Painful Sex - Reasons and Remedies
Many women of all ages experience symptoms of emotional and physical pain during intercourse. It may be infrequent, occurring every now and then, or you may be experiencing pain every time penetration is attempted. The pain can be subtle, short, intense, deep, sharp or long, and it can occur before, during or after intercourse. This could be due to physical complications such as vaginal dryness, hormone imbalances, ovarian cysts, fibroids, dehydration, intercourse too soon after child birth or other gynecological disorders. Painful sex can also arise from emotional distress including anxiety, stress, trauma or intimacy issues and an inability to fully trust or let-go with your partner.
Painful sex that is ongoing can result in the loss of sexual interest and physical and emotional intimacy. Healing the root cause can help you overcome pain during sex. The following common causes, solutions and remedies serve to help guide you in your healing.
Vaginal dryness can affect any woman and has a variety of causes:
Changes in hormones - low estrogen, as typically occurs during menopause, impacts the body's ability to secrete lubrication. Low testosterone and DHEA can also contribute to vaginal dryness at any age.
Medications - can reduce vaginal lubrication
Sexual arousal - low libido and inability to become aroused can limit the vagina’s ability to produce lubricating fluids
Chemical irritants - hygiene products such as body wash, shaving cream and laundry soap often contain chemicals, perfumes and other ingredients that interfere with hormones and disrupt vaginal pH
Anxiety - stress and anxiety can lead to issues of arousal which are needed to stimulate the secretion of vaginal fluids
Conventional lubricants could actually be contributing to vaginal dryness rather than helping. This is because they often contain toxic ingredients, preservatives, additives and fragrances that irritate and disrupt the pH of the vagina.
Choose products that are all natural, or use a carrier oil such as coconut oil, almond oil, or vitamin E oil. Test the natural lubricant on a small area of your and your partner’s skin before use, such as on the arm or leg, to test for sensitivity or reaction.*note that oil based lubricants may compromise the integrity of condoms.
Lubricating Foods - When it comes to managing symptoms of vaginal dryness or preventing the onset, your diet is the most effective place to start. Vaginal lubrication comes from secretions of the glands in the cervix and vagina, and vaginal fluid comes from the bloodstream. Vaginal fluid droplets are rich in sodium, potassium, calcium, and other electrolytes and proteins that seep through the vaginal cells into the vaginal lumen or canal. Two factors that enhance vaginal lubrication are staying hydrated and consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins.
Consume: avocado, nuts & seeds, flax, hemp, wild caught fish, olive oil & coconut oil.
Hormones act as chemical messengers that are involved in almost every process within the body. Hormones are produced and secreted by the endocrine glands as well as obtained through our diet and external environment.
Hormone imbalances can be caused by:
Diet - low and poor quality fats, junk food, lack of vitamins and minerals, conventional animal products which contain synthetic hormones
Lifestyle - stress, anxiety, depression, sedentary habits
Chemical exposure - plastics, xenoestrogens, medications, the Birth Control Pill, pesticides from non-organic produce
Other - poor digestion, infection, illness, disease, inflammation
Healing Hormone Imbalances
Correcting and healing hormone imbalance is a complex process that should be done with the help and support of a holistic practitioner. But there are many things that you can do to support your body and promote healthy hormones through diet, lifestyle and herbal supplementation.
Include: essential fatty acids, good quality protein, complex carbohydrates, lots of vegetables especially leafy greens, fermented foods, fiber and plenty of water. AVOID saturated or ‘hard’ fats, conventional meats, dairy, sugar, processed, refined and fried foods.
Include: natural personal care, beauty, and household cleaning products with simple and clean ingredients. Avoid: fragrances, chemical products, and plastics.
Hydration- is so important for keeping your body healthy and happy. Adequate water intake is needed for every function in the body including brain function, digestion, energy, organ function and immune health.Dehydration is a leading cause of all ailments, illness and disease, and could be a cause of vaginal dryness and painful sex.Be sure to drink at least 2L of filtered water each day, include hydrating foods such as celery, cucumber, leafy greens, watermelon and berries, and avoid coffee and black tea as they are actually dehydrating to the body.
Movement- A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to vaginal dryness, hormone imbalance and a build-up of tissue as it slows blood flow and the movement of energy and life force through the body. Move as often as possible - daily walks and stretching also help to keep the body flowing. ExerciseBenefits the body is so many ways. It moves fluids around in the body, including blood and lymph. This helps to clear stagnation from the body. Taking a 20 minute walk several times a week is a good place to begin. A mini-trampoline or rebounder can be used inside year round and it supports significant movement of the blood and lymph.
Vitex (chaste tree berry) this herb reduces estrogen levels by promoting the production of progesterone. For best results, vitex should be taken for at least six months.
Best taken in capsule or tincture form.
Black cohosh This root promotes regulation of the entire menstrual cycle. For women with a uterus that feels inflamed or irritated throughout the month, Black cohosh may be an effective option in relaxing the uterus by helping to reduce inflammation.
Best taken in tea or tincture form.
Red Raspberry leaf. Raspberry leaf works to tone the uterine muscles and normalize blood flow during menses. This is one of the best normalizing or overall tonic herbs for the female reproductive organs. Raspberry leaf is astringent, contracting and shrinking internal and external body tissues. It may help prevent hemorrhage due to excessive bleeding and is one of the best herbs for uterine health.
Best taken as an infusion.
Evening primrose oil is a source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that can help influence prostaglandin synthesis. Essential fatty acids in the form of evening primrose oil will have a variety of benefits on the body as it is trying to balance hormones and keep body heat under control. This oil will help with the production of estrogen.
Red clover has been known to decrease abnormal cervical cell growth/cervical dysplasia. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce PMS-related acne. As it elevates estrogen, red clover supports the menopause phase, and decreases vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and night sweats. It’s also helpful in cases of low-estrogen.
Dong Quai increases circulation, which helps to bring in fresh healthy blood to remove excess tissue growth, heal tissue damage, as well as limit scar tissue and adhesion formation. Healthy circulation ensures healthy natural cleansing of the body as well. Dong Quai also has an estrogenic effect on the body, meaning it may help regulate hormone levels and relieve menopausal symptoms, including vaginal dryness. It is used as a natural alternative to synthetic-hormone based birth control options due to its ability to balance hormones naturally.
Best taken in tincture form. 3 x daily for a therapeutic dose.
*do not take if you are pregnant or trying to conceive
Pain during intercourse could be a sign of certain gynaecological disorders. Below is a brief description of some disorders that may contribute to painful intercourse, with a few healing tips. However, It is a good idea to contact your naturopath or gynaecologist if you suspect one of these issues for further assessment and treatment options.
Endometriosis - is the abnormal growth and buildup of cells that form in the lining of the uterus and other organs in the lower abdomen. This can produce a host of symptoms including pain during intercourse.
Include: whole foods and grains, raw fruits and vegetables, fibre rich foods, green juice and smoothies.
Avoid: alcohol, caffeine, animal fats, dairy products, fried foods, additives, fast food, red meats, and sugar.
Helpful herbs: alfalfa (for vitamin K and minerals), astragalus, garlic, goldenseal, red clover and burdock (for natural antibiotic and anti-tumor properties), burdock root, Dong quai and red raspberry leaf (to help balance hormones), and nettle (for iron).
Uterine Fibroids- are benign growths that can form into the interior muscular wall as well as the exterior uterus and sometimes the cervix. Many women who have fibroids may never even know unless they are discovered during a pelvic examination. In many cases there are no symptoms involved, however they can produce various symptoms including painful intercourse.
Helpful herbs: dandelion root, milk thistle and skullcap (powerful antioxidants); red clover and burdock (aid in cleansing the blood stream)
PCOS - is best described as a group of symptoms related to an-ovulation (lack of ovulation) and a high level of androgens or male hormones (such as testosterone, androstenedione and DHEAS). It is essentially a problem with ovulation, which results in an overproduction of androgens. The main symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods (specifically late periods or bleeding for more than 7 days), hirsutism (excess facial and body hair), acne, hair loss, weight gain and infertility. The most common driver of PCOS is insulin resistance - which can drive androgen excess if you are genetically susceptible to PCOS.
Insulin resistance drives PCOS in three ways:
It directly affects the ovaries by impairing ovulation and causing them to make testosterone instead of estradiol.
Too much insulin stimulates your pituitary to make more luteinizing hormones (LH) which stimulates even more androgens.
Lowers sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) resulting in a greater amount of free testosterone.
Include: an abundance of veggies, especially green leafy veggies, organic animal products and eggs, sustainably sourced and wild caught fish, healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds as well as their oils, high fiber foods (fresh ground flax and chia seeds are excellent)
Avoid: sugar, most (high-sugar) fruits (berries are fine), processed, packaged and fried foods.
Some other specifics to consider for PCOS treatment and hormonal imbalances:
Low impact exercise vs high intensity. While high intensity interval training, circuit training and burst training are all the rage, they are not the best choice for hormonal imbalances. These forms of exercise elevate your stress hormones, especially cortisol, which directly inhibits the synthesis of progesterone and alters the estrogen-to-progesterone ratio. Better choices are lower intensity exercises such as brisk walks, swimming, barre, yoga, pilates, and tai chi. Exercising with light to moderate weights at low intensity can also be beneficial.
Manage stress + plenty of sleep. As discussed above, stress plays a critical role in hormone balance by disrupting the delicate balance of the sex hormones. If you are under a great deal of stress, it is absolutely imperative that you incorporate stress management techniques into your routine each and every day. Yoga, meditation, journaling, a warm bath with epsom salts, deep breathing exercises and getting out in nature are all excellent options. Not every option works for every person, so experiment to find what works best for you!
Magnesium: helps balance blood sugar levels by sensitizing insulin receptors, reduces cravings, supports sleep cycles, and promotes hormone production. Magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate have been shown to be most effective for PCOS. Best taken as a supplement & in baths.
Vitex: herb that promotes ovulation and calms the nervous system. Best taken as a tincture.
Milk Thistle: To support liver health & regeneration. Best taken as a tincture.
Berberine: helps improve PCOS symptoms such as acne and reduces anxiety. It also helps sensitize insulin receptors and block androgen production, which is made in excess with PCOS. Be cautious with berberine: do not use long-term (3+ months) as it is antimicrobial and can alter gut bacteria. Best taken as a supplement.
Maca: for hormone regulation, blood sugar management and boosted immunity.
Castor oil packs. These are an ancient therapy that help to cleanse and heal the body where they are placed. The castor oil has a drawing power that clears the body of excess tissues and toxins. Castor oil packs stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems. The lymphatic system removes toxins and waste from the area stimulated by the castor oil pack. The promotion of circulation by the castor oil pack will also bring in fresh oxygenated, nutrient rich blood to the reproductive organs, including the uterus. This is vital to reducing and dissolving uterine fibroids, cysts and abnormal tissues. Do not use during menstruation.
More reasons for Pain during sex
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) - are passed through sexual contact and vary in symptoms and severity. They can lead to inflammation, swelling, pain and irritation during intercourse.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) - are a very common cause of painful sex and involves inflammation of the bladder which can become aggravated during penetration. It’s best to avoid intercourse until the infection has cleared.
D-Mannose (for treating E. coli infection): D-Mannose is the active ingredient in cranberry juice and very effective for acute treatment. It coats and sticks to bacteria and helps eliminate it with urination.
Cranberry Extract: Helps block bacteria from attaching to urinary tract lining cells and forces them out of the body through the urine.
Note: Avoid cranberry juice because it is usually full of sugar and less concentrated.
Vitamin C: Can be preventative and helpful for clearing the infection. It enhances immune function and inhibits E.Coli growth
Lifestyle Support + Herbs for Healing
Yoni steaming also known as vaginal steaming or V-Steam, is a practice that has been done for centuries by many women who experience life-changing benefits. A yoni steam is a practice that allows herbal steam to permeate the external vagina. By applying gentle heat and moisture, the medicinal plant oils are carried into the exterior tissue of the vagina increasing circulation and exposing the inner labia mucous membranes. The medicinal oils from the herbs are absorbed into the bloodstream and circulated into the reproductive system where they help to cleanse, clear and stimulate healing in the vagina.
Herbs to use - nettles, red raspberry, calendula, mugwort, rose.
*Avoid steaming during menstruation, pregnancy, when trying to conceive or if you have a IUD.
Womb Massage with oils - relaxes the body, supports healing in the womb and pelvic areas, helps clear stagnant energy by increasing circulation + helps to clear imbalance of tissues.
Prepping for intercourse can make a huge difference in the experience of sex for you and your partner. It takes time (especially for the woman) to prepare for intercourse. The body responds incredibly well to heightened intimacy, touch, massage, kissing and closeness. Take more time for foreplay, kissing and connection before penetration to ensure the vagina is adequately lubricated. Use, oil during massage and a personal lubricant to deepen the arousal and further prevent pain from friction during intercourse.
Allergy to latex -Many women are allergic to latex, look for non-latex condoms with natural lubricants or add a natural lubricant product that is condom safe. Many health-food stores carry great options.
Relaxation and Stress reduction
Emotional issues are among the most common causes of pain during sex. Stress, depression, anxiety, issues of self confidence, emotional trauma from past sexual experiences or past sexual abuse, fear and anticipation of pain put stress on the body, causing the pelvic floor muscles to tense and tighten, as well as inhibiting the production of vaginal lubrication fluids. Create a trusting connection with your partner, where sex is a safe place to explore, relax, let-go, and truly enjoy one another.
Herbs for relaxation and libido support - may also be useful to help you relax, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve libido
Chamomile - a gentle relaxant that will help reduce anxiety. Known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and will help ease mental tension.
Lemon Balm - a gentle nervine relaxant to help reduce anxiety
Kava Kava - mellowing effect to reduce anxiety and nervousness
Damiana - increases sexual desire as an aphrodisiac by supporting sexual organs and enhancing sexual pleasure (place a dropperfull of damiana extract under your tongue and hour or two before sexual activity - may take several days to become apparent)
Maca - balances hormones and can increase libido (use as a powder or capsule)
Herbs For rejuvenating the reproductive system:
Shatavari (asparagus racemosa)
Ashwagandha (withania somnifera)
Amla (embelica officinalis)
These herbs are anti-aging allies and adaptogens. They help promote a healthy reproductive system and improve reproductive function and fertility.
Pain during intercourse is a common condition experienced by many women. From physical problems to emotional concerns, painful sex has many possible causes. It is important to deepen the connection with yourself and your body, to get to know what it is trying to tell you and where your pain is coming from.