There are just too many ways for us to describe sex: exciting, thrilling, empowering, spine-tingling, hot, sexy, (orgasmic?)—notice how we didn’t mention “painful” or “stinging.” You get the point. Sex should always feel pleasurable (unless of course you’re into some kinky BDSM…).
So if you’re experiencing some torture in your nether regions, abandon ship until you figure out what the hell is going on down there. We spoke to sexologist Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., to save your vagina and your sex life. Here, all your potential problems—and how to fix them.
You’re not lubricated enough
Even though your vagina is a natural self-lubricator, if you’re not turned on enough or boozed too much at the bar, you could suffer from dryness. Just use lube.
You’re allergic to your sex toys or products
While we’re on the topic, you can’t just go to the drugstore and buy the cheapest thing on the shelf. Lubricants are made with different chemicals, which can throw off your vagina’s pH balance—the same goes for things like latex condoms. If you feel any sort of irritation after use, try to stick to “natural”-based stuff and see how that fares with your body.
You have ingrown hairs
Sometimes a botched bikini wax can leave you with unpleasant pimples, which can be painful when there’s friction. Not much you can really do—except pop that zit like a boss.
You’re using the wrong positions
Blame kama sutra books for introducing you to how-the-hell-do-they-contort-their-bodies-like-that sex positions. It’s always good to experiment and deviate from your normal routine, but the Butter Churner (google it) might not be for you. Keep in mind that a guy’s curvature can make your go-to moves feel a little off, so FYI.
Your partner could be too big
No guy is ever too large-and-in-charge to wear a condom. Period. But when it comes topenetration, a man’s love gun might not fit into your, er, pistol box. In a sense, you need to be “loosened” up by trying simple sex moves first—think missionary—or turning yourself on more (hello, foreplay!). But don’t freak out by his endowment—your vagina won’t be permanently stretched by it.
You just gave birth
First off, if your libido can bounce back right away after childbirth, GO YOU. But caution: Since your vagina was basically just destroyed—love ya, [insert baby name]—it’ll take your body so time to get back to its former glory. Some doctors suggest four to six weeks after childbirth as generally okay for you to get your groove on, but it all depends on your body.
You have an STD/STI/pelvic disease
Yeast infections suck. Fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease sucks. Herpes sucks. Know who you’re sleeping with and get tested regularly if you’re not in a monogamous relationship.
You’re a virgin
Um, Steve Carell was one for 40 years—not really, but how great was that movie?! If you’ve been saving yourself for the right moment, you can probably expect some minor discomfort. After all, the hymen is a physical wall blocking entry.
You haven’t had sex in a long time
Sex slump, dry spell, whatever you want to call it, the struggle’s real. Seriously, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. We’re not saying you should jot down sex in your planner, but just know it’s totally normal for it to hurt if you haven’t done it since Game of Thrones season 1.
You jump right into sex
Forget every Lifetime/Nicholas Sparks/Fifty Shades of Greysex scene you’ve seen. Diving head first (interpret as you wish) into sex can create unnecessary friction between your vagina and his manhood. Take a cue from a wise tortoise: Slow and steady wins the race.