If you experience pain during sex, you are not alone. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, "Pain during intercourse is very common — nearly three out of four women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives."
ACOG explains that for some women the pain is temporary, and for others, it is a chronic, long-term issue.
The first thing you should know about painful sex is that the worst thing you can do is ignore it — and the best thing you can do is open up to your partner about it — and then see a doctor if you need to.
So, when should you see a medical professional? Health writer Kasandra Brabaw says that if the pain you experience happens only once or only when you're stressed or hating your body, then you probably don't need to make a trip to the doctor's office.
If you are having more consistent pain during sex or "always have pain in certain sexual positions or during your period," Brabaw says you should probably go ahead and schedule a doctor's visit.
Keep reading to learn four common issues that cause women to experience painful sex.
When you are stressed out — whether it's work or your family — sex may suddenly become painful. Brabaw explains that this type of stress will make you less aroused and may cause you to tighten your pelvic floor muscles. An even more subtle form of stress that may cause sex to hurt is feeling unhappy with your body and how it looks.
"Going into sex feeling stressed or self-conscious about your body can lead to pain if you're not fully relaxed and present," sex therapist Shannon Chavez notes.
If you have pain due to vaginal dryness, you will experience it when something — a sex toy, a penis, etc. — is inserted into your vagina. Sometimes, vaginal dryness is caused by menopause. According to Dr. William C. Shiel Jr., vaginal dryness can also be caused by skin conditions or medications.
If your vaginal dryness is causing pain or affecting your sexual health — or if you've tried natural lubricants and they haven't worked — registered nurse Marijke Vroomen Durning recommends you speak with your doctor.
If you experience pain upon penetration — but only in certain positions — Brabaw says you might have a tilted uterus. Having a tilted uterus is nothing to worry about. According to WebMD, it is a "normal anatomical variation" in which your uterus is tipped "backwards instead of forward."
The reason a tilted uterus could cause painful sex is that sometimes the sex toy or penis will hit the cervix. If you think you might have a tilted uterus, your OB-GYN will be able to examine you and find out. It is also important to let your partner know which positions hurt so sex can be a pleasant experience for you.
There are a variety of health issues that can cause pain during sex. According to Dr. June Gupta, infections of any kind can cause pain — bacterial, yeast, urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted ones.
Brabaw says to keep an eye out for these signs of infection — "a strange vaginal discharge; your vulva is itchy, swollen, or uncomfortable; or you have pain when you pee" — and if you have any, to go see a doctor.
Other health problems that can cause painful sex, according to ACOG, include ovarian cysts, endometriosis, skin problems, hormonal changes, inflammation of the vagina and childbirth.
"It is important to rule out gynecologic conditions that may be causing your pain. Your OB-GYN or other health care professional also can help you address problems with sexual response," ACOG says.
Every woman deserves pleasurable sex. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort of any kind, don't be afraid to open up and discuss it with your partner. Then, seek out the help you need so you can get back on track.