What is dyspareunia? Many women and some men experience painful sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.
Most of the time the problem is a temporary one and sex soon becomes pleasurable again, but for some, the symptoms of dyspareunia persist and sexual intercourse continues to be painful event, marked by an absence of arousal or pleasure.
What is Dyspareunia and How is it Defined?
Defined as painful sexual intercourse, dyspareunia can affect both men and women, although it is much more commonly reported by female patients. Dyspareunia can occur before, during, or after sexual intercourse and can have many causes, psychological and physical.
In some cases, painful sexual intercourse is often the result of a lack of vaginal lubrication, but the DSM-IV states that dyspareunia can be diagnosed when the patient suffers from persistent pain that is not necessarily the result of vaginal dryness.
Dyspareunia is also linked to vaginismus and the two conditions often occur simultaneously.
What are the Symptoms of Dyspareunia?
The pain felt with dyspareunia is often described as a burning or cramping sensation. Some women experience pain deep inside the pelvis whereas others report the pain at the vaginal outlet. Men with dyspareunia normally experience pain upon ejaculation.
Pain is not necessarily associated with sexual intercourse, although this is the most common scenario—some women experience pain with any type of penetration, even inserting a tampon.
It is also possible to only experience dyspareunia with certain partners or certain positions in sexual intercourse.
What Causes Dyspareunia?
When a diagnosis of dyspareunia has been made, it is important to rule out any physical causes first.
Common physical causes of dyspareunia include infections or injuries to the vaginal area and insufficient vaginal lubrication during sex, a condition that is fairly typical during menopause due to a drop in oestrogen levels.
Certain medications can also affect a woman’s natural levels of lubrication during sexual intercourse.
If pain is felt deep inside the pelvis, the causes of dyspareunia can include interstitial cystitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, ovarian cysts, and a host of other health problems.
Dyspareunia can also be caused by psychological factors. A patient may have had a physical problem in the past that made sexual intercourse painful, but even though the original cause has been treated, they still find intercourse painful.
Other psychological causes of dyspareunia include stress, emotional disorders, depression, low self esteem and, occasionally, a history of sexual abuse.
What is the Treatment for Dyspareunia?
It is important to realize that painful sexual intercourse is not normal. Therefore if you experience pain during intercourse on a regular basis, you should seek help.
Your doctor will need to know where you feel the pain as well as how long you have been having problems.
In the first instance, tests will be carried out to determine if the discomfort has a physical cause, and if this is the case, you will be offered appropriate treatment.
But if there are no physical causes to explain the pain of dyspareunia, you may be offered therapy to address your sexual problems and help you find ways of dealing with the pain.