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Why does sex hurt?

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Pain during or after sex (dyspareunia) can be caused by many things, such as:

  • illness
  • infection
  • a physical problem
  • a psychological problem

If you get pain during or after sex, your body may be trying to tell you something is wrong, so don't ignore it.

See a doctor or go to a sexual health (genitourinary medicine, or GUM) clinic.

You may find talking about sex embarrassing, but remember that doctors are used to dealing with problems like this.

Pain during sex can affect both men and women.

Painful sex in women

Women can experience pain during or after sex, either in the vagina or deeper in the pelvis.

Pain in the vagina could be caused by:

Pain felt inside the pelvis can be caused by conditions such as:

Painful sex in men

Some causes of painful sex in men include:

  • infections like thrush, which can cause soreness and itching, and some STIs, such as herpes
  • a tight foreskin, which can make penetration painful, as the foreskin is pushed back
  • small tears in the foreskin that can't be seen but cause soreness and a sharp, stinging pain around the tear
  • inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis)
  • testicle pain and swelling can sometimes be caused by getting sexually aroused but not ejaculating (coming); it can also be a sign of an infection, such as chlamydia

What to do

Get advice from a doctor or healthcare professional at a GUM clinic if you have pain during or after sex.

They'll try to find the cause of the problem and be able to tell you whether you need any treatment.

For example:

  • if you have pain, unusual discharge, itchiness or soreness around your genitals, they may recommend treatment for thrush or an STI test
  • if your vagina is dry, you may be advised to try using a lubricant – remember to use a water-based product if you're using condoms because oil-based lubricants can damage them and make them ineffective
  • if you have an allergy or irritation around your genitals, you may be advised to avoid using products that could be causing it
  • if there's an emotional reason or anxiety that's causing problems, a counsellor or sex therapist may be able to help – a doctor or sexual health clinic can refer you to one.
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