How to help a friend who’s having painful sex, by a sexologist

It’s called Dyspareunia

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The world has gone mad. With reproductive rights being rolled back in the US, it’s become apparent that women’s rights can’t be taken for granted. Least of all the ones about our bodies and sexuality.

We have to be each other’s support systems when it comes to sexual health rights, and realize that even if politicians don’t give the fucks they should – we do, and can help each other.

Our sexuality is important for our well-being, and sexual dysfunctions can have serious health consequences. One of these problems is painful sex. The causes can be many, ranging from dryness when engaging in a bit of penile penetration, to a major thrush invasion – turning all kinds of sex into a stinging, burning bonanza. To offer guidance and sisterly support to a friend in need, knowing a little on the subject can go a long way.

For 13 per cent of women aged 20-29, pain during sex lasts longer than six months. This is known as severe dyspareunia, and causes a burning and stinging sensation during sex. Dyspareunia can be a result of provoked vestibulodynia, where the nerve endings at the entrance of the vagina have become overly sensitive, or vaginismus, where the pelvic floor muscle is in constant spasm, making penetration difficult, and for some, even impossible.

Severe dyspareunia can also turn every day tasks into hell – making it excruciating to cross your legs when sitting down, using a tampon, or riding a bicycle. Research has found the condition also makes women feel less like women. So much so, that they often continue having sex despite the pain, as vaginal intercourse is part and parcel of the heterosexual feminine ideal – necessary to be deemed a real woman.

Another reason making it such a crushing condition is society’s absolute obsession with penises going into vaginas. This is viewed as the end goal, and is often the only sexual act actually referred to as ‘sex’, whereas other forms are merely seen as foreplay. It also happens to be the sex act least likely to make women come, suggesting vaginal intercourse’s importance has its roots embedded in good ol’ patriarchy. Whether it in fact is men’s favourite sexual activity or not, it’s easy to see that this sexual ideal has dire consequences for women.

Dyspareunia can last years, especially if you don’t receive the right kind of treatment. It doesn’t however have to. 

You’re not alone

Pain during sex is unfortunately quite common. Let your friend know it’s not strange for sex to occasionally hurt, but that if it persists it might be a sign of something not being right.

It can get better

As painful sex can have many different causes, it’s important she seek out a professional to get a correct diagnosis and the treatment she deserves. Preferably, the first visit should be to a gynaecologist. Tell her that severe dyspareunia actually can be cured. If treated properly the professional will offer both medical help and counselling, as severe dyspareunia usually needs to be treated from both angles.

There are things you can do in the meantime

Sometimes it may take a while before she musters the courage to seek help, has the money to pay for her appointments, or meets a professional who actually knows what they’re talking about. While waiting, there are a lot of things she can do to ease the pain.

The most important thing she can do is stop engaging in painful sex. This is, as previously stated, bloody difficult, as intercourse is intertwined with our self-worth as women. However, continuing to have sex that hurts has the potential to make things a lot worse, and effectively make the healing process even longer.

Tell her there are loads of other ways she can enjoy sex. There’s oral sex, petting, making out, anal sex, role-play, sensual massages, sex toys… and the list goes on and on. Anything that feels good to her – is good. Reinforce that sentiment, even if it’s something you don’t personally get off to.

Featured image by Juliette Hayt.