Does Sex Hurt? It Shouldn’t. Not even a little bit.

If kinky is your primary Erotic BlueprintTM, then go for it! Enjoy!

However, if sex causes you unwanted pain, even a little bit, that’s NOT normal. Understand that you are not alone. Not by a long shot. As many as 3 out of 4 people with vulvas and vaginas report having had pain with intercourse at some point in their lives. And, studies tell us that 16-20% of those, when asked about experiencing unwanted pain with sex, told researchers they had been experiencing it for longer than 3 months. Think about it. That’s literally millions of vulva owners here in the US alone whose chronic pain interferes with their sexual intimacy.

But they’re not just having pain with penetration during sex…

Those with chronic pain also report having pain when anything even touches their vulvas (Remember, that’s the outside part, not the vagina inside), like underwear, tight jeans, harsh soaps, pool chlorine, or even gentle, sexual touch. Mind you, this is any type of pain. None of the things I just listed should cause the least bit of discomfort.  Likewise, putting in a tampon shouldn’t be a problem nor should having an internal exam. Any discomfort during penetration from a sex toy, finger, tongue, or penis is not normal. This type of pain with sex or touch doesn’t discriminate by age as it can happen throughout the life cycle, but for different reasons.

Young vagina owners often discover problems with either their first attempt at inserting a tampon or during their first sexual encounter. Being unable to use tampons may not be a big deal, but not being able to have pleasurable, consensual, vaginal penetration is definitely a really big deal.

The childbearing years can also bring about a whole slew of things that can take a toll on sexual pleasure—hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy and postpartum physical issues, negative body self-image, as well as nursing and caring for a new baby. Most of those things can lead not only to pain but also to decreased sexual desire and arousal.

With age and menopause, bodies stop producing estrogen, that gloriously wonderful hormone that is so often taken for granted.  When estrogen production stops, vulvas and vaginas change, often making sexual activities difficult or impossible due to discomfort or pain. Estrogen contributes to desire and arousal throughout life so when it takes a bow out, it leaves those who are older struggling to figure out new strategies to up their sexual game.

But I’m here to tell you there are things that you can do, regardless of your age and experience, to make all these issues less of a bother. I learned a lot from my patients over the years about what they could do to help themselves. First and foremost, ignoring their problems didn’t work very well; neither did using alcohol or drugs “to just suffer and get through it.”

Looking for help from the medical world wasn’t easy either. Many are told by their physicians to “just relax,” or that the issues were related to anxiety, tiny vaginas, hormonal changes, aging, or, well, “It’s all in your head and you need counseling.” Don’t misunderstand me here. Any or all of these things may contribute to your pain, but few medical practitioners actually address the CAUSES of sexual pain and discomfort. Addressing those causes is where you’ll find hope.

Even something as simple as holding your breath can contribute to pain and discomfort. One really simple thing that you can do to help that—any time, any place, and in any circumstance—is breathing. I’m not talking about a normal breath here. You need to stand or sit still and think of drawing in as much air as you can (inhale), completely filling your lungs, letting the air push your ribs out to the side. Feel it go all the way down toward your pelvis. Hold that air in for a few seconds then gently blow it all out…and then let go of a little more air.  Make your exhale (breathing out) take longer than it did to get it in. Repeat the process 4 or 5 times whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, scared, or worried.  It will help calm you by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.  Your breathing will be slower afterwards. Doing this turns up the parasympathetic nervous system. Your entire body will thank you.

The Pleasure PrescriptionGetting it all together—taking positive steps to get help for your sexual pain—can, admittedly, be difficult. That is what led me to join with my colleague and fellow sexuality educator and soulmate, Elizabeth Wood (a certified Erotic BlueprintTM coach), to write our book, “The Pleasure Prescription: A Surprising Approach to Healing Sexual Pain”. She introduced it to you last week when she talked with you about the importance of pleasure. It takes the information we’ve both presented to a much deeper level and then some. Our goal is to give you guidance on how to help yourself decrease pain and increase pleasure.

You can find it here on Amazon. 

My parting words:  Remember that pleasure is a gift you give yourself. Take it in. Embody it. Every. Single. Day.

Dee HartmanThank you for taking time to read this blog.  I’m Dee Hartmann.  As a women’s health physical therapist (PT, DPT), I focused over 27 years of my practice on helping my patients overcome chronic vulvar pain and the sexual dysfunction it created.

In addition to writing the book,  Elizabeth and I have joined forces to create VulvaLove (www.vulvalove.com) to normalize genital diversity; The Pleasure Movement (www.pleasuremovement.com) to empower women to spread pleasure across the globe and to provide professional consultation and education, coaching, and hands-on work to clients; and the Center for Genital Health and Education (www.genitalhealth.org) to reframe the conversation around sexual desire, arousal, pleasure, and pain, and to initiate non-institutional research on sexuality.

You can reach me at healthyexp@gmail.com or dee@pleasuremovement.com

You can find out more at www.pleasuremovement.com and follow us on Facebook at PleasureMovement, on Instagram at thepleasuremovement.