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6 Possible Reasons You’re Having Difficulty Penetrating During Sex
Has sex been painful during penetration? The condition, known as vaginismus, is not as uncommon as you might think. Here are six possible reasons you’re having trouble in the bedroom.
You’re in the bedroom on your wedding night getting hot and heavy, when at that crucial moment, you squeal in pain as he tries to penetrate. It’s your first time having actual coitus with your groom, but you didn’t expect you would have difficulty between the sheets. The harder you try, the more anxious you get, making things worse. You think you’re both tired and decide to leave it until the next morning, but it happens again. What are you doing wrong? Or worse, is something wrong going on down there?
Before you start blaming your hubby or yourself, know that it’s not an uncommon problem, especially for couples attempting sex for the first time. We know you must be frustrated, but before you seek a specialist, here are some possible causes of your difficulties, and we have expert advice on what you can do to get on the road to a pleasurable sexual experience.
Reason #1. You don’t really know what goes where
Singapore is still by and large a conservative country, and the general air of embarrassment when it comes to talking about sex leaves some couples entering marriage clueless about what goes where. A survey conducted by Kotex in 2009 even revealed that 60% of Singaporean women aged 16-24 didn’t know that they had three orifices down south. As Professor P. Ganesa Adaikan, Clinical Sexologist at National University Hospital, explains, “A certain level of sexual knowledge about the anatomy of the genitals, foreplay, and coital position is important for a successful intimate relationship.” Understanding where your lady bits are and how they respond to sexual arousal is the first step to good, pain-free sex.
Taking some time to understand and become familiar with your body can clear up any confusion about exactly where he should put it. You can now look up everything online on your mobile phone. Figure out what and where your bits are with anatomical illustrations and a hand mirror. Spread open your labia, and between your clitoris and your anus, there are two orifices: your urethral opening on top where your urine exits, and your vaginal opening below.
Your vaginal canal is positioned at an angle in your body, not straight up and down as you and your partner might have imagined. Since the vaginal canal is tilted backwards toward the small of your back, your partner should be trying penetration at a slight angle. If you’re unfamiliar with the angle of your vagina, try inserting your fingers or a tampon before trying penetration.
Experts also suggest exploring your body to discover what makes you feel good. For a start, try going somewhere you won’t be disturbed, and touching yourself, from your breasts to between your legs. You could also try masturbation to see what gets you to orgasm. Most women reach orgasm from stimulation to the clitoris, one of the most erogenous zones on a female body. Try using some lubrication to explore yourself down there, and see whether you prefer light strokes, or fast, vigorous ones. Exploring your body and figuring out what you like will make you more comfortable with your body, which helps you feel more relaxed with your partner when you’re together. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to guide your partner during sex.
Reason #2. You’re too tense or nervous
You’ve never had sex before, and you’re nervous. You’re not sure what to expect, and instead of enjoying yourself, you’re anxious, and worried that it will hurt. Or, you have had sex before, but you’re feeling stressed about your special wedding night. All the sex scenes in movies you’ve seen tell you that sex should be passionate, hot, and result in mind-blowing orgasms. Plus, you should have washboard abs or luscious locks that graze your bountiful figure as you hold Karma Sutra positions 3 through 47–while looking irresistibly sexy, of course. You’re trying so hard to achieve Hollywood’s image of sex that instead of making love to your partner, you’re tensing up about doing things wrong, and it hurts when he attempts to penetrate.
The vagina is a flexible, muscular canal that can stretch to accommodate a baby, but it can also contract when you’re tense and anxious, which could cause difficulty penetrating during sex. A lack of relaxation and arousal can also lead to pain due to insufficient lubrication. Worrying about whether you’re doing it right can also lead to tension, making it even harder to penetrate during sex.
Engage in foreplay. Lots of it. Help your partner discover your body until you are both comfortable and you are sufficiently lubricated. Ask your partner to go down on you or lightly stimulate your clitoris with his fingers. The clitoris is one of the major erogenous zones on a female’s body and contributes the most to sexual arousal. If he does something that feels really good, tell him. Don’t forget that you’re both in this for the long term, and being shy won’t help. Make an appreciative noise or touch him on the shoulder to tell him he’s on the right track.
When you’re aroused and lubricated, ask him to test your comfort level by inserting a finger first, then two into your vagina. If it hurts, go back to doing what was enjoyable. If it’s mentally exhausting at this point, take a break and try again at a later time. Try having a little wine to loosen you up if it helps!
To get rid of performance anxiety, toss the bright lights in your bedroom. Leave just a corner lamp on, or create some mood lighting with candles. Wear something sexy that your partner helped you pick out. If you’re still conscious about your body at this point, leave your lingerie on. Three of the most flattering positions for you are missionary, doggie-style and girl-on-top. Try them all until you find one you’re comfortable with. Or, you could bring a blindfold into bed. Put it over your eyes and let your partner explore your body. That way, you can’t see your own body and hinder your own pleasure because of the initial insecurities you have about your body. How about putting the blindfold on him instead? Then you can do whatever you want to him. After seeing his reactions to you, you’ll start to lose your inhibitions.
Reason #3. You’re not lubricated enough
When you get aroused, the blood vessels in your genitals dilate and there is an increase in blood flow to the vaginal walls. This causes fluid to pass through them, lubricating the vaginal passage for penetration. “Achieving sufficient arousal during foreplay is necessary for the release of lubrication which can contribute to the ease of penetration and pain-free intercourse,” says Professor P. Ganesa Adaikan. In other words, feeling aroused and turned on will get you wet and make penetrative sex more enjoyable. On the other hand, if you’re not in the mood, vaginal dryness will make penetrative sex uncomfortable and painful. Your body’s natural lubricant can also be affected by other factors, such as stress, medication, or birth-control pills. The medical term for painful intercourse is dyspareunia, which is a persistent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse. Talk to your doctor if you’re still having painful intercourse after using lubrication so that he or she can determine the actual cause of the pain.
Bring a lubricant to bed with you and use it to make things more comfortable. There are silicone and water-based lubricants and massage gels on the market that you can apply during intercourse to heighten enjoyment. Water-based lubricants or “lubes” are popular for their safety of use with condoms, and their ease of use; they’re water-soluble, so they’re easy to wash off yourselves and your sheets. Just before penetration, spread the lubricant between your palms and glide it onto your partner’s penis to make penetrative sex smoother. Get him to repay the favour by applying it to your clitoris. Pause sex and reapply whenever you need to.
Reason #4. You have a condition called Vaginismus
“Vaginismus in women is a condition of involuntary tightening of the muscles surrounding the outer one-third of the vagina on attempts of intercourse that lead to perceived or real pain,” explains Professor P. Ganesa Adaikan.
It’s an instantaneous and involuntary response that makes penetration painful or impossible. “It’s been reported that one in ten women have vaginismus globally, but this seems to be a higher number in Asia,” says certified sexologist Dr Martha Tara Lee, who receives several enquiries each week from women who have suffered from vaginismus. “Vaginismus is a psychological fear of penetration causing the vagina to tense up, making penetrative sex difficult or impossible. Both the woman with vaginismus and her partner can feel very distressed, helpless, frustrated, and inadequate. She might experience self-blame and a loss of self-confidence for her inability to have penetrative sex. Inaccurate sexual information and the lack of understanding of the woman’s body will worsen the condition, often leading to alienation and even break-ups.”
For Melissa*, 35, one of Dr. Martha Tara Lee’s patients, vaginismus prevented her from consummating her marriage of 10 years. “Realising that the cause was psychological, I made sure she understood her sexual anatomy (what is what and where), and the sexual response cycle (what happens during sex),” the sexologist says.
Their sessions began the process of demystifying what sex was, and Dr. Martha Tara Lee taught Melissa a series of relaxation techniques and pelvic exercises to do every day. “The purpose was to retrain her to develop awareness and comfort with her body as well as to sensitise and strengthen her pelvic muscles,” she explains. After two sessions, Melissa was able to have penetrative sex for the first time.
While medical science doesn’t have concrete answers about what causes vaginismus, it’s often linked to anxiety and fear, such as a fear of getting pregnant, or anticipation of pain from intercourse. Psychological reasons behind vaginismus could also include traumatic sexual experiences in the past. It may occur with any object, such as a tampon, or during a medical exam.
You could be feeling anxious about having sex with your partner for other reasons, such as guilt, fear, or lack of emotional attachment. Do you feel uncomfortable with the idea of sex because of a conservative upbringing? Do you feel like you’re not quite ready? Try taking some time to examine your feelings, or talking them through with your partner to build a deeper emotional connection and to feel more comfortable with your partner before trying again.
If you think you might be suffering from vaginismus, you may want to seek sex counselling or behavioural therapy, to work out issues such as fear, guilt, inner conflict, or emotions regarding past abuse.
Your doctor may also prescribe treatments for vaginismus, such as vaginal moisturisers to combat vaginal dryness, or numbing cream for pain during penetration. Other treatments include Kegel exercises to help you control when your vaginal muscles contract and relax, as well as vaginal dilators to stretch the vagina. Vaginal dilators usually come in a set of graduated sizes to gently stretch the vaginal opening and vaginal depth to comfortably accept penetration. Exercises begin with the smallest dilator inserted into the vagina with the help of a lubricant. Once the dilator can be comfortably fully inserted, the next size up can be tried.
Reason #5. Your partner may be suffering from erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction could be why you’re having difficulty penetrating during sex. It’s a common issue that could be caused by multiple factors, such as chronic illness, medications, being too tired, or drinking too much alcohol. Certain diseases like nerve and brain disorders or diabetes can lead to erectile dysfunction as well. It is also caused by emotional and psychogenic reasons such as anxiety. Dr Martha Tara Lee works with patients who have erectile dysfunction caused by psychological reasons. “I would discuss the causes of their anxiety, and teach them practices they can do to attain better sexual confidence—including but not limited to pelvic floor squeezes,” she shares.
Partners of women suffering from vaginismus could be suffering their own dysfunctions in response. “These conditions can also cause their partners to develop psychogenic erectile dysfunction, or impotence in men caused by psychological or emotional factors,” explains Professor P. Ganesa Adaikan. “Deep-seated misconceptions about sexuality could also cause anxiety. In men, performance anxiety due to an initial failure to have sex can spiral into further anxiety and failures that can result in psychogenic erectile dysfunction, diminution of desire and intimacy, and total avoidance of any further attempts of sexual intercourse.”
If your partner’s erectile dysfunction is caused by psychological factors such as stress or performance anxiety, you can try taking the pressure off by focusing on something other than penetration. Turn the focus on other sexual activities that you both enjoy, or do something different to change things up.
Try reading or watching something sexy together, or experimenting with sex toys and games to enhance his arousal. For yourself, don’t take things personally, or fall prey to doubts about your attractiveness, which can cause you to become tense and make penetration during sex more difficult or painful. Understanding that neither of you are to blame will help you to be supportive of each other. Erectile dysfunction is a more common issue that you might realise. If you’re concerned, you can seek professional help from a doctor or sexologist.
Reason #6. It’s Physical
If you’re pretty relaxed and comfortable with your body, and still have difficulty penetrating during sex or experience a lot of pain when you attempt it, you might be facing physical issues. Sexually transmitted diseases, infection in the genitals, or other medical reasons could cause pain during sexual intercourse. Structural abnormalities could also be a cause of pain. Some possible medical issues include a vaginal septum, a rare condition in which the vagina is divided into two chambers by a wall of flesh, causing painful obstruction to penetration; or endometriosis, where the uterine lining grows outside the uterus instead of inside it, causing severe cramping and pain when it sheds.
Sexual dysfunction symptoms are also more common among patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, psoriasis, depression, or cardiovascular disease. Pain can be one of the first signs that something may be seriously wrong with a woman’s reproductive organs. Living with pain caused by medical issues for long periods of time may also cause your body to develop vaginismus, as it tries to protect itself from more pain. To rule out underlying medical causes to your inability to penetrate during sex, consult a medical professional.
Dr Martha Tara Lee is a Clinical Sexologist and Relationship Coach at Eros Coaching.
Professor P. Ganesan Adaikan is a Clinical Sexologist with the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the National University Hospital, quoted in “Ask the Experts – Can’t Have Sex.”