Dyspareunia: Pain with Sex

Why it’s okay to talk about it…

Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful intercourse. It is most commonly found in women, although it can occur with men as well.  For the purposes of this particular blog post, we will focus our discussion on how it affects women who engage in penetrative vaginal intercourse.

It’s difficult to know with certainty just how common this is, because of how often it goes unreported.  To the best of our ability, we believe women who have experienced prolonged pain with intercourse is around 10%:  in women 20-29 years of age it’s around 13%, and for women 50-60 years of age it’s around 6.5%.

There are many potential risk factors for women to develop dyspareunia at any point in their lifespan.  There may be correlating factors such as anxiety and depression, increased number of pregnancies, frequent sexual intercourse, sexual inexperience, being peri- or post-menopausal, as well as cultural influences regarding sexual intercourse.

There are two main kinds of dyspareunia, superficial and deep:

  • Superficial Dyspareunia:  May be felt at the vaginal opening during initial vaginal penetration
  • Deep Dyspareunia:  Felt with deeper penetration during vaginal intercourse

These are not mutually exclusive, and may present together.

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Following a screening provided by your GYN, a Physical Therapist trained in Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation will conduct their own examination, both externally and internally.  A general history is first collected to best determine the kind, location, duration, and timing of the pain. Following that, a general orthopedic screen of the low back, hip and pelvic/abdominal region will be performed.  Then, with your permission, an external/internal evaluation of the pelvic floor (genital region) would be performed. From this evaluation, the therapist can determine areas of muscle tightness and/or weakness that may be contributing to your pain.  They may also offer suggestions to assist with self-management, and can even educate your partners on how they can assist with your recovery.

This condition often takes a considerable amount of time to overcome; likely due to the number of potential risk factors associated.  It’s important to be kind to yourself and allow the body to heal in its own time; but know there are things that can be done to assist with that healing process.  Please remember, you cannot get the help you need, if you don’t speak up about it!

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