Despite what pop culture wants you to believe, sex can be painful sometimes.
In fact, research suggests one in five women have experienced unwanted pain during sex, yet it seems we don’t really know anything about why it happens, or how to go about resolving it.
In a new study by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, health professionals nominated painful sex as the number one topic Australian women needed more information about. “We had clinicians telling us that they see a lot of women who experience painful sex, but who don’t talk about it,” says psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks, Jean Hailes’ Head of Translation, Education and Communication.
Interestingly, the almost 3000 women surveyed didn’t place it as high on their list of priorities — topics like PCOS and the effectiveness of natural therapy were of more interest. Furthermore, 61 per cent of the women said they had little or no knowledge about painful sex, and 41 per cent said their information needs weren’t being met.
So if painful intercourse is something 20 per cent of women experience, why aren’t we talking about it?
Dr Deeks believes there are a few issues at play here. One is the reluctance of women to talk about sex more generally — and therefore the importance of having a comfortable relationship with their health professional.
"I think for some people it's how you've been brought up, and whether you do talk about sex. It's such a relief, I find, when you actually ask the question and I think that's what health professionals are telling us to do," she says.
Similarly, it could be a case of doctors not raising the issue unless there's an obvious reason it could be happening. "They know that at certain points in a woman's life, menopause is a great example, to ask the question, 'Has it impacted on your sex life?' They're in this ideal place to ask the question," Dr Deeks says.
It could also be tied to a woman's stage of life and the natural events that take place. Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are all known causes of painful sex, and might be seen as a "given" and not worth looking into. Or, it could be considered less important than other health issues.
"Maybe she's at a time in her life where it's not going to have such an impact, so she doesn't see it as much of a priority as everything else that's going on," Dr Deeks adds. (Post continues after gallery.)
The complexity of sexual dysfunction is another potential factor; issues like low libido, trouble reaching orgasm, low sexual satisfaction, body image and lack of lubrication are often closely linked, though that might not be clear to the patient.