Dyspareunia | Causes & Risk Factors


What are some of the causes of dyspareunia?

Any part of the genitals can cause pain during sex. Some conditions affect the skin around the vagina. The pain from these conditions is usually felt when a tampon or penis is inserted into the vagina, but pain can also occur even when sitting or wearing pants. Inflammation or infection may be the cause (such as a yeast infection, urinary tract infection or inflammation of the vagina). Injury to the vagina and the surrounding area can also cause pain. If a diaphragm or cervical cap (which are types of birth control) does not fit correctly, sex may also be painful.

Vaginismus (say: "vag-in-is-mus") is a spasm of the muscles around the vagina. In some women, the pain of the spasms is so severe that penile penetration is impossible. Vaginal dryness can also cause painful sex. This dryness may be caused by menopause and changes in estrogen levels, or from a lack of foreplay before intercourse.

Pain during intercourse may feel like it is coming from deep in the pelvis. Women often report the feeling that "something is being bumped into." The uterus may hurt if there are fibroid growths, the uterus is tilted or if the uterus prolapses (falls) into the vagina. Certain conditions or infections of the ovaries may also cause pain, especially in certain sexual positions. Past surgeries may leave scar tissue that can cause pain. Because the bladder and intestines are close to the vagina, they may also cause pain during sex. Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease may also cause pain.

We know that the mind and the body work together. This is also seen with sexual problems. Often the problem that first caused the pain may go away, but you have learned to expect the pain. This can lead to further problems because you may be tense during sex or you may be unable to become aroused. The problem can then become a cycle and you are caught in the middle.

Negative attitudes about sex, misinformation about sex and misinformation about the functions of the woman's body are often associated with some types of pain. Is painful sex all in your head? No! But it is important to discuss feelings and difficulties with your partner and your doctor.


Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis of Dyspareunia by Lori J. Heim, LTC, USAF, MC (American Family Physician April 15, 2001, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010415/1535.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 04/01