Dyspareunia is Painful Sex in Women and Men

Dyspareunia is painful sex that occurs before, during or after intercourse. Women usually experience dyspareunia during sex. Men usually experience it upon ejaculation, and it is a symptom of prostatitis. It is a common problem; however, many medical professionals are not aware of this syndrome causing patients frustration.

“Dyspareunia (difficult mating) is defined as genital pain that occurs before, during, or after intercourse. The repeated experience of pain during intercourse can cause marked distress, anxiety, and interpersonal difficulties, leading to anticipation of a negative sexual experience and eventually to sexual avoidance.” 

American Psychiatric Association, 4th ed. 1994

Dyspareunia can occur in women and men. Some sources estimate dyspareunia occurs in two-thirds of all women. The medical literature does not quantify the number of men with this condition; however, it is a symptom of prostatitis.

Vaginal infections or infections of the prostate are the most common successfully-treated causes of dyspareunia.

Q. What is Dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia can be defined as difficult mating. It is  not a well understood condition.  This problem  can be lifelong or acquired.   Dyspareunia usually occurs ten years after the start of sexual activity unless it has always been present.  

Q. What causes Dyspareunia?

Causes can be an infection, a skin problem, trauma, dryness, male factors, such as prostatitis as well as other physical and psychological factors.

Q. How Common is Dyspareunia in Women?

“Dyspareunia is one of the most common sexual dysfunctions seen by gynecologists and is estimated to affect about two-thirds of women during their lifetime.” 

Marinoff, S. C. and Turner, M.L. C., 1993

In 83 percent of the cases studied regarding superficial  dyspareunia,  the trigger for pain was intercourse and the pain worsened with time.   Half of the women reported that they had abstained from a sexual relationship because of the pain.  

Treatment of Postpartum Dyspareunia

“Treatment should be started immediately since spontaneous remissions are not expected except for cases where the pain started in the postpartum period.”

(Goetsch, M.F., 1991)

Dyspareunia in Young Women

“Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (irritation or pain of the vulva) is widely recognized as a major cause of superficial dyspareunia.  Superficial dyspareunia from vestibulitis. . .usually appears in young women at the beginning of their sex lives.”  

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine,“Outcome of Surgical Treatment for Superficial Dyspareunia from Vulvar Vestibulitis,” by David Schneider, M.D., et al, 2001.

The Misery of Dyspareunia

“The fact that medical professionals are often not aware of this syndrome can cause patients much frustration and misery.” 

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, “Outcome of Surgical Treatment for Superficial Dyspareunia from Vulvar Vestibulitis,” by David Schneider, M.D., et al, 2001.

Q. How Common is Dyspareunia in Men?

The medical literature does not quantify the number of men faced with this problem.  Dyspareunia is a symptom of prostatitis.

Erectile dysfunction, prostatitis-like symptoms, such as perineal, penile, and suprapubic  pain (lower abdominal pain above the pelvic bone) during or after ejaculation and voiding (peeing) often cause emotional discomfort in men and is strongly associated with a negative impact on the quality of life. 

Causes and effects of Prostatitis
Pictogram depicts prostatitis signs, symptoms, risks, diagnosis, and treatment by urologist. Ejaculatory pain is dyspareunia and a symptom of prostatitis.

Dyspareunia can be caused by Prostatitis 

Many researchers use the term Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome (CPPS)  according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) classification of chronic prostatitis.

Patients with Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome (CPPS)  have clinical symptoms which include:

  • ejaculatory pain (dyspareunia or painful sex)
  • and discomfort in the area of the perineum or external genitalia 
  • dysuria (painful urination) 
  • frequency (abnormally frequent urination)
  • nocturia (urination more than two times during the night)

Dyspareunia Sufferers should Consider the Mind and Body

Dyspareunia can have psychological as well as physical factors.  It is important to consider both the mind and the body in any treatment regimen.

“Women with dyspareunia usually discuss the pain with their sexual partner, but fewer than one-half of these women consult a physician. Because dyspareunia is a psychophysiologic condition, both psychologic and physical factors must be considered.”  

Novak’s Textbook of Gynecology, 12th Edition, by Jonathan S. Berek, 1996

Psychological factors contributing to dyspareunia include:

  • Development factors, e.g., an upbringing that invested sex with guilt and shame;
  • Traumatic factors, e.g., childhood sexual abuse or other sexual assault;
  • Relationship factors

Factors Contributing to Dyspareunia in Women – Vaginal Infection

“Vaginal infection is the most common cause of successfully treated dyspareunia.”  Glatt, A.E. 1990

Factors Contributing to Dyspareunia in Men – Prostatitis

In men, acute bacterial prostatitis  is the most common cause of successfully treated dyspareunia.  Other common physical causes are genital glands and adhesive bands that swell only in relation to intercourse. 

Acute bacterial prostatitis is when the prostate gland becomes enlarged and tender suddenly.  Acute prostatitis is usually caused by the same bacteria that cause urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted diseases.  

Hypersensitivity or Irritation of the Clitoris or Prostatitis while Sitting

Stimulation of the genitalia by sitting, and conditions such as hypersensitivity or irritation of the clitoris in women or discomfort in the perineum or external genitalia as a result of prostatitis in men can be causes of frustrating pain.

Other anatomical causes of dyspareunia in women can be a rigid hymenal ring or scar tissue in an episiotomy scar.

Irritation from Over-the-Counter Products

Dyspareunia can also be caused by irritation from over-the-counter feminine spray products, douches, and contraceptive devices (i.e., condoms, sponges, diaphragms).

Dyspareunia in Women can be Minimized with Water Soluble Lubricants

A common cause of dyspareunia in women is inadequate sexual arousal.  This situation can be resolved by counseling the couple to spend more time with foreplay, ensuring that the woman has adequate lubrication prior to intercourse.  Use of a water-soluble lubricant is also helpful.  When using lubricant, always use water-soluble products, such as KY Jelly or Astroglide.

Dyspareunia can be Associated with Menopause and Lactation

Finally, pain associated with intercourse can be the result of vaginal atrophy from estrogen deficiency in menopausal or lactating women.

This condition can be diagnosed by your physician and can be treated with vaginal or systemic estrogen replacement therapy.


  1. The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, “Outcome of Surgical Treatment for Superficial Dyspareunia from Vulvar Vestibulitis,” by David Schneider, M.D., et al, 2001.
  2. Novak’s Textbook of Gynecology, 12th Edition, by Jonathan S. Berek, 1996
  3. Meares EM. “Prostatitis and related disorders,” Campbell’s urology. 1986:868-85.
  4. J. Curtis Nickel, MD, FRCSC, Prostatitis Syndromes, “A continuing enigma for the family physician,”  Canadian Family Physician, Vol. 37:  April 1991


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Author: Melanie Loomos

I was a court reporter for 10 years and spent most of my time in very uncomfortable chairs. As a result, I spent years researching seating and submitted two patent applications: "The Carpal Tunnel Chair,” and "The Pillow with Cantilever Supports.," The Buttpillow® has several configurations so you can find the best cushion for your workstation. For example, Gamers need a rearward tilt if they lean back & coders typically need a forward sloping cushion. The Buttpillow® was improved upon as it was determined different embodiments were needed for proper ergonomic positioning depending on the individual sitter. The Patented "Ergonomic Seating Cushion,” was was granted by the USPTO; and was later amended to include an embodiment specifically to help women maintain the natural curve of their lumbar spine during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. An extreme lumbar curve that restricts blood flow to the fetus is the only external risk factor for low birth weight babies. In 2003, I invented Ergosoft™ break reminder software based on OSHAs Ergonomic Standard so people can identify and minimize ergonomic risk factors for the development of sitting-related pain, eye strain, DVT and carpal tunnel syndrome.

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