Why sex hurts, and what to do about it
You’re in the mood and your partner is ready, so you make a beeline to the bed with plans to rock the sheets. But then you feel it—a dull ache, an itchy rash, or a searing out-of-no where jab. When you’ve always enjoyed sex and suddenly it hurts, it can be confusing and worrisome. “Pain during sex is one of the most common things patients ask about, but most of the time, it’s caused by something temporary that can be treated,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, an OB/GYN in Westchester, New York and coauthor of V Is for Vagina ($12; amazon.com). In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that 75% of women experience painful sex at some point in their lives. Get a handle on what’s keeping you sidelined from the sack by reading this checklist of symptoms, then the solution that will get you back in the saddle again.
The outside of your vagina is crazy-irritated
Possible cause: Personal care products. This isn’t the kind of burning love anyone hopes to experience. But if irritation and redness on your outer labia or vulva are keeping you from enjoying the action, blame a bad reaction on a personal care product that made contact with the area—such as soap, body wash, massage oil, or even your toilet paper. “Dyes, perfumes, and other additives in these products can trigger vaginitis, or inflammation of the skin around the vagina,” says Dr. Dweck.
Get back in the sack: Speed healing by leaving the area alone for a day or two until the irritation subsides. (Dabbing on a lotion or cream can just make the inflammation worse.) Then, take inventory of the products you use below the belt and swap out items with chemical additives for all-natural ones, Dr. Dweck says.
It itches or stings down there, and there’s discharge
Possible cause: An infection. Discharge can be a tip-off that an infection is causing the pain. The tricky part: figuring out which infection is putting the brakes on your sex life. If the discharge is white, thick, and super itchy, it’s probably a yeast infection, an overgrowth of the yeast that normally colonize the vagina, says Dr. Dweck. Another possibility: bacterial vaginosis, which typically has a grayish, watery discharge and a fishy odor. Then there are STDs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, which often have zero signs but can cause pelvic pain and a greenish-yellow discharge.
Get back in the sack: Check in with your doctor, advises Dr. Dweck. Though an over-the-counter antifungal cream can cure a yeast infection, it’s best to rule out something more serious right away. Your doc will prescribe an antibiotic for whatever ails you.