Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in Boston who lectures nationally on women’s health issues and conducts research on reproductive health. She regularly (and generously!) answers your medical questions here on EMandLO.com. To ask her your own, click here.
Since I started having sex (4 years ago, I’m 20 now) I’ve never been able to handle penetration for a very long time. After a while it loses its fun and becomes painful. My current boyfriend and I use lube and we make sure I get aroused so that I’m very wet. He takes a while to climax from sex and I can’t help but make him stop after a while. How do I make sex less painful? I want to be able to handle him a little bit better (he’s a little bit on the larger side) but it hurts when we start and just gets worse. I’m becoming discouraged from having sex since it’s losing its fun for me. Help!
— In Pain
Dear In Pain,
No wonder you’re discouraged from having sex — it’s hard to think about pleasure when you’re just trying to avoid pain. While pain during sex is unfortunately common — two thirds of women will experience it at some point — it’s never normal. And it’s not that you’re not a good fit with your guy — the vagina was designed to fit a baby, so unless he’s book-of-records large, it’s not his size that’s the problem.
You’re doing one of the best things already by using lubricant. But wetness isn’t the only sign of arousal — you want your pelvis to be engorged as well. Make sure you get enough foreplay so you’re really aroused before intercourse (you want to have plenty of blood flowing to your vagina to make penetration easier). Your boyfriend can also insert a finger in your vagina first, so you can judge how you’re doing arousal-wise before actually having intercourse. Don’t worry about taking “too long” — women on average need 20-30 minutes of good foreplay to become physically aroused enough for comfortable intercourse.
The fact that sex hurts when you start could mean that you’re not getting the foreplay you need…but it could also signify that you have vulvodynia, or pain in the vulva not just caused by sex. If you experience vulvar pain at other times — like with tampons or gyn exams, or even tight jeans — vulvodynia may be the culprit.
There are a lot of reasons why sex can hurt, and almost all of them can be addressed. Your gyno can also help you figure out what’s happening, and help you make sex fun, not just bearable.
Are any of you struggling with painful sex?
— Dr. Kate