Feature Archive

Does Sex Hurt?

Does Sex Hurt?

By Elaine Marshall
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Lucy was dating the man who would become her husband and enjoying every moment. Soon after, without warning, she began to feel discomfort and then pain in the genital area. It got so bad she couldn't even insert a tampon.

The pain made having sex impossible, too. At first, she thought she had a yeast infection. Eventually, her doctor diagnosed her with vulvar vestibulitis, an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the entrance to the vagina. Putting pressure on the inflamed area can result in severe pain. In Lucy's case, the pressure occurred during intercourse.

The condition is usually accompanied by burning, stinging, and irritation or rawness of the affected area. Laser surgery to remove some of the painful tissue improved the problem only temporarily, and Lucy went on to suffer for four more years.

Lucy says her husband has been very understanding. ''My husband and I learned to have a sexual relationship that didn't involve intercourse, but it really put a damper on things."

Few people have heard of vulvar vestibulitis (one form of a broader category of problems called vulvodynia), although it affects at least 200,000 women in the United States, according to the International Pelvic Pain Society. Says C. Paul Perry, MD, the president of the society, ''We think the numbers are [even] higher because it is often misdiagnosed or women are not willing to talk about it.''