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What is dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia is the medical term for persistent or recurrent genital pain that is experienced by some women just before, during, or after sexual intercourse.

What causes dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia can be caused by structural abnormalities (such as the hymen blocking the vaginal opening) or it may be due to psychological concerns (such as anxiety, depression, or stress). Some causes may be related to menopause, such as vaginal dryness.

Other causes include:

  • Childbirth: Up to 45 percent of women experience dyspareunia after birth
  • Genital injury, due to female genital mutilation, pelvic surgery, or an accident
  • Inflammation or infection: Due to vulvar vestibulitis, vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, endometriosis, fibroids, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic inflammatory disease, or sexually transmitted infections
  • Previous sexual abuse or sexual violence
  • Skin disorders or irritation: Such as those from eczema, lichen planus, or lichen sclerosis
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Vaginismus: which is an involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor muscles

Many women experience painful intercourse at some point in their lives.

What are the symptoms of dyspareunia?

Symptoms can vary among women but may include:

  • Pain only during sexual penetration
  • Pain during any type of penetration (such as putting in a tampon)
  • Deep pain during thrusting
  • Burning pain, ripping, or aching pain
  • Throbbing pain, lasting hours after intercourse
  • Dissatisfaction or disinterest in intercourse

How is dyspareunia diagnosed?

Talk to your doctor if you're having recurrent pain during sexual intercourse. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and carry out a pelvic examination. They will also ask you questions about your previous sexual experiences and reproductive history. An ultrasound may be ordered to check for any structural abnormalities.

How is dyspareunia treated?

Treatments focuses on the cause and can help improve a woman’s sex life and her self-image.

Treatments include:

  • Estrogen therapy
  • Ospemifene
  • Changing existing medications
  • Counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Desensitization therapy
  • Lubricants