5 Ways to Make Sex Less Painful, According to a Sex Therapist

If you’ve experienced recurrent painful sex, then you know just how physically and emotionally distressing…

If you’ve experienced recurrent painful sex, then you know just how physically and emotionally distressing it can be. Some common culprits include endometriosis, vaginismus, skin infection, injury (for instance, during childbirth), and emotional trauma—and each comes with its own treatment plan.

It’s important to investigate the root cause of your discomfort with the help of your doctor, who may be able to recommend medications, exercises, or therapies that can help. However, there are a few things you can do at home that could work wonders for improving your pain, as well as your overall well being, in the meantime.

Read on to learn one sex therapist’s top five tips for making sex less painful.

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Though mindfulness may not directly lessen pain during sex, a recent study found that it can help alleviate “sex-related distress” for those who experience pain during intercourse.

Sarah Melancon, PhD, a sociologist and sexologist who works as a sexual counselor, researcher, and educator, tells Best Life that practicing mindfulness can help you better understand and come to terms with your condition. “Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment without judgment,” she explains. “Mindfulness can help you to accept what you feel in your body without fear or judgment; fear of pain can sometimes worsen pain.”

She adds that mindfulness can also “help you observe any patterns around your pain, for instance, if it occurs more at certain parts of the menstrual cycle (for females), after a conflict with your partner, or while extra stressed at work.”

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Regardless of the root cause of your pain during intercourse, it’s important that you talk to your partner about it. “Often, individuals who struggle with sexual pain keep it to themselves, acting like they feel better during sex than they actually do,” explains Melancon, noting that many people are concerned about interrupting the mood. “The end result is partners who are disconnected during what are supposed to be their most intimate moments.”

Melancon says concealing pain from your partner can actually make it worse, while “opening up about your pain can increase emotional intimacy.” She recommends talking to your partner about the circumstances under which the pain occurs, whether anything has helped alleviate your pain in the past, your sexual preferences, and what you need when the pain arises (for instance, a break, a hug, or kind words of compassion).

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For some people who experience pain during sex, non-sexual massage can help alleviate symptoms. “Often, we only engage with our genitals when going to the bathroom and having sex. However, giving love to this part of our body more generally can be healing, especially when it hurts!” says Melancon.

She says that depending where your pain is, you may feel relief by massaging with fingers or a toy. “For some individuals, pressing and holding firmly on areas of pain—rather than vigorous massage —can provide greater relief.”

Many individuals also benefit from using dilators, which can help to gently stretch the vaginal tissue.

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Melancon says pelvic floor therapy is another key way to make sex less painful. “Pelvic floor therapists work with many different types of sexual pain for both men and women,” she explains. “A pelvic floor therapist will listen to your history and examine your anatomy. They typically recommend certain exercises in-office and/or at home between sessions,” she adds. She notes that some pelvic floor therapists are “more holistically-oriented,” meaning they will “look at the body-mind-spirit contributions to your pain, and any emotional issues that are often interconnected.”

According to Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, located in New York City, one in three women experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives. “Pelvic pain lasting more than six months is reported by five to 25 percent of people with female anatomy which accounts for 10 percent of gynecological visits,” they write.

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As another remedy for painful sex, Melancon recommends trying lubricants or suppositories that contain CBD. These may help relax the pelvic floor and increase blood flow to the area, ultimately resulting in a more pleasurable experience. However, it’s worth noting that so far, benefits are considered anecdotal, since clinical research on CBD suppositories is currently limited.

The good news? Most water-based lubricants are also likely to decrease pain and improve sensation during sex.

If you’re experiencing pain during intercourse, speak with your doctor about what could be causing it, and how to relieve it.

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