As someone who speaks, coaches, and writes about sex for a living, it's not uncommon for my friends to ask for sex and relationship advice. This is the theme of this "6 Secrets Sex Therapists Tell Their Friends" article on Refinery29 by Lisa Harvey, who queried several sex therapists (although I'm a sex educator and coach, not a therapist) for their sex tips and friend advice. My contribution (included below) is about women who are experiencing pain during intercourse. Read the whole article on sex tips for friends here.
The issue: I’ve had girlfriends come to me about pain during sex, which unfortunately is really common. In one national study, a third of women said they experienced pain during their last sexual encounter.
The advice: After reassuring them that they’re not alone, I tell my friends there can be many reasons for sexual pain, and if it’s happening every time they have sex, or is particularly painful, they should see a doctor. Sometimes it’s a medical condition like vaginismus (when the vaginal muscles contract or tighten when you try to insert something into it) or vulvodynia (a burning sensation on the vulva). But one of the most common causes is friction and tension from lack of lubrication and arousal.
I asked one friend if things ‘moved quickly’ when she and her husband had sex? She said they went straight to intercourse within a few minutes. Ouch! Even if we think we’re raring to go, mental arousal can happen before blood flow to the genitals and production of natural lube. If you haven't warmed up for sex – and it can take 20 minutes for vaginal tissues to get sufficiently lubricated – penetration is going to be a pain.
It sounds simple but the solution can be slowing down and enjoying non-intercourse sexual play first. I reminded her that foreplay shouldn’t be an optional add-on to sex; it’s essential for female pleasure. I then asked what got her excited, and how she liked to be touched? She said she liked knowing her husband’s hopes for sex in advance, so she could shift gears into thinking about sex. She also liked it when he slowly kissed her neck and breasts, while sharing why he was attracted to her. It made her feel sexy and relaxed. I told her to share this with her husband so that they could approach this as a team. The next time we met, she said they were moving more at her body’s pace, noticing her breathing and being aware of whether she was aroused or tense – and after a few months, pleasure had replaced the pain.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sexuality Speaker, & Sociologist