Three blue cacti on a pink background, cacti are set up with two smaller in front and one taller in back to look like a penis

By Sara Youngblood Gregory

Painful intercourse is called “dyspareunia”—that is, persistent pain in the genitals before, during, or after sex. Although it’s very common, you don’t have to accept painful sex as part of your life.

Folks of any gender and genital make-up can experience painful sex, and it has many potential causes: vaginismus, menopause, infections like thrush, foreskin tears, prostatitis, STIs, fibroids, and endometriosis, to name a few. Or, pain could stem from past trauma, gender dysphoria, or other psychological factors.

If you’ve noticed that painful sex is getting in the way of your desires, relationships, and joy, know that you have options. Below, see our tips for bringing more comfort and FUN into your sex life.

Talk to Your OBGYN or Urologist

If you’re finding that sex is consistently painful, you should absolutely book an appointment with a trusted OBGYN or urologist. There may be an underlying  issue—like an STI or infection—causing discomfort. Be open and honest with your doctor. If they blow you off, see another doctor and get the answers you need. 

You may also consider seeing a trauma-informed sex therapist if you suspect the pain is caused by anxiety or other difficult emotions. You deserve to find peace in your mind and body, especially when it comes to sex.

Use more lube

First, consider how you usually have sex. How much time do you usually spend on non-penetrative play (in this case, fingering counts as penetration)? How much attention do you and your lovers devote to erogenous zones that are not genitalia? Do you always use lube?

When sex is painful, it always helps to revisit the basics. Warming up the body with non-penetrative play not only activates desire, but also relaxes and prepares you for penetration. Spend an evening kissing longer than usual, rediscovering your erogenous zones, massaging each other, and getting into the right headspace.

Be One finger vibrator for couples

BE·ONE, a vibe that blends into your natural touch, can enhance your caresses without any irritation. Allow yourself to get fully turned on before even going near your genitals and make sure to have lube at the ready.

Reframe What Sex Means to You

When we talk about sex, we’re mostly taught to assume that the only “real” kind of sex is penetrative, or penis-in-vagina (PIV). But penetration can be uncomfortable for some folks for a whole host of reasons, even when they’re using lube and taking plenty of time for foreplay.

Sex is something you and your partners co-create—you both share the responsibility of making sex safe, fun, and pain-free. Together, you can set aside the acts that are painful or uncomfortable and focus on what brings you joy. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, BDSM, erotic massage, nipple play, and non-penetrative toys like VOLTA offer creative alternatives to PIV.

Remember, the hottest sex you can have is the kind that adapts to your body and needs, not anyone else’s expectations.


Volta in Pink on a blue circle


Sara Youngblood Gregory is a lesbian writer. She covers sex, kink, disability, pleasure, and wellness. Sara serves on the board of the lesbian literary and arts journal Sinister Wisdom. A staff writer for POPSUGAR, she has published work in VICE, HuffPost, Bustle, Dame, The Rumpus, Jezebel, and many others. 

Sara’s debut nonfiction work, THE POLYAMORY WORKBOOK, about navigating ethical nonmonogamy, is forthcoming on November 15th, 2022. Learn more at saragregory.org/ 

This post was written by a guest blogger, and all opinions and ideas expressed are that of the author. All ideas included are for educational and entertainment value, and do not constitute medical advice.

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