Health

Anger, shame, guilt - the effects of painful sex

Four feet in a bed Image copyright Science Photo Library

One in 10 women in Britain finds sex painful says a large study of more than 7,000 women.

The reasons vary from physical issues to anxiety.

We spoke to four women who have experienced painful sex.

'We only had sex once a year'

Natasha Kilby, aged 34, had experienced pain during sex throughout her long-term relationship with her partner but after receiving treatment they got married in December 2016.

"The problem started at university. Every time I thought about having sex, I felt horrible and I didn't want him to touch me.

"Eventually I was diagnosed with a very rare form of thrush, but by that point, the pain had created psychological barriers.

"The only way I could have sex was by getting really drunk or I'd force myself to do it, which upset my partner.

"I felt like I wasn't in a real relationship. For some time we only had sex once a year.

"I didn't want to get married until we solved the problem because I didn't feel like I could be a proper wife - our 'sex' life consisted of a peck on the cheek.

"I began to receive counselling, which worked and now our relationship is improving.

"The thought of having a baby used to be impossible but now we are in a much better place."


'I want to have sex but I physically cannot'

Hannah Bradley, aged 19, has always experienced pain during sex.

"Sex has been painful since I first had sex three years ago.

"I went to the doctor who suggested that I change contraceptive, then I was treated with dilation for vaginismus and later I had a procedure to cauterise my cervix, but these did not solve the problem.

"I had psychosexual therapy for two months, but I believe that the problem is physical not emotional.

"Now they think I might have vaginal scarring and tightening after untreated lichen sclerosus.

"I found it very difficult that I could not have sex. I felt really left out of conversations with my friends, and like I could not understand their lives.

"I only felt pain and I was jealous of their experience.

"It makes me feel different. Most people my age have an active sex life and I cannot have that.

"It still upsets me. My partner is understanding but it is upsetting for him too. I want to have sex but I physically cannot.

"I hope that it will improve soon, but no-one knows what is wrong. I'm still young and sex should be part of my life"


Image caption "Sarah" says painful sex made her feel anxious and depressed

'I kept thinking it was all my fault'

Sarah (not her real name), aged 20, cannot have sex without extreme pain, which led to the breakdown of her relationship with her boyfriend.

"Sex became gradually more painful to the point where it was just impossible - my vagina would literally close up and not allow anything in without excruciating pain.

"The physical and psychological symptoms for vaginismus matched up with mine so I decided to go to my university's student health clinic.

"The nurse suggested that I do some stretches with my fingers every day and see how I felt after a couple of months - it was completely unhelpful and, if anything, I had even less confidence than when I walked in there.

"My GP later told me it can be a very psychological condition - my brain associates sex with pain and so my body does everything it can to prevent that pain.

"This condition has made me feel increasingly angry, frightened, isolated, inadequate, anxious and depressed.

"I fear not only sex but any kind of intimacy and I have lost interest in doing anything.

"This put a huge strain on my relationship, leading to daily arguments and constant self-blaming on my part. I kept thinking it was all my fault my relationship was ruined because my body was malfunctioning.

"Eventually we faced the fact that I couldn't continue with it any longer, with the guilt of depriving any form of physicality to the relationship as well as being constantly angry.

"I don't know what it will take to 'fix' me but I am coming to terms with the fact this is going to be my life for quite a while and I don't think I'll be able to have any form of relationship in that time.

"The psychological effects are more damaging than the physical - I strongly feel the shame of the inability to have sex.

"Health issues related to dyspareunia need to be looked into - we all what know erectile dysfunction is but we hardly know anything about how dyspareunia affects women's health."


'I have just given up on the idea'

Margaret (not her real name), aged 68, has not had sex with her husband for 16 years because of pain she experiences during intercourse.

"There is a link between the physical side and the emotional impact.

"At the beginning we had sex a lot and I never thought something like this would happen.

"GPs are impatient and do not take me seriously - they say that women my age should not expect an enjoyable sex life.

"I got used to it but it has an impact on our relationship.

My husband says that he does not mind that we cannot have sex but it is important to me and it makes me feel really sad - I feel like I've cheated my husband of a proper sex life.

"I used to think that it would improve but now I have just given up on the idea that we will ever have a sex life again."

Produced by Georgina Rannard, BBC UGC & Social news team

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