Why You Have a Sore Vagina After Sex — and What to Do About It

All sorts of sex acts (not just P-in-V!) can leave you with a sore vagina after sex. Here's why, when to worry, and what you can do to ease the hurt.

Snuggles, snacks, a shower. These are the things we expect to experience after sex. Sadly, for some people with vaginas, those delicacies are sometimes replaced or accompanied by something a lot less comfortable: a sore vulva and/or sore vagina.

"Vaginal soreness is quite common after sex," says somatic sex expert, explains Kiana Reeves sex and community educator with Foria, a company that creates products intended to reduce pain and increase pleasure during sex. "But not all soreness is okay, some soreness is a sign that something has gone wrong."

A sore vagina after sex that results from a sexperiment gone awry (think: fisting) or from consensual, risk-aware rough sex gone very right (think: doggy style for days) is totally fine. "A one-off instance of soreness or pain after sex is not a cause for alarm," says Heather Jeffcoat, D.P.T., doctor of physical therapy specializing in sexual dysfunction and incontinence and author of Sex Without Pain: A Self-Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve.

However, frequent vaginal soreness after sex suggests that something is not quite right. If you regularly find yourself keeled over, gripping your lower belly or crotch, or hurting post-play, you may want to chat with a health care provider. "Any frequent, raw, or burning soreness, as well as soreness accompanied by other symptoms such as bleeding, discolored discharge, or pain while peeing needs to be addressed," says Reeves. (Read: 8 Reasons You Might Experience Pain After Sex)

Curious to learn some of the common reasons why you might have a sore vagina after sex? Plus, what should you do to stop the pain in its tracks, short- and long-term? Read this for a good place to start.

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Potential Reasons for a Sore Vagina After Sex

Your Hymen Broke

If it's the first time you've explored vaginal penetration, it's possible that the soreness is from the breakage of a small swath of tissue that covers part of the vaginal canal, known as the hymen, tearing, according to Felice Gersh, M.D., author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist's Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness. While many people's hymens (naturally) break or tear prior to the first time they have sex (during activities including horseback riding, biking, exercising,using tampons, or masturbating), that's not always the case. And for those with intact hymens that break during penetrative play, the experience can be uncomfortable in the moment and also lead to soreness for a few hours afterward, according to Dr. Gersh. (

You Have a Low-Key Infection

A super common reason you may have a sore vagina after sex is actually that the sex triggered symptoms of an infection you already had, according to Dr. Gersh. "If someone has a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia, the vaginal tissues are already inflamed, even if the person wasn't experiencing any symptoms," she says. "The rubbing of those already-inflamed tissues during sex can result in a feeling or rawness, soreness, irritation, or pain after sex," she says. Luckily, all five infections can be cured within a few days with proper treatment.

You're Allergic to Something

Another common reason you might have a sore vagina after sex is that you have a sensitivity or allergy to one of the ingredients in the lube, sex toys, or barriers (ex: dental dams) you used. "Latex allergy is well-documented, but that's not the only kind of allergy or sensitivity that can come into play here," says Dr. Gersh. "It's possible to be allergic or sensitive to any of the ingredients in the lube coating the condoms or the lube you added."

In the case of an allergy, the soreness is typically accompanied by itchiness, burning, hives, and swelling. While extremely rare, allergies to semen (known medically as seminal plasma hypersensitivity) create many of the same aforementioned symptoms. (And FYI, noticing some swelling in your vulva after sex is totally normal, considering those tissues become flooded with blood when you're aroused.)

Your Pelvic Floor Muscles Are Sore

Rather than being dermal (skin-related) or structural, the reason you have a sore vagina after sex may be muscular.

Background: Everyone has a sling of muscles that run hip-to-hip, bellybutton-to-bum, known as the pelvic floor muscles. When you orgasm, these muscles contract and relax super fast over and over again. If your orgasm is especially long, or you orgasm more than once (fun!) it's possible for these muscles to be a lil sore following sex.

Further, some people have over-reactive or non-relaxing pelvic floor muscles, which essentially means their pelvic floor muscles are always or almost always in a contracted position. (This is the pelvic floor equivalent to walking around with your arm flexed "💪" all the time). For these folks, "the forced stretch of these muscles that occurs during penetration can also lead to soreness," says Dr. Jeffcoat. For someone with one of these underlying pelvic floor conditions, going from zero to penetrative sex is equivalent to an immobile person trying to do a split and stretching too much too soon. "Your muscles will be quite sore after," she says. (

Someone with weak or non-reactive pelvic floor muscles can also experience muscular soreness following sex. As Jeffcoat puts it, "Pelvic floor muscles are skeletal or voluntary muscles, just like the other muscles we train at the gym." Meaning, they aren't exempt from these types of soreness or injuries. However, if the post-sex pain you're experiencing feels muscular and you also experience other common symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction (such as urinary issues, lower back pain, constipation, pelvic pressure), she recommends connecting with a pelvic floor therapist.

You Weren't Lubricated Well Enough

This might just be the number one reason you might experience a sore vagina after sex. Anytime lubrication levels are low, friction levels can be high. And when friction levels go up, so do soreness levels. Sure, the vaginal canal produces its own arousal fluid, but that's not always enough (and there's nothing wrong with that!). Body-made lubricant levels can vary because of water intake, alcohol intake, substance use, activity level, mental and physical health status, and so much more.

Among those, "low estrogen can also be to blame for soreness in the vaginal canal," adds Dr. Jeffcoat. People may become low on this essential lubricating hormone when they are postpartum, breastfeeding, or going through menopause. "When your body lacks estrogen, the vaginal canal does not lubricate as well, which can lead to unwanted friction during penetration, and subsequent post-coital soreness," she says. Certain hormonal birth control options can also lead to low estrogen and therefore cause this unwanted symptom, says Dr. Gersh.

All that said, if your lubrication levels have drastically changed or store-bought lube isn't cutting it, talk to your doc, as there are a number of prescription lubricants, moisturizing creams, and pills that can support natural lubrication levels.

Literally Just Friction and Pressure

And on that note, finally, it's also possible that you and your boo just went too hard, too rough, too fast, or were moving at iffy angles. The angle of the cervix usually changes throughout the menstrual cycle, so the deep angle you enjoy with doggy style at one stage in your cycle could actually be so deep that it brushes up against (and even bruises!) your cervix at other stages, explains Dr. Gersh. Changing positions or depth should be all you need to replace the "ouch!" with "ooh."

How to Calm a Sore Vagina After Sex

At risk of sounding like a broken record: If you have experienced this kind of soreness before, a doctor is your next visit. In the meantime, these four tips may help.

First, Breathe

The good news: "Unless you or your lover put a caustic [burning] substance into your vagina, this post-sex soreness or pain is unlikely to last," says Dr. Gersh. Another reason to breathe? The pelvic floor muscles can respond to any emotional stress you're feeling as muscle tension. So, if the vaginal soreness you're feeling is caused from vaginal floor or pelvic floor muscle over-reactivity, freaking out will only make things worse, says Dr. Gersh. (Another excuse to downloads Headspace?)

Rinse with Water

Did you use store-bought lube or condoms during play? Eye the ingredients on the bottle or barrier box. If you see a bunch of hard-to-pronounce words on the label, it's possible that you're having a contact reaction, says Dr. Gersh.

In this case, she recommends hopping in the shower or bath, then using a finger to "swish swish" inside your vaginal canal. "You don't want to use any soaps or douching spray, that could make the irritation and soreness worse," she says. "But simply using a finger to remove the irritant can be helpful." (For the record, no douching is never safe).

Use a Hot or Cold Compress

Just as you might apply ice or heat to a sports injury, you might do so here. If the soreness you're experiencing could also be described as stingy, spicy, raw, or hot, opt for a cold compress. "You shouldn't be putting ice cubes or shooting ice-cold water into your vagina, but applying a cool washcloth over your vulva so that it's covering the entrance of the vaginal anal may help sooth the area," says Dr. Gersh.

If, however, the soreness is accompanied by cramps, or a feeling of muscle fatigue or tightness, opt for a warm (not hot!) compress instead, Reeves suggests. A warm compress can help bring blood flow to the area which relieve muscle cramps as well as begin to repair any micro-damage that may have occurred in the muscle fibers.

There are even a brands of hot/cold packs made specifically for the vulvar area to help soothe, yes, post-sex soreness, but also for postpartum pain, hemorrhoids, cramps, etc. Try Private Packs Hot/Cold Vulvar Pads (Buy It, $34, privatepacks.com) or Gentlepak Reusable Perineal Ice & Heat Packs (Buy It, $29, amazon.com).

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Gentlepak Reusable Perineal Ice & Heat Packs

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Amazon

Take an Anti-Inflammatory

Taking anti-inflammatory, such as Advil or Aleve, should help relieve any soreness caused from inflammation within 30 to 45 minutes of ingestion, says Dr. Gersh.

But Don't Put Anything In Your Vagina

Or, at least without talking to your healthcare provider first! As a general rule, it's best to avoid putting any product, ointments, or creams in your vagina — even if they claim to be soothing! Why? Because the vagina is a self-cleaning, self-soothing machine made of millions of good bacteria that keep infection and irritation at bay, explains Dr. Gersh. Introducing any product your vaginal canal threatens to further disrupt those good bacteria and ultimately lead to problems beyond just soreness. Pass.

How to Prevent Vaginal Soreness Next Time

If you want to keep soreness out of the sack without going celibate, these tips will come in handy. Prevention, after all, is the best medicine.

1. Talk to Your Health Care Provider

The only way to know for sure what's causing your post-sex soreness is to talk to a healthcare provider, like your ob-gyn. A doctor will be able to deduce the cause of your soreness based on the quality, location, duration, and intensity of the pain, says Dr. Gersh.

A doctor will also be able to perform any STI, yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or allergy tests that are necessary to rule out certain causes, she says.

They'll also be able to determine whether you're experiencing symptoms of menopause or peri-menopause, or if your have altered estrogen levels for some other reasons, that is leading to vaginal atrophy, a thinning of the down-there tissues that can make you feel less lubricated and/or uncomfortable during penetration.

2. Visit a Pelvic Floor Therapist

If your doctor doesn't find anything conclusive, Dr. Jeffcoat recommends consulting with a pelvic floor therapist. Trained to understand the pelvic floor muscles, a pelvic floor therapist will be able to help you figure out whether something like vaginismus, vulvodynia, or pelvic floor dysfunction is causing your distress.

3. Use Lube

If you'd use the adjectives "dry" "chafe-y", "friction-y", "sandpaper-y" or similar to describe your last romp, it's time to incorporate some (or some more!) store bought lube. "Adding lubrication will decrease friction during penetration and reduce the amount of irritable rubbing that occurs around the vulva and vagina canal opening," says Dr. Jeffcoat. "It also takes away that question mark of whether you have enough natural lubrication available for however long your sex session may go," she says. And less stress = better sex.

To prevent a sore vagina after sex — and any other vaginal health issues — Dr. Jeffcoat recommends investing in a lubricant with the same pH as the vagina such as Urja Intimates Intense Hydrating Lubricant (Buy It, $52, verishop.com) or Good Clean Love's Bio line which includes a moisturizing vaginal gel (Buy It, $26, amazon.com) and a hypoallergenic lube (Buy It, $12, amazon.com).

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Good Clean Love BioNude Ultra Sensitive Personal Lubricant

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Amazon

4. Switch Things Up

If you're already using lube, but it has a questionable ingredient list, it's time to replace it with a body-safe alternative. (Specifically, a safe-to-your-body alternative.) "As a general rule, you want to avoid any lubricants and barriers that contain petroleum jellies, sugars, glycerin, alcohol, or parabens," says Dr. Gersh.

This goes for condoms, too. "Some condoms come coated with lubricants that contain irritating ingredients," she says. Consider swapping your current rubbers out for Sustain Ultra Thin Latex Condoms (Buy It, $14 for 10, grove.co) or Maude Rise Latex Condoms (Buy It, $12 for 10, getmaude.com)

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Sustain Ultra Thin Latex Condoms

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Grove

5. Add More Foreplay

Rather than going from zero to penis or dildo, slow things way down. "It takes time for the arousal process to start," says Dr. Gersh. During the arousal process, the vaginal canal literally expands, which allows for deeper, more pleasurable penetrative, she says. It's also when the body begins to self-lubricate, says Reeves. (Peep these foreplay ideas for inspiration.)

Rush through this oh-so-fun part and you risk thwarting your pleasure not just now, but causing soreness later, she says. More oral sex, hand stuff, and vibrator play? Sounds like a pretty pleasurable solution indeed.

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