Sex should never hurt, of course. But painful sex is a common enough issue that it actually has a medical name. Dyspareunia, or painful intercourse, is any persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs before, during, or after penetrative sex. “It affects an estimated 8% to 20% of women,” Jess O’Reilly, PhD, Astroglide’s resident sexologist, tells Health. “And it can be caused by a number of factors ranging from physical issues (such as an infection) to psychological challenges.”
If you’re experiencing any kind of painful sex, see your doctor to figure out the best solution. You may need pelvic floor therapy, certain medical devices, or even counseling. But while endometriosis, pelvic floor issues, and vaginismus are just a few of the reasons sex might hurt, they don't add up to a life sentence of celibacy. Unless your pain is worsening over time or it’s emotionally distressing, you don’t need to abstain from sex, Heather Jeffcoat, a pelvic floor physical therapist and author of Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve, tells Health.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Deal With Painful Sex
The goal is to find positions that don't cause any discomfort and instead lead to pleasure, as sex should. Keep in mind that “when it comes to what position might work for you, the cause and type of pain matters,” Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, a sex educator and researcher, tells Health. So pay attention to what hurts and where, and try these positions to see if you can avoid those areas—and start having the kind of sex that feels a whooole lot better.
Woman on top
It doesn’t matter if your partner is laying down on the bed or floor or sitting in a chair; all that matters is that you’re the one on top. “That allows you to control the pace and depth of penetration,” says Hall. “This is particularly helpful if the pain is due to deep penetration.” Try having your partner lie on their back and bend their legs with their feet flat on the mattress. Climb on top and face their feet, so you can lean against their thighs and grind as you arch forward.
Sure it’s the laziest sex position—but doing it on your sides is also great if you experience pain during deep penetration. “The butt serves as a cushion, and the position allows the woman to control the depth of a thrust by raising or lowering their leg,” says Hall. You can also take charge of the speed of the pumping and grinding, encouraging your partner to slow down if it's starting to feel uncomfortable.
Don’t underestimate the power of a few fingers or a tongue. “If penetration is too much to bear, outercourse—or mutual masturbation and/or oral sex—is always an option,” says Hall. “Penetration is not necessary to have great, orgasmic sexual experiences.” Consider a session of 69, or have your partner treat you to oral sex or clitoral touching, so you can lie back and just enjoy all the incredible sensations.
“A great position for women to try if they have pain at ‘6 o’clock’ (the bottom or posterior portion of the vaginal opening) is rear vagina entry, with both partners on their knees,” recommends Jeffcoat. “This allows the man to gently push his penis in a downward direction and lessen the pressure at that spot.”
“Consider positions that allow for more clitoral rubbing,” says O’Reilly, so you can distract from discomfort caused by penetration. Lie on your stomach and have your partner approach you from behind, but encourage him to remain still. Put your hand under your outer labia so that you can grind against him while caressing your clitoris to orgasm.
“If deeper penetration is what leads to pain, play with positions that allow for shallow penetration,” suggests O’Reilly. This one also offers the benefit of stimulating the first few inches of the vagina, often referred to as the orgasmic platform. Have your partner stand behind you, and place your hands on the back of a chair. Bend over the chair a little and pop up your booty, so your partner can enter you. While your partner grips your back or butt, move your hips in slow, shallow circles, so you hit all the nerve endings toward the opening of your vagina.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Health Hookup newsletter