If you’re experiencing pain during sex, either on its own or along with another pelvic pain syndrome like vulvodynia or interstitial cystitis, it is so important to look at the mind-body factors to heal it.
While there can be medical reasons for pain during sex, when you’ve ruled out or addressed physical issues like STDs, yeast, and bacteria, the next step is to look at the role of emotions, life experiences, and the role of the brain in creating and relieving pain.
Pain during sex can seem to start out of the blue, or there can be a precipitating factor, like a period of increased sexual activity, a yeast infection, or a stressful or emotional time in your life.
However your pain began, taking time to explore the underlying emotional and mind-body factors, and addressing them is an important part of healing and relief.
Some of the mind-body factors I have seen contribute to pain during and after sex, both for myself and my clients are:
- Unresolved relationship issues. When we don’t have sufficient emotional intimacy, trust, and connection with our partner to create a sense of safety, we can carry a lot of mental, physical, and emotional tension – all of which can contribute to pain and fear of pain.
- Feelings of shame can prevent us from speaking up and asking for (or knowing) what feels good to our body. Shame can also prevent us from speaking up and setting boundaries, leading to our participating in things that don’t feel good to us. I wrote an entire blog post about the role of shame in pain during sex and you can read that HERE.
- Stress and emotion in our lives. When we’re going through stressful or naturally emotional times in our life – like a loss, a move, starting a new job, work challenges or changes, financial stress, becoming a parent, starting or ending a relationship, parenting challenges, etc.
- Not permitting ourselves to fully enjoy sexual pleasure for ourselves. Cultural conditioning around female pleasure make this particularly difficult for women and a common thread I see in women who are struggling with pain during sex.
- Negative beliefs about sex from our family, religion, or culture. For example: “Sex is dirty. Good girls don’t enjoy sex. It’s a sin to have sex before you’re married.” etc.
- Feelings of pressure or obligation around having sex in the first place.
- Previous trauma that we may think we’re “over” but that we haven’t fully processed, felt, and healed the effects of.
- Fear of pain recurring once we’ve experienced pain during sex, we can naturally develop a fear of it recurring.
- Our brain has learned the pain. This is called neuropathic or brain-induced pain which means there is nothing physically wrong with your body.
- Inaccurate information about female arousal, pleasure, and orgasm. When we haven’t learned how our bodies are designed to work, when we don’t understand female arousal anatomy, when we are having sex that looks something like what the dominant culture has taught us it is supposed to look like ….it leads to pain for many many women.
If you find yourself blaming yourself for the pain, as many women do, you can read this blog post entitled How to Practice Self Love and Stop Blaming Yourself for Pain.
When we don’t feel safe in our lives, in our relationships, or around sex… or when we carry old protective patterns that haven’t been addressed… it impacts our body.
Even when pain during sex begins for a physical reason (like a yeast infection or UTI), once our brain has experienced and “learned” the pain, it can continue to be triggered for purely emotional reasons, even after the physical issue is resolved. For example, my pain began after healing recurring yeast infections. Many women begin having pain during sex after healing from a UTI.
A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Pain During Sex
Relieving painful sex is a process of healing your relationship with your body, your emotions, and your sexuality – and this has many benefits beyond enjoying pain-free sex again!
A good place to start is to get curious…
- What was going on in your life before your symptoms began? What is going on now?
- Do any of the above factors apply to you? Which ones? What’s going on for you specifically?
- How do you feel about your vulva and vagina? How do you relate to your sexuality and pleasure?
- Have you had any negative experiences around your sexuality that need to be expressed and healed?
- How do you treat yourself overall in your life? Do you have any of the common personality traits/ protective patterns of women who experience mind-body pain syndromes? For example, do you put a lot of pressure on yourself? Are you a perfectionist? Do you tend to worry a lot?
If you suspect there are emotional or other mind-body factors contributing to or causing your pain, take the time to read more here. There are so many resources there to help you get to the root of your pain and relieve it!
I know firsthand how frustrating and disheartening it can be to have pain interfere with your enjoyment of sex and intimacy and with your connection with your partner.
I want you to know that you can heal.
You can enjoy sex again!
In fact, relieving pain during sex can lead you on a journey of self-discovery that improves your life in so many wonderful ways.
I’m here to help! Please feel free to reach out with questions or for guidance on next steps.