Possible Causes of Pain During Sex

There are a number of potential causes of pain during sex. Some of these causes are infections, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Others are unrelated to sexual activity, such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Trauma, as well as certain cancers, can also cause pain during sex. In addition, there are sexual pain disorders, such as vulvodynia, that are less well understood. If you experience pain during sex, it is therefore important to see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. Pain during sex may be the sign of a serious health problem. Even if it isn't, dealing with your pain can greatly improve your quality of life.

Pain during intercourse is also known as dyspareunia.

older couple embracing in bed
Getty Images / Thomas Tolstrup

Sexually Transmitted Infections That May Cause Pain

A number of different STIs can potentially lead to pain during sex. STIs associated with pain during intercourse include:

These STIs cause sexual pain for different reasons. Some cause local swelling, irritation, or discharge. Others cause blisters or sores that are either inherently painful or can easily become infected and lead to pain.

Other Causes of Sexual Pain in Women

Most sexual pain in women is categorized as either pain on entry or deep pain. Some women also experience pain from superficial genital contact. These types of pain can be caused by a variety of medical conditions other than STIs, including:

  • Vulvodynia: Pain on or around the vulva, which may or may not have a clear cause
  • Vaginismus: Uncontrolled spasming of the vagina. This can make penetration difficult or impossible.
  • Vaginal dryness related to estrogen deficiency (such as during menopause, birth control pill use, or hormonal imbalances)
  • Bladder pain conditions such as interstitial cystitis and chronic UTIs
  • Endometriosis: An overgrowth of the uterine lining that usually causes deep pain
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Uterine fibroids: Benign tumors of the uterus that become more common as women age
  • Cervical cancer
  • Damage to the vulva, vagina, or surrounding organs from trauma, childbirth, or female genital mutilation
  • Eczema and other genital skin conditions, such as lichen sclerosis

There are also a number of non-medical factors that can cause pain during sex. These include insufficient lubrication, stress, and even a history of sexual abuse. Many such difficulties can be treated, or relieved, with a combination of appropriate techniques, therapies, and patience. However, medical causes of dyspareunia should usually be ruled out first.

Other Causes of Sexual Pain in Men

For men, sexual pain tends to be categorized as either painful erections or pain during ejaculation. Other types of pain, such as surface irritation, can also cause pain during sex. However, skin infections and related pain may not always be considered in a sexual light.

Conditions other than STIs that can cause sexual pain in men include:

Getting Help

If you are experiencing pain during sex, it's a good idea to visit a healthcare provider for help. However, it's important to know that sexual pain is sometimes hard to diagnose. This is particularly true for sexual pain caused by something other than infection. It may take time to figure out what is causing your pain. You may need to visit one or more specialists. Types of specialists that are sometimes called upon to deal with sexual pain include psychologists, urologists, gynecologists, and even dermatologists. Your primary care physician may or may not be involved in your diagnosis and treatment as well.

If the pain you experience during sex does not have a clear medical cause, you may be referred to a therapist. A therapist can help address anxiety and other concerns that may lead to sex becoming uncomfortable. You may also be referred to a sex therapist who can help you address other issues affecting your sexual interactions with a partner.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Treating sexual problems for women with cancer.

  2. Urology Care Foundation. What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases (STDs)?

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - CDC fact sheet.

  4. American Family Physician. Dyspareunia in women.

  5. Luzzi G, Law L. A guide to sexual pain in men. Practitioner. 2005;249(1667):73, 75, 77 passim.

  6. Urology Care Foundation. What are prostatitis and related chronic pelvic pain conditions?

  7. MedlinePlus. Urethritis.

  8. Harvard Health Publishing. Interstitial cystitis.

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.