Tracey Cox reveals why increasing numbers of women are finding sex painful

Sex is supposed to be something you look forward to.

But for the many women who find it painful, sex is something they dread.

A Durex survey earlier this year of more than 1200 UK adults found that 73 per cent of women in UK find sex uncomfortable. 

With one third saying pain is hindering their libido and one in 10 say it’s having an adverse effect on their relationship.

One of the primary causes of sexual discomfort is vaginal dryness, estimated to affect between 20 and 40 per cent of women aged 17 to 50.

A Durex survey earlier this year of more than 1200 UK adults found that 73 per cent of women in UK find sex uncomfortable

Yep – 17! Middle aged women aren’t the only ones who are suffering.

Tense vaginal muscles – caused by not being fully aroused, anxiety, over painful sex in the past, or past trauma like sexual assault – can also cause pain at any age.

Other causes of painful sex include vaginismus (an involuntary tightening of the outer third of the vagina that makes penetration difficult or impossible), high-tone, pelvic floor dysfunction (when the muscles that support the vagina, bladder, and rectum become tense and can’t relax) and yeast infections, cystitis or STI’s (which make our vaginas feel sore and irritated).

Then there is pelvic pain is caused by adhesions, endometriosis (scar tissue), fibroids and cysts. Hysterectomy and other pelvic surgery can sometimes end up making intercourse painful. As can some cancer treatments.

The list of causes is long, exhaustive – and exhausting and frustrating for sufferers.

Happily, there’s a lot you can do to alleviate the problem.


Ask what’s available to treat your specific condition. 

Drug names and treatments change constantly, so there’s no point in me naming specific medications, but there usually is a treatment for most conditions.

It might be a pill or cream or vaginal pessary. It might involve doing some ‘homework’, like pelvic floor exercises (see below).

Sometimes, though, the treatment doesn’t work – or there isn’t one.

In that case, the only option might be to avoid intercourse entirely and redefine sex.

That sounds extreme but it’s completely possible to enjoy non-penetrative sex sessions – some women enjoy them more than they did sex that revolved around intercourse.

Mutual masturbation, oral sex, extended foreplay – intercourse isn’t the only sexual activity that ends in orgasm!

Always add lube before penetration.

Just one third of women in the Durex study said they’d use lube with a partner – despite nine in 10 saying sex felt better when they did.

Sex expert Tracey Cox revealed why increasing numbers of women are finding sex painful and offered her top tips to make intercourse more pleasurable

Sex expert Tracey Cox revealed why increasing numbers of women are finding sex painful and offered her top tips to make intercourse more pleasurable 

This is bonkers.

Both men and women are guilty of thinking that not being ‘wet’ means you’re not ‘turned on enough’ or that there’s something ‘wrong’ with you.


You can be aroused and still not be wet: it all depends on what’s causing the vaginal dryness.

If you don’t want your partner to know you’re using lube (and quite frankly, I’d ditch my partner rather than the lube if they had a problem with it), insert it high into the vagina five minutes before you have sex and let it work its way down naturally.

Using lube is an essential, not a luxury.

You might also want to team it with a vaginal moisturiser. 

They’re different from lubes: you use them even when you’re not having sex to keep everything moist and comfortable.

Go for one that doesn’t contain parabens or aspartame and insert before bedtime.

Double the time you spend on foreplay

Skilful foreplay is enormously important and certainly helps to make intercourse feel far more comfortable.

Forty-two percent of the women in the Durex survey blamed their partner for painful sex caused by dryness, saying they ‘didn’t know how to pleasure them’.

This might be true. But if it is, speak up!

Tell them what techniques work for you and what don’t.

Your partner isn’t a mind reader: be honest about what’s enjoyable and what isn’t.

Take time to relax into sex.

Put some lubricant on the head of his penis and use it to stroke the vulva, over the clitoris and around the opening, to get ready for penetration.

Her advice includes doubling the amount of time spent on foreplay, always adding lube or even using a squishy 'buffer' ring

Her advice includes doubling the amount of time spent on foreplay, always adding lube or even using a squishy ‘buffer’ ring

Don’t rush it, take it slowly.

Having an orgasm before penetration also helps to relax the vagina.

Choose positions that don’t allow deep penetration.

The position chosen accounts for 42 per cent of women’s pain on penetration.

Any position where you’re in control, rather than him, works (you on top, for instance). Otherwise, choose positions where you’re both lying fairly flat with your own legs quite close together. 

Spooning sex works well, as does doggy style but with both of you lying flat with his legs on either side of yours.

Practice relaxing your vaginal muscles.

It’s a good idea to do pelvic floor exercises: repetitively squeezing and releasing the same muscles you use to cut off a flow of urine.

Most women assume it’s the ‘squeeze’ that’s the most important part of ‘kegel’ exercises but the ‘release’ part is just as important.

Take your time when doing them and consciously relax the muscles around your vagina.

Breathe. Focus.

Use a kegel training kit

Go one step further to build muscle strength in your pelvic floor: this will also help to prevent pain.

How to deal with painful sex

 Never attempt to self-medicate with vaginal or pelvic pain you absolutely must seek medical help: Dr Google is not a reliable source for solving health problems.

Only a qualified doctor can do that. The first step is always to see your doctor. 

If your doctor is the sort you know will be embarrassed, ask to see a female doctor. Believe me, she’s seen and heard it all before.

Don’t be fobbed off with the advice that using a good lube is all you need. Lube helps but it’s not going to make a scrap of difference in a lot of cases. If you don’t think your doctor is knowledgeable enough or dismissive, ask for a referral to see a gynaecologist or genital urinary specialist.

A good gynaecologist can change your life. If you’re plagued with problems and can afford it, it’s worth paying to see one that’s private and highly recommended (even if you go just for one session).

A good sex therapist may also be useful. Medication or another treatment might sort the physical problem, but painful sex impacts your whole relationship. It makes you nervous about having it and your partner worry you don’t find them attractive. Some men think women make it up to get out of sex.

Kegel training kits are weighted, insertable balls. You start on the lightest weight and build up to the heaviest.

Insert high into the vagina and then do your usual pelvic floor exercises – repetitively squeezing and releasing – around the toner ball.

Change his thrusting style

This is an instant fix – and for some a life changer.

Instead of him using the traditional thrusting method of pulling out then penetrating deeply, switch to a grinding circular motion.

Get him to penetrate slowly, stopping every inch, to let you relax around him. Once he’s fully penetrated, keep your pelvises close and grind together in a circular motion.

He can put his hands under your buttocks to lift your bottom towards him – just make sure to keep the grinding slow and consistent.

Deep, hard, old-style thrusting is almost certainly going to cause pain if you have any issues.

Use a ‘buffer’

You can buy squishy rings that sit at the base of his penis to stop him penetrating deeply during intercourse.

If he’s wearing a buffer, he can thrust away without having to worry about going too deep, and you can relax, knowing it’s not going to hurt if he does get carried away.

‘Ohnut’ is one brand: nice and stretchy and formulated to prevent painful sex. It works very well.

Head to one of the large sex toy retailers and do a search online for a ‘bumper intimacy cushion’ or ‘mini-head stroker’ and you’ll see other choices.

You can also stack a few penis rings to make a larger one, which works on the same principle.

Again, this is an instant fix that can make a huge difference.

Add oestrogen if you’re pre or post-menopausal.

Oestrogen pessaries can make an enormous difference if vaginal dryness if causing the pain.

You could also ask your doctor if you’re suitable for an oestrogen ring which also helps to up the flexibility and thickness of the vaginal wall.

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