They Do Exist.

Ask A Married Woman: When Sex Physically Hurts

Editor’s Note: This month we are answering our readers’ questions to married women. So far we’ve talked about whether or not you should let a guy know you’re interested in him, and how, as a married woman, you’ve gone from virgin to sexy and seductive. Today’s question is answered by Rachel Vander Ley. I want to note to all you single women out there, please do not let this article cause you one ounce of worry. I know that had I read it pre-sex, I would have freaked out. Physical pain is not something to be expected for the majority, but it does exist for some women, so we do want to discuss it! Don’t let your mind sit and worry on this bridge unless you come to it one day. You can find Rachel on Twitter at @rachieannie. – Lauren

QUESTION: I recently got married in January and I am definitely loving married life. But we have had a lot of trouble with sex. It hurts me all the time and I am just struggling to understand why something that I thought was supposed to be a beautiful gift from God is something that is so painful for me. I end up in tears every time. I am getting discouraged which also make it harder to want to have sex. And because it hurts me so much, my husband doesn’t like doing it anymore either. He hates seeing me cry. I was just wondering if you would have any insight on why something that was meant to be a great gift would be so painful for so long? It makes me feel like I did something wrong. I am struggling with this emotionally and physically.

RACHEL: I walked down the aisle 2 ½ years ago as a 25 year old woman with a healthy libido. I found my husband to be incredibly attractive and was excited to finally have that person in my life to meet all of my physical needs (because, let’s be honest, as a 25 year old missionary, I had physical needs).

Then we got to our honeymoon, and while things were good, they weren’t great. I noticed that it hurt. And yes, I had done my reading, so I knew this was a possibility. Then I talked to a married friend who said that after she went through a menstrual cycle, things evened out for her. So, I waited for that auspicious moment. And it came and went. And still the pain.

In fact, I have dealt with pain in physical intimacy for a majority of the time we have been married. Things were just starting to get ironed out and it got to the point where I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t hurt. And I got pregnant for the first time! Then, as sex began to become less painful for a second time, and I got pregnant for the second time. (Yes, that’s 2 pregnancies in 2 ½ yrs. So things are “working.”) 

So, dear heart, when I say I understand what you’re going through, know that I have a glimpse.

Photo by Sarah Sodini

On a practical, physical side, there are some tactics that have worked for me including hot baths, Advil, the liberal use of lubricant, and Tucks Medicated Pads (technically they are for hemorrhoids, but post-partum women swear by them. You can find them in the pain relief aisle at most stores). Also, I’ve found that I cannot sustain the same position for very long, so we experiment quite a bit in that area. Unfortunately, what works one time is not guaranteed to work the next, so it is definitely a journey.

Make sure you consult your gynecologist. During a routine postpartum exam, I mentioned some of these issues to my doctor, and he found some physical explanations for what was going on. It helped me to know where my body was coming from. Don’t be afraid to go, to be honest with how you’re feeling, and to be specific. Doctors are there to help.

However, it isn’t necessarily the physical impact that hurts the worst. This situation carries a big emotional wallop that can trample you like a herd of elephants.

As someone who grew up in conservative Christian circles, I have found myself questioning why God is punishing me this way. Was it because we went too far before we got married? Because we enjoyed making out a little more than watching the movie? Is this something we have to deal with forever? But, I have to remind myself that our God is not a God of punishment. He is a God of grace. And forgiveness. And love.

Do I think you have some terrible sin in your past that is causing this current pain? No, I do not. Is there an easy fix, an easy prayer, or an easy cliché that can be applied to this situation? Well, if you find one, PLEASE let me know!

In the meantime, you and your husband are left to deal with the here and now. And it is hard.

The biggest asset to your situation is open and honest communication between the two of you. There are times where my husband is in the mood, and all I can think of is the possibility of facing hours of pain afterwards. Instead of just brushing him off without giving him a reason, I try to tell him why I am not currently in the mood to reciprocate. I will be the first to admit that I am not stellar in this area, but it is something I am trying to work on. It is simply not fair to him to keep him in the dark.

Or, we’re in the midst of some good old fashioned fun, and something has to change. It can be really hard to be open and honest at that time, because obviously it is a vulnerable time for both of us. A part of me just wants to suck it up and satisfy him at that moment. But, that’s not fair to either of us.
So, no matter how hard it gets, or how awkward, or how much you ugly cry, you have to just talk. And talk. And try different techniques. And maybe step back from the situation for the night, and come back to it another time.

Sex is beautiful. And messy. And fun. And it can feel really, really awesome. And for some of us, it can really, really hurt.

I wish I could sit here and promise you that in X amount of months, or after X amount of times, the pain will disappear and the two of you will tumble into an amazing sex life that just won’t quit.

I wish I could tell you that this pain will disappear and one day you will look back and barely remember it.

But I can’t.

I wish I could be sitting with you in person, sipping a cup of coffee and hugging you while you spill it all out.

But I can’t.

So, this is all I have for you. Some tips, some encouragement. It’s hard. So very hard. Marriage (and sex) does not always look like the movies or read like the books. Your story is yours alone, pain and all. I don’t know how it will end, but know that I am rooting for you and your husband.

And if you would like to talk about this more in detail, PLEASE feel free to contact me via Twitter (@rachieannie) or ask for my email. I can be as open as you need me to be in a setting that is slightly more private.

NOTE: In case you missed it at the top: I want to note to all you single women out there, please do not let this article cause you one ounce of worry. I know that had I read it pre-sex, I would have freaked out. Physical pain is not something to be expected for the majority, but it does for some women, so we do want to discuss it! Don’t let your mind sit and worry on this bridge unless you happen come to it one day.


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33 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    This month's topic is GREAT.
    We are approaching our one year anniversary (yay! <3) and reading through these topics and stories have been wonderful.
    I so, so, so appreciate this website (and laurennicolelove.com) more than I can even express. really.
    Thank you for this post.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  2. kim

    i had the same exact problem. sex was so painful, my hubby couldn't even make it in. it was frustrating for both of us because he had been waiting 30 years to have sex with me for the first time of his life, and i had previously had pain-free sex with a prior boyfriend. i couldn't understand why i was suddenly having extreme pain. i hated that sex was portrayed ALL around me as this fun, simple, joyful experience when it was impossible for me to experience it (and if i tried, it hurt like hell). my doctor didn't really help me. she said i just needed to do some massaging of my muscles with a super expensive lotion. sorry lady, i'm poor. so i turned to the internet, did some research, and found a website that really helped me. i got books through this site which helped me deal with the psychological aspects of my painful sex, as well as a set of dilators which helped me get comfortable with insertion. i was able to start with a super small size and work my way up to larger and larger sizes until i was finally able to have ACTUAL sex with my husband!! it was a day full of rejoicing, believe me. the website i used was: http://www.vaginismus.com/ you may be able to find dilators elsewhere too, which i think was extremely helpful in working my body up to pain-free sex. i hope this helps some!! as someone who has been through it, i really feel for you.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    • oh kim, i'm SO glad you shared this!! i had looked around for help online before, but never came across that one. the best i could find was to use more lubricant and more foreplay, which as someone else said, really isn't much advice at all (even though i did include it in my list of what helps us, because it does … it just doesn't fix it). i've already spent some time there and feel hopeful that perhaps this is a struggle my husband and i can put behind us sooner than later! so glad you are able to experience pain free sex now! what a gift!

      July 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    • Gabi

      Thanks for your comment kim! I wish the author would have included more information about what can be done for people with painful sex.

      I'm a physcial therapist and work at a women's health clinic, where one of the most common reasons we see patients is "pain during sex". The medical term is "Dyspareunia." Often it is a muscular problem (which can occur for various reasons) and many of our patients benefit from the use of dilators. Two books we recommend to patients are "Completely overcome Vaginismus" by Carter, and "Ending Female Pain" by Herrera. There are a lot of simple exercises and stretches you can do on your own, or seek the help of a specialized health professional. Not all doctors or physical therapists are familiar with these methods.

      April 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm

  3. rebecca

    Sweet sister, I have walked that physically and emotionally painful road. I had a similar experience to what Kim shared. My regular OB/GYN was not helpful, but when I saw a doctor at a larger teaching hospital, he was able to identify two medical conditions that were causing my pain. There are several vaginal pain conditions that are not well known by all doctors, but getting a correct diagnosis, if one is needed, can change everything. The website Kim mentioned was a huge help to me, too.

    Emotionally, just hold on. This is not punishment or judgment or abandonment from God. It is a struggle, and He says we will all have them. Fight the feelings of guilt and failure; this is not your fault. Share the experience with your husband. I did my relationship a disservice by keeping all of my emotional struggle inside; I just didn't know how to deal with something that I was completely unprepared for (I mean who can't have sex on their wedding night?!). Once I let him in on the whole of the experience, it was easier. It became something we going through together rather than alone.

    Three months ago, after YEARS of wondering if it would be possible, we had a baby girl. There is hope!

    July 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    • Rebecca, you are absolutely right. It is SO much better to go through it with your partner than alone. It obviously is something that involves the two of you in a very big way and open communication is a MUST. Thank you for sharing your story!

      July 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

  4. Kaitlin

    I can definitely relate to this article! Our first night together, my husband and I didn't make it happen; I figured, "Hey, it's the honeymoon, we'll get through this together and it will all work out." Come a year later, it's still not happening. My husband would only get a little way in and I'd scream in pain- neither copious amounts of lubricant nor different positions seemed to help. I nervously broached the subject with my gynecologist who kindly referred me to a physical therapist for sex therapy- I didn't even know such a thing existed! The therapist was beyond gracious and gave me so many helpful tips that have really assisted in our progress. Are we there yet? To be honest, no. But I have gained confidence to keep trying (knowing it's not my fault) and my husband is no longer worried that he's too much for me (knowing it's not his fault). If I haven't terrified you to death, hear this: It may hurt very badly for you. It may hurt a little. It may not hurt at all. But with time, trial 'n error, and (if need be) professional help, it is possible to achieve good, even great, sex. And don't be afraid to ask for help- I assumed that any trouble I had with sex was my burden to carry and I carried it for a whole year; it was freeing to know that I could share my struggle with people (I also opened up to a friend of mine who talked through it with me as well) and get the help I needed.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    • Oh dear Kaitlin, I am SO glad you sought out help! What a burden to carry alone. Hopefully you will 'get there' soon!!

      July 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm

  5. April

    This is a great read! I've experienced this myself and it really does feel good to know that your not alone. I agree that it is important to talk to your husband about it so you don't feel isolated or resentment, etc.

    July 11, 2012 at 11:22 pm

  6. Hey Chica,

    First off- congratulations!
    Second- Breath. The world isn’t being attacked by an alien invasion, and your husband adores you, I’m certain.

    After a rather confusing honeymoon, I too returned with an unexplained feeling of “wrongness”. The Pain I couldn’t shake even months later had begun to prove rather inconvenient considering I was predestined to be a sex goddess in my own bedroom. So I most definitely understand that type of disappointment!

    We went to the Gyno, along with several specialists to recieve the jolly news that I had Vulvodynia. Which is, as stated before me, a form of vaginismus. My particular case has found to be uncureable, however it can disappear at any time. Though It hasn’t.

    The point isn’t that my marriage has now suffered the menacing affliction of Vulvodynia for almost 3 years. The point is that my marriage has survived it, and if it comes to pass, so can yours! Per the urging from my doctors, my hubby and myself did go to a sex therapist for a time. Yes, it is an awkward discussion topic over coffee with let’s say, your mother, but the insight and guidance we recieve was freeing. Don’t let embarrassment stand between you and a salvageable sex life!

    You may or may not come to hear similar news, and I pray you don’t…. But the challenges you face will NEVER change the fact that you are, and will remain a sexy, vivacious, alluring woman. My husband continues everday, now that he’s accepted Vulvodynia is not a reflection of his masculinity, to whisper how lovely I am or how satisfied he is. Yours, I am without a doubt, would do the same.

    Have hope. Intimacy, irregardless of your diagnoses, comes in many forms. I remain unable to participate in intercourse, seeing as the pain is still too unbearable. But we’ve found our own way, as the two of you would. Sometimes it is intoxicating to merely lay together. Other times…. Well, you’d be surprised how utterly creative two people with a common goal can get when time is at their disposal ;)

    Besides- Jesus can do whatever He wants…. I wouldnt be surprised if He was holding my healing out until I’m in my prime- that way, my husband will be shocked into remembering how irrefutably awesome I am!

    You are not alone.
    Kait wright

    July 12, 2012 at 12:41 am

    • Kait, thank you so much for sharing your story! It is so awesome to hear from other women who are in the midst of it and who remain strong and confident in their sexiness. Such an inspiration!

      July 19, 2012 at 1:05 am

  7. Kelsi

    As a physical therapist, I see this problem all the time. Sweet girls, PLEASE do not think there is something "wrong" with you when sex is painful. It is not a punishment, it is not something to feel guilty about – it's more common than most of us admit. There is almost always a direct physical impairment leading to painful intercourse that is identifiable AND treatable. Don't hesitate to bring this up with your doctor, gynecologist, or whomever you can, and discuss a referral to a physical therapist specializing in women's health. You don't have to just "deal with it," or push through the pain, waiting for the day (or year) when sex is finally enjoyable. Just because it's painful now doesn't mean it always has to be. :)

    July 12, 2012 at 12:41 am

    • Hey Kelsi! Thanks so much for jumping in on this with your advice/expertise. I really appreciate it. :)

      July 12, 2012 at 1:40 am

  8. Amanda

    I’ve also seen this talked about here: http://apracticalwedding.com/2011/10/rw-painful-s… she had pelvic pain that was treatable. Hope having more points off connection helps someone!

    July 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

    • thanks for sharing this link amanda! it was so intriguing to read her story and everyone's comments. some great stuff there!!

      July 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    • addy

      that website seems to promote a variety of sexual encounters, not necessarily all of which are healthy or positive–it's definitely just an opinion, but I might steer clear of taking their advice as gospel, so to speak.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm

  9. Mrs

    I am in tears reading this. Me and my husband both have physical disabilities, so whilst sex doesn't hurt like it does for you, we both experience severe pain and fatigue constantly, so sex is… difficult, to say the least. (And chronic thrush doesn't make it any comfier.) For us, communication and enjoying other things together makes a difference, emotionally, but I realise it IS a different situation. I wish more people would talk about the non-perfect sex lives, because it can feel very lonely.

    July 12, 2012 at 6:22 am

    • dear, sweet lady. my heart hurts for you. while we can't fully know each other's stories, there is beauty and community in sharing them. thank you for sharing just a small peak at yours. may you and your husband continue to grow closer and closer, even as you face this struggle!

      July 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      • Mrs

        Thank you <3

        July 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm

  10. Holly

    I would experience severe pain after sex for probably the first 6 or so months we were married. Eventually I started to wonder if it was because my hormone-based birth control was/is impeding natural processes and we were relying on a lot of lube. We talked a lot, I cried a lot, but things are better now that my husband knows more fully what I need to be "in the mood" and how to make things better for me by relying on a little more foreplay to jump-start my body. We are also seriously considering and praying about changing birth control methods.

    July 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

  11. raynigirl

    Many women have a diagnosable condition called dyspareunia, which is a tightening of the pelvic floor muscles. There is physical therapy available to help!! They teach you stretches and breathing exercises that help relax the pelvic floor muscles. Also, they will often do internal stretching on the muscles and will give you at home stretching exercises to do with a dialator. If this has been going on for a while there are also often negative emotional feelings about sex that counseling can help. For your own sake and for the health of your marriage, please do not delay in seeking treatment. And remember, you need to be your own health care advocate. If one doctor isn't helpful, go to another one until you get the treatment you need!

    July 12, 2012 at 11:40 am

  12. Rachel

    I have recently been through the exact same thing. I also went trough the program at vaginismus.com and have had 100%success and no longer experience pain. For me I struggle with anxiety and fear and the inability to have sex was one way this struggle expressed itself. Usually, this is about something deeper than sex…at least that is what I found for me and other girls I’ve talked to believe the same thing.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

  13. There are very real physical issues that can take place for many women. There is something called Vaginismus as well as nerve ending issues that can cause your muscles to tighten up, causing severe pain. All women have these never endings until we start our period as natures "birth control" to say it's not time yet, but once that takes place, we become more relaxed and physically ready for intercourse. Except about 7% of women where the heightened and painful nerve endings stay active. Many doctors, for whatever reason, by pass this and just think women have "stage fright" when getting a pap, etc. There are some great physical therapists and some excellent doctors near where I live at the Oregon Health and Science university who study and perform surgery on women with this condition. I would highly recommend looking into seeing them if you can. Dr. Getch and Dr. LeClaire are their names.

    p.s. Lauren – just saw you guys have a mentor page on your site. love that you are doing that.

    July 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm

  14. Pingback: Ask A Married Woman: What Should I Ask Him Before We Get Married? - Good Women Project

  15. Pingback: Ask A Married Woman: What Assumptions About Sex Were You Wrong About? - Good Women Project

  16. Jenny

    Definitely consult your doctor. I had the same problem when I first got married (10 years ago) and it turns out I have a latex allergy that our condoms were aggravating. I was on a medication that required us to use multiple forms of contraception because of the risk of birth defects. Things improved greatly when we were able to discontinue using the latex condoms. Some oral contraceptives with higher hormone levels made sex more uncomfortable for me because of the dryness they caused. Good luck!

    July 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

  17. Megan

    Thank you to everyone who has commented! I am the one who asked the question and it feels good to know that I am not alone. No one ever wants to talk about this or they seem to busy to sit and walk me through this, so thank you. I know God has a great plan for me and my husband and this is part of it! I believe that this has made us stronger and closer than if sex would have been easy and great from the beginning. Things have gotten better and my doctor has given me some great tips that seem to be working. Again thank you for commenting and Lauren, thank you for creating this website with a great community of good women!

    July 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm

  18. Painful Sex

    An article about struggles facing "First Time Wedding Night Sex"… http://apracticalwedding.com/2011/07/wedding-nigh

    July 20, 2012 at 3:35 am

  19. Pingback: Ask A Married Woman: What Were "Future-Husband Requirements" That Turned Out To Be Wrong? - Good Women Project

  20. Kelly

    Thanks ladies! My boyfriend is currently doing mission work over 9000 miles away and has been since long before we were dating (we knew each other before that, it’s a long story :) LOL) but since we are limited to email and texting with a rare call/skype in between… we’ve started to play the question game. It’s given us a great basis and your suggestion of this book only helps expand our opportunities and will continue to strengthen what we have, until he gets home!

    August 5, 2012 at 12:43 am

  21. Emily

    Hey could I get the author's email? I would love to talk to her about this more.

    September 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm

  22. So, so, so true about sex not being like the movies. Most women have problems feeling pleasure down there anymore after having kids so look at the bright side..at least you are feeling it very well down there. I think the advice here is great, but I would talk to your gyno about it in detail because I'm sure he or she has heard this type of problem many many times.

    December 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm

  23. Well, great article.

    February 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm

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