Dear Dr. Kate: How Can I Make Sex Less Painful?

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.

Dr. Kate,

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

This post has been updated from the original.

Read more about possible causes of pain:
Dr. Kate’s Sexual Dysfunction Series


  1. Have been having sex with my former boy Frnd no complains.. Till I had sex with my present boy Frnd after the sex my tummy started hurt me down to my back I could not stand up right cause the pain was soo sever. He is will long and big

  2. I’m getting ready to go to my boyfriends house and have sex for the first time. I’m so scared that it will hurt or bleed or burn etc. What should I do to make myself less stressed?

  3. my boyfriend and i have been together for a year and sex does hurt now. it onlyy happens after a while i am wet we tried a warming lubercabt and thats what was hurt me. i burn when ever he is in me. how do i stop this from hurting?
    sarah powers 20 yes of age.

  4. Dear Dr. Kate,

    I’m typing this with my wife next to me. We usually spend a decent amount of time for foreplay (usually involving a finger or two). During that time there’s no pain. It’s not until after I enter her that she starts having unexplainable pain. Just last night she was almost at tears, so we stopped. She has gone through childbirth three years ago, but up until about six months ago there was no pain. She feels pretty lubed up when foreplay is done, but we can’t tell for sure. We plan to take your advice and try to see if additional lubricant would be helpful. It’s really putting a strain on her as she feels she can’t pleasure me (it’s disappointing sometimes but I love her for her). I know you’ve answered several like questions before, but anything further you can provide would be appreciated.


  5. i have a girlfriend that is 30 years old and she is a virgin. we are trying to have sex and she feels pain in her vigina. the first time i entered in and really did not go all the way in. i went in a 1/4 of the way and she had a little blood. then we continued to try sex again and she feels continuing pain. please tell me why is her pain continuing when we are trying to have sex? and if there is more blood to come because maybe she needs to have her insides to break through for little more blood so we can have full intercourse. please answer my question because i need help with this?

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