When sex is a huge pain literally
A surprisingly large number of women experience pain during sex. Apart from the physical impact on their bodies, this also can affect their mental and emotional health, and their relationships. Dyspareunia
(pain during sexual intercourse) is a condition that affects over 14 per cent of premenopausal women, with significant variations across the lifespan. The highest rate is found in women aged 16-39 with one in six women in this age group reporting experiencing pelvic pain during, or in the 24 hours after intercourse.1 Postmenopausal women may also experience painful sex due to changes to their vaginal walls and increased vaginal dryness.
There are three main types of dyspareunia:
1.Superficial Dyspareunia: pain on attempted penetration and may be associated with anatomic conditions or vaginismus (involuntary tightness of vaginal muscles).
2.Vaginal Dyspareunia: pain related to friction (due to lubrication problems), including arousal disorders.
3.Deep Dyspareunia: pain related to thrusting, often associated with pelvic disease.
Diagnosing the cause of the dyspareunia will dictate the forms of treatment necessary.
There is a range of treatment options available but almost all will include some form of individual or couples counselling. A medical examination by a GP or gynaecologist is important to correctly identify any medical causes of dyspareunia. Some women may benefit from physical therapy, which includes musculoskeletal, vulvar and pelvic floor assessments via physical examinations and subsequent hands-on techniques such as trigger point massage in the pelvic area and transvaginally.
If you are in a relationship, encourage your partner to be involved in your treatment, particularly the counselling sessions. Both women and their partners often experience feelings of rejection, confusion, helplessness and frustration. For single women, dyspareunia can prevent them from approaching partners or entering new relationships because they feel ashamed, embarrassed or scared.
The important thing to remember is that dyspareunia can be treated, but it will require commitment from women (and their partners if they have one), as well as the support of qualified health professionals.
For more information on painful sex and where to seek help, contact the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health on 1800 151 441. Another good resource is Australia and New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society www.anzvs.org
Prevalence and correlates of three types of pelvic pain in a nationally representative study of Australian women. Pitts MK, Ferris JA, Smith AM, Shelley JM, Richters J.Med J Aust. 2008 Aug 4;189(3):138-43.
Published with the permission of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health
Tollfree number 1800 151 441 for women seeking further health information www.jeanhailes.org.au