Why does sex hurt?

Pain during or after sex (dyspareunia) can be caused by many things, such as:

  • illness
  • infection
  • a physical problem
  • a psychological problem

If you get pain during or after sex, your body may be trying to tell you something is wrong, so don't ignore it. See your GP or go to a sexual health (genitourinary medicine or GUM) clinic.

If you find talking about it embarrassing, remember that doctors are used to dealing with problems like this.

Pain during sex can affect both men and women.

Painful sex in women

Women can experience pain during or after sex, either in the vagina or deeper in the pelvis. Pain in the vagina could be caused by:

  • an infection: thrush or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or genital herpes
  • the menopause: changing hormone levels can make your vagina dry
  • lack of sexual arousal at any age
  • vaginismus: a condition where muscles in or around the vagina shut tightly, making sex painful or impossible
  • genital irritation or allergy caused by spermicides, latex condoms or products such as soap and shampoo

Pain felt inside the pelvis can be caused by conditions such as:

Painful sex in men

Some causes of painful sex for men are:

  • infections like thrush, which can cause soreness and itching, and some STIs, such as herpes
  • if the foreskin is tight, penetration can be painful, as the foreskin is pushed back
  • small tears in the foreskin that can't be seen but cause soreness and a sharp, stinging pain around the tear
  • inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis)
  • testicle pain and swelling can sometimes be caused by getting sexually aroused but not ejaculating (coming). It can also be a sign of an infection, such as chlamydia.

What to do

If you have pain during or after sex, you should get advice from your GP or a GUM clinic. They can assess what’s causing the problem and whether you need any treatment. For example:

  • if you have pain, unusual discharge, itchiness or soreness around your genitals, they may recommend treatment for thrush or having an STI test
  • if your vagina is dry, you may be advised to try using a lubricating product – remember to use a water-based product if you’re using condoms, because oil-based lubricants can damage them and make them ineffective
  • if you have an allergy or irritation around your genitals, you may be advised to avoid using products that could be causing it
  • if there’s an emotional reason or anxiety that's causing problems, a counsellor or sex therapist may be able to help –  your GP or sexual health clinic can refer you to one 

Read the answers to more questions about sexual health.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 05/05/2015

Next review due: 15/05/2018