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Feeling sore after sex? Why your vagina hurts and what to do about it

by Emma Scott · Nov 29, 2021

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Reviewed by Dr. Melanie Davis-Hall on Nov 29, 2021

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There are actually four types of pain associated with vaginal pain: superficial, deep, primary and secondary dyspareunia. Here's the lowdown on what could be making you sore after sex.

What’s the lowdown?

Summary of points regarding soreness after sex
Summary of points regarding soreness after sex

Vaginal pain during or after sex is way more common than you might think, affecting up to 7.5% of women at some point in their lives.

Unsurprisingly, studies show that experiencing painful sex (dyspareunia) can be associated with poor sexual, relational, physical and mental health. So it’s super important to get help so you can go back to enjoying the pleasure of sex.

Here we’re going to take a closer look at what some of the causes of a sore vagina after sex are, when to seek medical advice and what treatments are available.

Is it normal to be sore after sex? 

Nope, it’s not. Sex should not be uncomfortable. 

And, because a sore vagina could have such a broad range of underlying causes, it’s important that you pay attention to any symptoms of pain or discomfort. 

Medically speaking, the official definition of painful sex (dyspareunia) is when there’s recurrent or persistent pain before or after intercourse. But, the bottom line is, any sensation of pain in your vagina, vulva, pelvis or anywhere else is a sign that your body is telling you something is wrong and should not be ignored. This might include general soreness, stinging, sharp pain, pressure or any discomfort.

Please don’t worry about checking in with your GP if sore sex is a new symptom for you. 

What counts as vaginal pain?

Anatomy 101: so the vulva refers to the entirety of the external genitals including the inner and outer labia, clitoris, vestibule of the vagina (vaginal opening) and urethra (where pee comes out).

Painful sex can be associated with the vulva, vagina, pelvic area and lower back. Depending on where the pain is felt, this can provide a clue to the diagnostic approach as well as treatment options. 

Types of painful sex

There’s a few classifications of painful sex that might be causing your vagina to hurt:

  1. Superficial: Localised to vulva or vaginal entrance
  2. Deep: Inside the vagina or lower pelvis, often associated with deep penetration
  3. Primary dyspareunia:  pain during sex since the start of sexual activity
  4. Secondary dyspareunia: pain occurs after some time of pain-free sex
 

You might also hear the term vulvodynia which can be associated with painful sex. However, the key difference is that this refers to vulval pain that can be triggered with or without sex (with no known cause). 

Why does my vagina hurt after sex?

There are a few reasons why you might have a sore vagina after sex. Here are the more common causes: 

Vigorous sex

Sometimes sore sex can simply be caused by a slightly more ‘passionate’ session. A lot of pressure, friction or prolonged sex can cause pain or discomfort in the vagina after penetration.

This can also be the case when using sex toys – they require just as much lube as the real deal to avoid causing inflammation and soreness. Talking of lube…

A lack of lubrication

If you aren’t fully aroused when you attempt to have sex it can be painful. This is normal, and may be due to too little foreplay.

Using lube to reduce friction can make sex more fun and comfortable! Find out more about why you should use lubricant.

Skin conditions

Irritant or allergic Contact Dermatitis

This can lead to itching and pain during sex, triggered by chemicals or allergens in products used for the skin. In some individuals’, chemicals cause an immune response leading to itching and redness.

Common products that can trigger this include baby wipes, lubricants and feminine hygiene products, topical medications and latex in condoms

Lichen Sclerosis

Lichen Sclerosis is a condition which can cause itchy white patches on the vulva that can result in a burning sensation, tightness and scarring. This can make your vagina sore after or during sex.

Sperm allergy

Whilst rare, an allergic reaction to sperm can cause redness and burning in the vaginal area, typically 10-30 minutes after sex. This can be triggered at any point, from any sexual partner.

Medication

Your contraception

The contraceptive pill can also be associated with vaginal dryness and therefore a sore vagina after sex.

Progestogen-only pills (the mini pill) and other forms of progestogen only contraception are thought to cause vaginal dryness in some users because they do not contain oestrogen, the hormone responsible for blood flow to the vagina and pelvic area, particularly during arousal. This in turn affects vaginal lubrication and can cause painful sex.

However vaginal dryness has also been reported by users of combined contraception including the pill, hormonal coil (IUS) and vaginal ring.

Antidepressants

Some studies suggest antidepressants can lead to persistent vulva pain and lubrication problems.

Psychosexual causes

Vaginismus

Vaginismus is an involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles which can cause difficulty and pain with penetration. This can be caused by stress around sexual contact, sometimes due to past experiences or bad relationships.

Infections

Thrush

The extremely common fungal infection thrush could cause a sore vagina, with other symptoms including the characteristic cottage cheese-like discharge and itching. Read more about the causes of thrush.

STIs

A sore vagina after sex can be a number one sign of an STI (for example chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes). Each can cause discomfort, pain, stinging sensations – another reason to keep on top of regular testing.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is caused by infection and can lead to a deep pain due to inflammation of the pelvic organs. Untreated STIs are one of the most common causes of PID.

Medical conditions

If you have deep pain or soreness within the pelvic or vagina during sex, it could suggest a couple of different conditions.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid filled sacs within the ovaries, which often cause no symptoms and are completely harmless. However, in some cases they can rupture, which can be extremely painful and requires immediate medical attention. Ovarian cysts may cause pain during sex on the side of the affected ovary.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other parts of the body. It can cause mild to excruciating pain up to 48 hours after sex.

This is due to inflammation and endometrial tissue that has grown in the pelvis, causing the uterus and vagina to be stretched and pulled during sex. 

Should I go to see my GP? 

Yes. 100%. Vaginal soreness during or after sex is not a symptom that should have to be endured.

If you’re experiencing superficial pain, it’s likely that you will have a physical examination. Depending on the cause, treatment could involve antibiotics for an infection or steroid creams for skin irritation. If the root is a psychological one, this could involve therapy or counselling. 

For pelvic pain / internal deep pain, your GP will probably refer you to a gynaecologist and arrange an ultrasound scan which can detect possible causes such as ovarian cysts. 

Want to speak to someone about soreness during sex? Our resident Pelvic Physiotherapist is an expert in all things vaginal health from painful sex to endometriosis. Find out more about pelvic health physio and how we can help you today.

Talk to one of our friendly doctors

Tags
  1. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. When Sex is Painful
  2. Mitchell, K. R., Geary, R., Graham, C.A et. al. Painful sex (dyspareunia) in women: prevalence and associated factors in a British population probability survey BJOG, 2017
  3. Sorensen, J., Muacevic, A., Adler, J.R. Evaluation and Treatment of Female Sexual Pain: A Clinical Review Cureus, 2018
  4. Arora, V., Mukhopadhyay S., Morris, E. Painful sex (dyspareunia): a difficult symptom in gynecological practice. Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Reproductive Medicine. 2020
  5. NHS UK. Why does sex hurt?
  6. Learnskin. 4 skin issues that cause vaginal pain during sex
  7. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V. et. al. Women’s use and perceptions of commercial lubricants: prevalence and characteristics in a nationally representative sample of American adults. J Sex Med. 2014
  8. Unity Sexual Health. Psychosexual help
  9. Clinicaltrials.gov The Female Sexual Functions With Progestogen-only Contraception
  10. International Society for Sexual Medicine. What is a sperm allergy?
  11. The Gynae Centre Why Does Sex Hurt? 8 Reasons You’re Having Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia)
  12.  Pharmacy Times What Are Common Causes of Dysparenia?
  13.  Endometriosis.org Painful Intercourse
  14.  NHS UK Endometriosis
  15.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Disorders of the Vulva: Common causes of vulvar pain, itching and burning
  16. NHS UK. Vaginal dryness. 

Emma is a Pharmacology & Physiology graduate with a huge passion for women’s health. Outside of work you’ll find her with a nose in a book, open water swimming or charging around with her standard poodle Zeki!