"The most frequent cause of irritation during intercourse is vaginal dryness, or a lack of natural lubrication," says Ashwin Chatwani, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia. Breast-feeding and smoking (which lower estrogen levels) and some medications (like decongestants and antidepressants) can all trigger dryness in that area.
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But feeling pain or tenderness inside the vagina, pelvis, or abdomen means there's an underlying problem. Because any number of conditions may be to blame, it's best to see a gynecologist.
Put an end to painful sex
Start with a few lifestyle changes, like avoiding scented or colored toilet paper (which may irritate the vagina) and always using a lubricant during sex. If these simple solutions don't ease the pain, take note of what exactly you're feeling during sex:
• If the area around the vaginal opening is sore (foreplay and inserting tampons also hurt), the culprit is likely vulvodynia, or chronic pain of the vulva. While experts aren't sure of the exact cause, it's often treated with prescription medications.
•If your vagina is red and swollen in addition to being in pain, you probably have a yeast infection or vulvitis, an inflammation of vaginal skin caused by an allergic reaction to some soaps or laundry detergents. (If this is your condition, use unscented products.)
•If you have a stabbing ache in your pelvis, it could be a sign of an ovarian cyst, a benign growth on your ovary. (Other symptoms include agonizing menstrual cramps or lower-back aches.) Most of these cysts go away on their own, but your ob-gyn will want to rule out ovarian cancer with a blood test.
•If you have pain and need to urinate frequently, you may have fibroids. These benign tissue growths on your uterus are usually treated with a procedure to remove or shrink the fibroids.
•If you have sharp twinges in your entire abdomen, you may have endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissue attaches to other organs in the pelvis. Depending on your case, your physician can recommend a hormonal pill to slow the growth of the tissue. Minor surgery, like laparoscopy, will remove the tissue altogether.