Impact of Painful Sex

Impact of Painful Sex on a Couple's Relationship

Mary Buxton, LCSW and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist.

One of the area’s that I treat is the problem of painful intercourse. There are many reasons why this might be happening and that is part of the puzzle that we have to figure out during assessment. 

Women who are experiencing painful intercourse usually feel like they are the only one with this problem.  However, it is estimated that between 15 to 20% for women in the US suffer from painful sex.  So in reality, you have lots of company! 

Here’s what happens to the couple when pain enters into the picture for them during intimacy. At first, many women just try to tough it out. They care about their partner and do not want to spoil intimacy for them. So they often try really hard at first to cope in spite of the pain.  They might try different things and hope that they can get the pain to go away.   At any rate they continue suffering through pain there by pairing pain with intercourse and teaching themselves again and again that intercourse hurts.  And it gets frustrating to participate in something that causes you pain.

At this point, she may start to withdraw emotionally and physically.  Often she’s embarrassed and feels somehow to blame herself for somehow causing the problem and for not being “normal”.  It’s a difficult topic to discuss for many people so they don’t talk about it. Her partner usually does not understand and takes the withdrawal personally.  The partner incorrectly assumes that they are unattractive or rejected.  Tensions and distance brew.  Touch and affection dwindle because for many people, touch starts to mean intercourse instead of affection.  For the person experiencing pain, the idea of intercourse means pain.  So, they start to avoid, get anxious, depressed.  Early on in sex therapy, we reestablish affection while we work on trying to figure out and treat the pain.

One of the best kept secrets in women’s health care is that there is help for pelvic and vulvar pain.  Multidisciplinary treatment includes a sex therapist, pelvic floor physical therapy, a medical doctor and a home program. It’s both challenging and hopeful.  Many cases get better altogether and others improve. If this is a problem for you, you can give me a call to discuss it, check out the books on my booklist, or check out, and for information and referrals if you are out of the area.


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Mary M Buxton LCSW, Inc. - Sex & Couple Therapy - Licensed Clinical Social Worker  #LCS 7780
15951 Los Gatos Blvd., #14, Los Gatos CA 95032 -  Phone: 408. 371.4847 -  Email Mary

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