Painful sex
September 12, 2006 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Why does it hurt so much when I have sex?

I lost my virginity several years ago. I have sex infrequently due to distance, but always with the same partner, and it always hurts, and lately it's been even worse. Other than being born through one, I have no experience with vaginas other than my own, but I suspect I am abnormally tight, as all that can fit in there without causing pain is a single finger. My boyfriend is of goodly girth, significantly larger than a single finger. When he tries to enter me, there is significant resistance, then a pop sound.

I generally feel plenty lubricated when I have sex and, if I don't, I use lube. I don't put things in there when I'm not having sex with my boyfriend; no masturbation, no tampons. I have been to a gynecologist who said nothing is medically wrong. A previous partner was less girthy and caused less pain.

So what's wrong with me? So am I just too tight? Is there anything I can do about that? Is there anything else it could be? How will I ever get a baby through there? I'm planning to marry this guy!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

How will I ever get a baby through there?

It's mind blowing how much a vagina stretches during delivery. It stretches more than you can possibly imagine. If there really isn't enough room - to put it bluntly - the baby's head will tear a bigger hole, or your doctor will cut a bigger hole (the procedure is called an episiotomy).
posted by raedyn at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2006

Check out the description of vaginismus on wikipedia.
posted by TorontoSandy at 12:53 PM on September 12, 2006

Another problem that can cause entry pain is vaginismus, where the vaginal muscles contract involuntarily, making penetration extremely painful or impossible. This may be due to a subconscious response to prior pain, where the body tries to protect itself from pain by “closing off” the vagina, or may be due to psychological pain, in women who have an abuse history or who are fearful of sexual activity. As with any condition with a potential psychological component, there is controversy about this disorder. I have found it uncommon in my practice, but it must be considered in the differential diagnosis of conditions that can cause painful intercourse. Treatment for these conditions is antibiotics for infection, steroid creams for the dermatologic problems, a vaginal dilator or minor surgery for a partially intact hymen, and counseling and vaginal dilators for vaginismus. Lack of lubrication can be treated with water-based lubricants (NOT vaseline, which may be harmful to vaginal tissues).
- Women's Health, Dr. D. Ashley Hill
posted by headspace at 12:54 PM on September 12, 2006

This seems like it is quite likely vaginismus (viz., "Involuntary contraction of the muscles surrounding the entrance to the vagina, making penetration painful and/or impossible"), but IANAD.
posted by aiko at 12:55 PM on September 12, 2006

I don't own one myself, but I did stay at a Holiday inn....

Lubricated, and lubricated enough can be sometimes different than the vagina relaxing and expanding for full penetration. Perhaps try slowing it down some (hey great opportunity to ask for cunnilingus). How about this for an experiment? Can you climax without phallic penetration? Is penetration still uncomfortable after that point? You might also try changing to a position (on top perhaps), where you can better control the pace of penetration.
posted by Andrew Brinton at 1:03 PM on September 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

A "pop" sound is weird - I've never heard of that, even in relation to vaginismus. Are you sure it's you that's popping and not him?
posted by tristeza at 1:10 PM on September 12, 2006

Dyspareunia means painful intercourse in a woman. It has many causes. Vaginismus is probably one of the less common ones.

A gynecologist is the right person to help you with this problem.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is it a deep muscle ache, like cramps? Or does it feel like you're tearing the opening as he enters you? or stinging skin rubbed raw from friction? Either way, but especially if it's the latter two, I bet it's simply the infrequency of intercourse. I had a 'friend' who dated a guy who was quite, err, gifted in this area, and if your vagina is normal, it's capable of learning to relax and stretch to fit him. If your partner were available for an extended visit I'd suggest you to take intercourse in slow tiny steps, stopping as soon as the pain starts, then rest & heal for as many days as you need, then repeat with more rigor and frequency till the pain is gone. Don't feel bad about calling the shots regarding your comfort--it will probably drive him mad with lust for you, and is basically flattering to him. Without him around to help you, you could try playing with increasingly larger dildos. It works the same way with anal sex. So I hear.
posted by tula at 1:25 PM on September 12, 2006

Change your gynaecologist, obviously something is wrong, but without knowing more....

I mean does this guy really do it for you? When you say no tampons, no masturbation, is that a choice or an instinct? Are there other psycho-sexual issues you may have to deal with?

First and foremost a good Gynae presented with this problem would take steps to get to the bottom of it, a simple pelvic exam and finding of normal is NOT enough. You deserve to feel comfotable and not have discomfort and pain on intercourse.
posted by Wilder at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2006

As tula suggests, get some dildos, or vibrators may be better for you, in increasingly larger sizes. The smallest causing you no pain, working up to the same size or a little larger than your man. Have your man work the smaller one around a little until the next size up feels comfortable, then move up in steps until he can slip in without causing you too much pain.

You can try this at least to see if it works. My guess would be he initially causes you pain and after that it's just not going to feel good for you.
posted by Yorrick at 1:41 PM on September 12, 2006

Oh, and I was going to say that a deep muscle ache feeling might result from a fibroid your partner was thumping against, but a good ob/gyn probably would've noticed it. Sound like in any case you could use a more helpful forthcoming ob/gyn.
posted by tula at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2006

I agree; your gynecologist sounds unhelpful.
posted by occhiblu at 1:48 PM on September 12, 2006

If your partner is too long, or angled in just the right way, or enters you in certain positions, he might be hitting your cervix. This would be a situation where it feels ok at first, and then after a thrust you get a sudden terrible pain in roughly the same spot where you get menstrual cramps. (This sounds like it's not the same pain you're having, but worth mentioning since it's a problem that can be solved by trying different positions to find one where he can't enter as far; also he should be really gentle when experimenting with this.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:13 PM on September 12, 2006

Yeah, I was going to second the "Is he hitting your cervix wall?"

Huh? The cervix is small and round and doesn't have anything that could be described as a "wall." I suppose it might hurt for some people it it's hit, but it's not unusual for the cervix to be felt during sex and for most people it doesn't hurt.
posted by Violet Hour at 4:14 PM on September 12, 2006

Maybe you aren't masturbating due to religious reasons, but how can you expect anyone else to know your vagina if you don't? If it is a moral issue that's keeping you from diddling, are those taboos the same if he is there with you? What if you sat in front of a mirror and he sat behind you and you guys opened and explored your pussy. You could use his fingers very, VERY lubed up and let him work on that while you held a vibe to your clit. That way you can see what's happening. Maybe it's something as simple as your inner or outer lips are getting in the way (swelling too much or the inner lips getting pushed in due to how girthy he is). But you might never know if you don't take a look.
posted by nadawi at 4:24 PM on September 12, 2006

Some girls just arn't very sexual, and anon might be one. I'm not a doctor but it seems like thing to do would be to try to insert larger and larger things untill you are used to them. But you should also try another doc.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2006

I've read your question a few times and mulled over the answers.

1. I don't think there is anything wrong with you. You just happen to have a vagina that is on the smaller end of the spectrum of vaginas.

2. The resistance and then pop, is described in enough detail to surmise that your muscles are simply snapping down from the base of the head to the shaft. That is a very tight fit and is a great illustration of why it is so painful.

3. The mechanics: Lube is not the problem. Size is. Forgive me if this sounds crass or unsensitive, but, as tula mentioned above, you might need to practice some stretching excercises. I suggest your partner's digits in combination with oral pleasure for you.

Take it slowly, but if you're planning on marrying this fellow, it will be well worth it. Also, yes, I'm a male, but happen to have a great wife who is willing to share every intimate detail of womanhood with me. Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 4:51 PM on September 12, 2006

On preview, nadawi, and delmoi pretty much went straight to the point.
posted by snsranch at 4:54 PM on September 12, 2006

I know someone with this same issue, right down to the unhelpful gyno. She deals with it by: 1) coming first (vibe/oral), and 2) smoking pot. The first makes it more bearable, the second makes it not painful and relatively enjoyable. Not really a solution, but coping.

She's concluded it's probably some mental/emotional unconscious reaction that's causing it, but can't figure out why. I don't know if that's the case for you. I would think first try more foreplay/more body exploration as others have advised above. Having an orgasm before penetration is generally helpful/more enjoyable for women in my experience. A drink or two to relax you may help, since at this point I'd assume just anticipating the event might make you even more tense.

And try another OB/GYN, or a nurse-midwife (I have had excellent well-woman care from midwives). But if in the end it doesn't seem to be a physical problem, then perhaps seeing a counselor or a therapist could help. Good luck.
posted by Melinika at 6:04 PM on September 12, 2006

since you don't have sex frequently and you've got a size issue (his vs. yours), that's a lot of it right there. and the memory of pain is a strong one.

i would suggest going to a different gynecologist, and having lots of foreplay before sex. and enlist your fiancee in finding a solution -- i'm sure he hates this as much as you do!
posted by sdn at 7:00 PM on September 12, 2006

Yep, your vagina is made of muscle, and you wouldn't try running a marathon without any training, would you? You probably need both strength training and stretching.

IANAD, but I have more than enough experience with particular this topic.

Know what a kegel is? The clench and relax of your pelvic floor muscle. Do them daily, and make sure that your relaxed state in between clenches is truly relaxed. Do quick ones and slow ones. Do them on the bus or in your car, at the office or school, sitting, standing, in the shower, whenever you think of it. Make sure your surrounding muscles aren't chiming in to help. It's your little secret that you're working out in public. This will build strength and muscle control, and your orgasms (if you have them) will get stronger too.

For stretching, use your fingers (inside) to push your vaginal walls in all 4 directions, one at a time. You can probably feel where pelvic floor muscles in there are tight, and you want to slowly increase the pressure on them until they loosen, kind of like working a pulled muscle in your neck. You'll notice them get more flexible over time.

Solarcaine makes Aloe + Lidocaine Hydrochloride (0.5%), which is safe to use as lube. Lidocaine is a topical pain reliever, which will allow you to stretch further without feeling pain (you get temporarily numb).

Be very careful when using this, because you may end up going too far and really hurting yourself because you can't feel the pain. I recommend only using this when you're stretching manually, so you get some muscle feedback through your fingers.

Find a gynecologist who realizes that pain doesn't have to be a part of sex, and ignore anyone who tells you this is all in your head or that some women just hurt. You deserve pleasure.

Some additional resources on the topic:
Medem Medical Library: Pelvic Pain
Pain Center Online: sexual pain
Seek Wellness: pelvic pain & vulvodynia

Don't let them freak you out, chances are you have nothing serious.
posted by nadise at 10:05 PM on September 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Find a gynecologist that is experienced with vulvar pain. Call their office, talk to the doctor or the head nurse and ask them if they know what it is and if they have helped women who suffer from it.

I suffer from vestibulitis (a form of vulvodynia) as well as tight vaginal muscles. I have had painful intercourse for the last six years, and only recently have experienced it pain-free. I went through many gynecologists who told me to "relax" and "use more lubrication" that I started to hate the entire profession until I found a doctor I adore who not only believed me, but really, really helped me. The stretching suggestions here are good ones, as is lidocaine jelly to numb the vestibule.

If you want more information about my vulvodynia and the steps I took to overcome it, my email is in my profile.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:30 PM on September 12, 2006

PID can cause pain and can make you infertile if left untreated. Get tested.
posted by mynameismandab at 1:23 AM on September 14, 2006

Wow so sorry about typing in all bold. Whoops.
posted by mynameismandab at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2006

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