What Is Dyspareunia? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Pain during sexual intercourse is quite the opposite of what nature intended. Why does it happen? Does it happen more often in men or women? And what can be done about it? This lesson answers all of these questions.

What is Dyspareunia?

Dyspareunia is the technical term for pain experienced right before, during, or after sexual intercourse.

The word itself comes from the Greek prefix of 'dys-' which implies difficulty or pain, and -pareunia, which is a term for sexual intercourse. Remember that 'dys' means bad or painful by thinking back to the last time you were dissed by someone. It was a bad thing to do and it was painful for you.

Dyspareunia is far more commonly found in women than in men so we're going to focus this lesson on the problem from a woman's perspective.

The Causes of Dyspareunia

There can be a lot of different causes for dyspareunia.

If there is not enough foreplay prior to sexual intercourse, a woman's vagina will not be sufficiently lubricated to prevent pain from developing as a result of too much friction. But lack of foreplay is by no means the only reason for improper lubrication. Hormonal changes related to childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause are all potential causes of this as are certain medications people take for things like high blood pressure or seizures, which may alter the levels of lubrication.

Other causes of dyspareunia involve any injury or irritation to the genital region. Examples of this include pelvic surgery, female circumcision, or inflammation stemming from a skin disorder. The inflammation can also be caused by something like a urinary tract infection or vaginitis, the inflammation of the vagina from something like a bacterial or fungal infection.

If a woman experiences involuntary spasms of the muscle of her birth canal, the vagina, then this too can cause dyspareunia. The technical term for this situation is vaginismus.

The list of other physical or physiological causes for dyspareunia is quite long. Some other factors that may be implicated in this include:

  • Illnesses like pelvic inflammatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and uterine fibroids
  • Scarring from a hysterectomy
  • Congenital abnormalities (those present at birth), such as vaginal agenesis, which is when the vagina is not fully formed.

Other than these and many other physical and physiological problems, emotional issues can also cause or be a factor in pain during sexual intercourse. For example, people who have depression may have lower levels of arousal, which can then result in pain during sexual intercourse as a result of something like decreased lubrication.

The Treatment of Dyspareunia

The treatment of dyspareunia is definitely aimed at the underlying cause.

For example, if a bacterial infection is causing pain during sexual intercourse, then antibiotics, which are drugs that kill bacteria, can be given.

If it's an anticonvulsant (anti-seizure) medication that is causing a decrease in lubrication, then switching medications may help.

Hormonal problems related to things like menopause, which causes insufficient lubrication, can be treated with a topical version of a hormone called estrogen.

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