25th2018
Tags sex sti sexual health
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