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I’m female, and sex is painful for me. What can I do?

The most common cause of painful intercourse is too little vaginal lubrication. During sexual arousal, the walls of the vagina respond by releasing a liquid that wets or “lubricates” the vagina. This makes it easier for something to enter the vagina.

Your partner may be trying to insert a penis or finger before you’ve had time to become excited enough to become lubricated or “wet.” If you’re not excited when you start to have sex, the level of arousal may need to be higher for your body to get ready to have sex. Be sure you and your partner take your time. Don’t leave out foreplay, and communicate with your partner about what feels good for both of you.

If you are using a condom, dental dam or latex glove (we hope you are!), you may need to add lubrication. You can buy water-based lubricants at the store. Don’t use petroleum jelly, types of massage oils, baby oil or lotion because oil-based products or products with oils in them cause latex to disintegrate and at the very least may weaken the condom, causing it to break.

Another reason intercourse may be painful is if you are tense or worried. This can cause the vaginal entrance to tighten up so that inserting something feels painful. If you feel unsure about having sex or are worried about getting pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), this is a sign that it’s probably not a good idea to have sex at this point or, at the very least, that you and your partner need to talk about how you feel about having sex and how to protect yourselves from both pregnancy and/or STDs.

It is also important to talk to your gynecologist or health care provider if you are experiencing pain during intercourse. It is possible that you may have an infection or another medical condition. It’s best to get it checked out. If you don’t already have a regular gynecologist, find a clinic near you.

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