A survey of 7,000 sexually active women aged 16 to 74 found that sex is painful for a lot of women — they just don’t like to talk about it.

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The study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, suggests that the problem is much more common than we thought. Medically, the condition is called dyspareunia and its symptoms and manifestations vary greatly. The pain can come either from the external surface of the genitalia or deeper in the pelvis upon deep pressure against the cervix. The pain can be localized or generalized and more or less intense. But no matter how dyspareunia manifests itself, all women suffering from it have one thing in common: they don’t like to talk about it.

Doctors say treatments are available but this is a complex issue with many potential causes. Basically, the underlying cause is not always physical — sometimes it’s psychological or social, and that’s harder to deal with, but still possible. Yet women still treat it as taboo and would rather avoid sexual intercourse than speaking to their doctors about this.

Of those who reported painful sex (7.5%), most were in their late 50s and early 60s but after that, the most common category was women aged 16-24. Lead researcher, Dr Kirstin Mitchell, from LSHTM and the University of Glasgow, explains:

“In younger women, it might be that they are starting out in their sexual lives and they are going along with things that their partner wants but they are not particularly aroused by. Or they might be feeling tense because they are new to sex and they are not feeling 100% comfortable with their partner.”

The thing is that most problems, even minor ones, can easily evolve into something bigger, whether it affects their health or their lifestyle. Sex may be taboo, but it’s a significant part of our lives and it shouldn’t be something to easily give up on. This is why it’s important to talk to your doctor if such a problem emerges. Don’t take advice from the internet (as ironic as it is for me to write this here), just talk to your doctor and try to find a solution. Researchers conclude:

“Many women reporting painful sex also reported another sexual function problem: 62.0% reported lack of interest in sex (compared with 31.9% of women with no pain), 45.2% reported vaginal dryness (compared with 10.4%), 40.2% reported difficulty reaching climax (compared with 14.4%), and 40.1% reported lacking enjoyment (compared with 9.9%). Painful sex was strongly associated with all the sexual function problems we measured, and in particular, with vaginal dryness, feeling anxious during sex and lacking enjoyment in sex.”

Journal Reference: KR Mitchel et al. Painful sex (dyspareunia) in women: prevalence and associated factors in a British population probability survey. DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.14518

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