If Sex and the City taught us anything, it's that a lot of women loooove to chitchat about sex. Whether it's over cocktails or done while lounging in glam sweats, sex talk is as bonding as it is hilarious. Yet despite the openness of friend circles and lady tribes (especially among the Samantha Jones types), there are some things that we still like to keep hush-hush. Crazy-bad cooch agony every time you have sex? Lalalala...can't we just go back to debating the bush trend?
We're here to open up the conversation about persistent genital-specific sexual pain known as dyspareunia. The statistics on the number of women affected by this are a bit shaky, but it's safe to say that while it's not staggeringly common, it's also not all that rare. And now...question time!
Do you have it?
Though men can be affected by dyspareunia (penisly speaking), the affliction is more common in women. If you're hurting (we're talking at an intense level here) during arousal, during or after penetration, or during orgasm consistently, you may have it. That said, symptoms differ from case to case. Some women can't insert even a tampon without feeling awful throbs. Others only experience the pangs when engaging in deep penetration—be it with a large toy or well-endowed man. Ladies who suffer from dyspareunia are (usually) turned off by the pain, which makes it difficult for their vag to lubricate. So more pain follows. Ouch! General rule of thumb: if sex doesn't feel good, something is probably wrong.
What does it mean?
Because both our bodies and brains are super-complex, dyspareunia can stem from either physical or psychological ailments. Let's break this down.
Physical: The human body is so perfect, yet so flawed. Why creator, why?! The culprit here can be pretty minor. A common problem is a tight hymenal ring. Contrary to popular belief, the hymen doesn't disappear after it's broken or stretched (and yes, sometimes it doesn't even break). The remaining tissue forms a small ring in the vulva called the hymenal ring that allows little room for activity.
Vulval skin conditions such as genital herpes and lichen planus can also cause the sexual pain, as can hormonal changes resulting from birth control or menopause. (Read the full list of possible causes here.)
Psychological: Few women affected by dyspareunia have a history with sexual abuse, but it may be a factor. Usually, the problem is actually just stress. Apparently, high levels of tension can cause your pelvic muscles to tense dramatically...and you can't enjoy sex when your naughty muscles are seizing! Often, the anxiety surrounds a larger relationship issue, like body insecurities or fear of intimacy.
Is it treatable?
Yes, mostly. But it depends on what caused the condition. For instance, while there are ointments to alleviate the pain of lichen planus, there's no actual treatment. But if a tight hymenal ring is the problem, a relatively easy gynecological procedure can provide the fix. The good news is, the condition usually goes away by itself.
Above all, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about these things; after all, it's their job! And if you need a little emotional support, grab a cocktail and talk it out with those sex-dishing girlfriends.