The painful truth about sex

If you’ve ever experienced pain during sex, you’re far from alone; a new study has revealed that close to 1 in 10 British women experience pain during sex, with causes ranging from the biological to psychological.

Associated with other issues of sexual function

The study into painful sex in women, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, interviewed women aged 16 to 74 between the years 2010 and 2012. Of almost 7,000 women interviewed 7.5% reported that they had experienced pain during sex. One quarter of these women said that they experienced these symptoms very often or always and for longer than 6 months. Interestingly, the number of women who reported painful sex was highest in young women (16–24 years) and women in later mid-life (55–64 years).

Women who reported pain during sex were also more likely to report other sexual-function  issues, including:

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Lack of interest in sex

  • Difficulty reaching climax

  • Lacking enjoyment of sex.

The authors also note that painful sex can result from a range of other conditions causing genital pain, such as skin conditions, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and endometriosis.

Analysis of the results also showed that reporting pain during sex was associated with women going through the menopause; the paper states that "in postmenopausal women, painful sex is typically associated with dryness resulting from vaginal atrophy."

One treatment option available for vaginal atrophy is the MonaLisa Touch, which Consultant Gynaecologist Pandelis Athanasias describes as ‘game changing’, with one study showing 76% improvement in vaginal dryness after the procedure.

A holistic approach to pain

The authors encourage doctors to make a holistic assessment and treatment of painful sex, an approach that Consultant Gynaecologist Miss Tania Adib has long championed through her natural approaches to treating menopause symptoms.

Some health professionals also advocate the use of psychological treatment methods for pain relief such as EMDR Therapy, which might help in cases where pain continues despite medical treatment. Psychotherapist Phillip Andrews uses this method to treat psychological trauma arising from experiences like sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect, assault and pain relief. Andrews explains, “Even though we might not be able to completely eliminate your pain, EMDR often stimulates feelings of relaxation, which will help.”

If you’re concerned about pain during sex speaking with a gynaecologist may help. If you wish to book an appointment, explore the following profiles:


Withering or weakening of a body tissue due to disease or disuse. Full medical glossary
A condition in which tissue that normally lines the uterus (womb) of a woman is found outside the uterus or in other parts of the body. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
Relating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. Full medical glossary

The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods cease

Full medical glossary
Lack of attention or disregard; a condition in which one side of the body or visual field are neglected. Full medical glossary
onychogryphosis Full medical glossary
A craving to eat non-food substances such as earth or coal. Full medical glossary
A physical injury or emotionally painful event. Full medical glossary
The channels that carry urine from the kidneys to the outside of the body. Full medical glossary
The muscula passage, forming part of the femal reproductive system, between the cervix and the external genitalia. Full medical glossary