Pain With Sex

Sexual Pain & Intimacy 

Sexual pain impacts more than just our bodies. It impacts our relationships and disrupts our patterns of physical intimacy. However, this struggle with maintaining intimacy amidst pelvic pain is often met with silence and misunderstanding. As a pelvic health physical therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact that sexual pain can have on individuals and their relationships. In my work, I aim to shed light on the complexities of sexual pain, explore its impact on intimacy, and provide guidance on how to navigate these challenges with compassion and understanding. I’ll break it down for you here:

image of a couple holding hands, displaying intimacy.

Understanding Sexual Pain

Sexual pain encompasses a broad spectrum of sensations, ranging from discomfort to sharp, stabbing pains during sexual activity. Both men and women can experience sexual pain, which may occur in various regions of the body, including the genitals, pelvis, or lower abdomen. (Note: My focus is on women’s pelvic pain, so that’s what you’ll find info about on my website.)

There are numerous potential causes of sexual pain, including:

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Tightness, weakness, or dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles can contribute to sexual pain. (It takes more than just learning to relax to “fix” this though!)

Hormonal Imbalances

Changes in hormone levels, such as those occurring during pregnancy/postpartum, menopause, or certain medical treatments, can affect sexual function and lead to pain.

Psychological Factors

Stress, anxiety, depression, past trauma, or relationship issues can all impact sexual well-being and contribute to pain during sex. (I touch on all of that in this article: Painful Sex Is A Symptom, Not A Diagnosis: Causes and Treatments).

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as vaginismus or vulvodynia, lichen sclerosis, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy, postpartum recovery, or scar tissue from surgery can cause physical discomfort during intercourse.

It’s essential to recognize that sexual pain is not just physical. It can also have emotional and psychological ramifications. Individuals experiencing sexual pain may feel frustrated, anxious, ashamed, or inadequate, which can further exacerbate their symptoms and strain their relationships.

image of a couple holding one another

The Impact on Intimacy

Sexual pain can profoundly affect intimacy, both with oneself and with a partner. It can create a barrier to physical connection and pleasure. Research shows it may lead to feelings of depression, isolation, frustration, and resentment. Many individuals may avoid sexual activity altogether to avoid discomfort or embarrassment, leading to a loss of intimacy and closeness in their relationships.

Moreover, sexual pain can disrupt the emotional and psychological aspects of intimacy. It can erode trust, communication, and mutual understanding between partners, creating a sense of distance and disconnection. The fear of causing pain or being rejected can lead to avoidance behaviors, further exacerbating the cycle of sexual dysfunction and relationship strain.

image of a couple cuddling in bed

Navigating Sexual Pain with Compassion

As a pelvic health physical therapist, I approach the treatment of sexual pain with compassion, empathy, and a holistic understanding of each individual’s unique needs and experiences. These are a few of my best pieces of advice:

Communicate Openly

Communication is the key to navigating sexual pain and intimacy with your partner. Be honest and open about your experiences, fears, and needs. Expressing your concerns can foster understanding and empathy, strengthening your bond as you navigate this challenging journey together.

Explore Alternative Forms of Intimacy

Intimacy goes beyond sexual activity. Explore alternative forms of physical connection, such as cuddling, kissing, massage, or sensual touch, that can foster closeness and pleasure without triggering pain. Even simply having one-on-one time to reconnect emotionally and mentally without touch can help foster intimacy. Focus on building emotional and physical intimacy in ways that feel safe and comfortable for both partners.

Practice Self-Compassion

Living with sexual pain can take a toll on your self-esteem and mental well-being. Practice self-compassion and self-care by prioritizing your physical and emotional needs. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfillment, and be gentle with yourself as you navigate this challenging journey.

Educate Yourself

Knowledge is empowering. Take the time to educate yourself about sexual pain, its potential causes, and available treatment options. Understanding your condition can help you advocate for yourself and make informed decisions about your health and well-being. (You can learn more about what causes painful sex in this article from the National Institute of Health, or by exploring my website and my book).

Seek Support

You don’t have to navigate sexual pain alone. Seek support from friends, family members, or support groups for individuals experiencing sexual dysfunction. Connecting with others who understand your experiences can provide validation, encouragement, and solidarity as you work towards healing.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re experiencing sexual pain, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to a healthcare provider, preferably one specializing in pelvic health or sexual medicine. Pelvic health physical therapists (that’s me!) are trained to assess and treat sexual pain using a variety of techniques, including manual therapy, biofeedback, therapeutic exercises, and education. You can read more about my approach here.

image of a couple dancing together


Sexual pain is a complex and multifaceted issue that can profoundly impact intimacy, relationships, and overall well-being. By approaching sexual pain with compassion, understanding, and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, individuals can reclaim their sexual health and rediscover intimacy with themselves and their partners. Remember, you are not alone, and there is help available. Together, we can navigate this journey toward healing, empowerment, and intimacy.

If you are struggling with painful sex, you want to use tampons without pain, be able to get a speculum exam without fear and enjoy pain-free intimacy, then I have written this book for you!

A study done in 2020 showed that 1 in 5 women experience painful sex and it is impacting how they love, live and work. In this engaging book Girlfriend’s Guide To Pain-Free Sex, I show readers how to take their power back. 

Get yourself a copy today!

Girlfriend's Guide to Pain Free Sex -Cover

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