Classification and external resources
Specialty Gynecology
ICD-10 F52.6, N94.1
ICD-9-CM 625.0
DiseasesDB 4021
Patient UK Dyspareunia
MeSH D004414

Dyspareunia is painful sexual intercourse due to medical or psychological causes. The pain can primarily be on the external surface of the genitalia, or deeper in the pelvis upon deep pressure against the cervix. It can affect a small portion of the vulva or vagina or be felt all over the surface. Understanding the duration, location, and nature of the pain is important in identifying the causes of the pain.

Numerous physical, psychological, and social or relationship causes can contribute to pain during sexual encounters. Commonly, multiple underlying causes contribute to the pain. The pain can be acquired or congenital. Symptoms of dyspareunia may also occur after menopause. Diagnosis is typically by physical examination and medical history.

Underlying causes determine treatment. Many women experience relief when physical causes are identified and treated. Even when the pain can be reproduced during a physical examination, doctor and patient must acknowledge the possible role of psychological factors in either causing or maintaining the pain.

Globally, dyspareunia has been estimated to affect between 8–21% of women, at some point in their lives.[1]

Signs and symptoms

Women who experience pain with attempted intercourse describe their pain in many ways. This reflects how many different and overlapping causes there are for dyspareunia.[2] The location, nature, and time course of the pain help to understand potential causes and treatments.

Some women describe superficial pain at the opening of the vagina or surface of the genitalia when penetration is initiated. Other women feel deeper pain in the vault of the vagina or deep within the pelvis upon deeper penetration. Some women feel pain in more than one of these places. Determining whether the pain is more superficial or deep is important in understanding what may be causing a woman's pain.[3]

Some women have always experienced pain with intercourse from their very first attempt. Other women begin to feel pain with intercourse after an injury or infection or cyclically with menstruation. Sometimes the pain increases over time.

When pain occurs, the woman may be distracted from feeling pleasure and excitement. Both vaginal lubrication and vaginal dilation decrease. When the vagina is dry and undilated, penetration is more painful. Fear of being in pain can make the discomfort worse. Even after the original source of pain has disappeared, a woman may feel pain simply because she expects pain. Fear, avoidance, and psychologic distress around attempting intercourse can become large parts of a woman's experience of dyspareunia.[4]

Physical examination of the vulva (external genitalia) may reveal clear reasons for pain including lesions, thin skin, ulcerations or discharge associated with vulvovaginal infections or vaginal atrophy. An internal pelvic exam may also reveal physical reasons for pain including lesions on the cervix or anatomic variation.[5]

When there are no visible findings on vulvar exam that would suggest a cause for superficial dyspareunia, a cotton-swab test may be performed. This is a test to assess for localized provoked vulvodynia.[4] A cotton tip applicator is applied at several points around the opening of the vagina and a woman reports whether she experiences pain on a scale from 0–10.



The cause of the pain may be anatomic or physiologic, including but not limited to lesions of the vagina, retroversion of the uterus, urinary tract infection, lack of lubrication, scar tissue, or abnormal growths. Some cases may be psychosomatic, which can include fear of pain or injury, feelings of guilt or shame, ignorance of sexual anatomy and physiology, and fear of pregnancy.[6]

In women, common causes for discomfort during sex include

  1. Infections. Infections that mostly affect the labia, vagina, or lower urinary tract like yeast infections, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, urinary tract infections, or herpes tend to cause more superficial pain. Infections of the cervix, or fallopian tubes like pelvic inflammatory disease [7] tend to cause deeper pain.
  2. Tissue Injury. Pain after trauma to the pelvis from injury, surgery or childbirth.[8]
  3. Anatomic variations. hymenal remnants, vaginal septa,[9] thickened undilatable hymen,[9] hypoplasia of the introitus [9]retroverted uterus[7] or uterine prolapse[7] can contribute to discomfort.
  4. Hormonal Causes:
    • endometriosis[10] and adenomyosis
    • Estrogen deficiency is a particularly common cause of sexual pain complaints related to vaginal atrophy among postmenopausal women and may be a result of similar changes in menstruating women on hormonal birth control.[11] Estrogen deficiency is associated with lubrication inadequacy, which can lead to painful friction during intercourse.Vaginal dryness is often reported by lactating women as well.[12] Women undergoing radiation therapy for pelvic malignancy often experience severe dyspareunia due to the atrophy of the vaginal walls and their susceptibility to trauma.
  5. Presence of objects that take up space in the pelvic like ovarian cysts [13] tumors [14] and uterine fibroids can cause deep pain[7]
  6. Pain from bladder irritation: Dyspareunia is a symptom of a disease called interstitial cystitis (IC). Patients may struggle with bladder pain and discomfort during or after sex. For men with IC, pain occurs at the moment of ejaculation and is focused at the tip of the penis. For women with IC, pain usually occurs the following day, the result of painful, spasming pelvic floor muscles. Interstitial cystitis patients also struggle with urinary frequency and/or urinary urgency
  7. Vulvodynia: Vulvodynia is a diagnosis of exclusion in which women experience either generalized or localized vulvar pain most often described as burning without physical evidence of other causes on exam. Pain can be constant or only when provoked (as with intercourse). Localized provoked vulvodynia is the most recent terminology for what used to be called vulvar vestibulitis when the pain is localized to the vaginal opening.
  8. Conditions that affect the surface of the vulva including LSEA (lichen sclerosus et atrophicus), or xerosis (dryness, especially after the menopause). Vaginal dryness is sometimes seen in Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that characteristically attacks the exocrine glands that produce saliva and tears.
  9. Muscular dysfunction- For example, levator ani myalgia
  10. Psychologic, such as vaginismus


In men, as in women, there are a number of physical factors that may cause sexual discomfort. Pain is sometimes experienced in the testicular or glans area of the penis immediately after ejaculation. Infections of the prostate, bladder, or seminal vesicles can lead to intense burning or itching sensations following ejaculation. Men suffering from interstitial cystitis may experience intense pain at the moment of ejaculation. Gonorrheal infections are sometimes associated with burning or sharp penile pains during ejaculation. Urethritis or prostatitis can make genital stimulation painful or uncomfortable. Anatomic deformities of the penis, such as exist in Peyronie's disease, may also result in pain during coitus. One cause of painful intercourse is due to the painful retraction of a too-tight foreskin, occurring either during the first attempt at intercourse or subsequent to tightening or scarring following inflammation or local infection.[14] Another cause of painful intercourse is due tension in a short and slender frenulum, frenulum breve, as the foreskin retracts on entry to the vagina irrespective of lubrication. In one study frenulum breve was found in 50% of patients who presented with dyspareunia.[15] During vigorous or deep or tight intercourse or masturbation, small tears may occur in the frenum of the foreskin and can bleed and be very painful and induce anxiety, which can become chronic if left unresolved. If stretching fails to ease the condition, and uncomfortable levels of tension remain, a frenuloplasty procedure may be recommended. Frenuloplasty is an effective procedure, with a high chance of avoiding circumcision, giving good functional results and patient satisfaction.[16] The psychological effects of these conditions, while little understood, are real, and are visible in literature and art.[17]

Differential diagnosis

Dyspareunia is a condition that has many causes and is not a diagnosis of itself. It is combined with vaginismus into genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder in the DSM V. Criteria for genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder include multiple episodes of difficulty with vaginal penetration, pain associated with intercourse attempts, anticipation of pain due to attempted intercourse,and tensing of the pelvis in response to attempted penetration. To meet criteria for this disorder, a patient must experience the symptoms for at least six months and suffer "significant distress".[18]

The differential diagnosis for dyspareunia is long because of its complicated and multifactorial nature. Often there are physiologic conditions underlying the pain, as well as psychosocial components that must be assessed to find appropriate treatment. A differential diagnosis of underlying physical causes can be guided by whether the pain is deep or superficial:

  1. Superficial dyspareunia or vulvar pain: infection, inflammation, anatomic causes, tissue destruction, psychosocial factors, muscular dysfunction
  2. Superficial Dyspareunia without visible exam findings: When no other physical etiology is found the diagnosis of vulvodynia should be considered. Vaginal atrophy may also not be seen clearly on exam but commonly affects postmenopausal women and is generally associated with estrogen deficiency.
  3. Deep Dyspareunia or pelvic pain: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic adhesions, inflammatory diseases (interstitial cystitis, pelvic inflammatory disease), infections, congestion, psychosocial factors

Dyspareunia is a complex problem and frequently has a multifactorial aetiology. A new way has been recently suggested to define dyspareunia by dissecting it into primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of pain.[19]


The treatment for pain with intercourse depends on what is causing the pain. After proper diagnosis one or more treatments for specific causes may be necessary.

For example:

In addition, the following may reduce discomfort with intercourse:


Dyspareunia (from Greek, δυσ-, dys- "bad" and πάρευνος, pareunos "bedfellow", meaning "badly mated"[9][23]). The previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV,[24] stated that the diagnosis of dyspareunia is made when the patient complains of recurrent or persistent genital pain before, during, or after sexual intercourse that is not caused exclusively by lack of lubrication or by vaginal spasm (vaginismus). After the text revision of the fourth edition of the DSM, a debate arose, with arguments to recategorize dyspareunia as a pain disorder instead of a sex disorder,[25] with Charles Allen Moser, a physician, arguing for the removal of dyspareunia from the manual altogether.[26] The most recent version, the DSM 5[27] has grouped dyspareunia under the diagnosis of Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder.


  1. Latthe, P; Latthe, M; Say, L; Gülmezoglu, M; Khan, KS (6 July 2006). "WHO systematic review of prevalence of chronic pelvic pain: a neglected reproductive health morbidity.". BMC Public Health. 6 (1): 177. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-177. PMC 1550236Freely accessible. PMID 16824213.
  2. Boyer, SC; Goldfinger, C; Thibault-Gagnon, S; Pukall, CF (2011). "Management of female sexual pain disorders.". Advances in psychosomatic medicine. 31: 83–104. doi:10.1159/000328810. PMID 22005206.
  3. Boardman, Lori (2009). "Sexual Pain". Clinical obstetrics and gynecology. 52 (4): 682–90. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181bf4a7e. PMID 20393420.
  4. 1 2 Flanagan, E; Herron, KA; O'Driscoll, C; Williams, AC (20 October 2014). "Psychological Treatment for Vaginal Pain: Does Etiology Matter? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.". The journal of sexual medicine. 12 (1): 3–16. doi:10.1111/jsm.12717. PMID 25329756.
  5. "Sexual pain.". Clin Obstet Gynecol. 52 (4): 682–90. Dec 2009. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e3181bf4a7e. PMID 20393420.
  6. Tamparo, Carol (2011). Fifth Edition: Diseases of the Human Body. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-8036-2505-1.
  7. 1 2 3 4 familydoctor.org editorial staff. "Dyspareunia: Painful Sex for Women".
  8. McDonald, Ea; Gartland, D; Small, R; Brown, Sj (2015-04-01). "Dyspareunia and childbirth: a prospective cohort study". BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 122 (5): 672–679. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.13263. ISSN 1471-0528.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Agnew AM (June 1959). "Surgery in the alleviation of dyspareunia". British Medical Journal. 1 (5136): 1510–2. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5136.1510. PMC 1993727Freely accessible. PMID 13651780.
  10. Denny E, Mann CH (July 2007). "Endometriosis-associated dyspareunia: the impact on women's lives". The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. 33 (3): 189–93. doi:10.1783/147118907781004831. PMID 17609078.
  11. Smith, NK; Jozkowski, KN; Sanders, SA (February 2014). "Hormonal contraception and female pain, orgasm and sexual pleasure.". The journal of sexual medicine. 11 (2): 462–70. doi:10.1111/jsm.12409. PMID 24286545.
  12. Bachmann GA, Leiblum SR, Kemmann E, Colburn DW, Swartzman L, Shelden R (July 1984). "Sexual expression and its determinants in the post-menopausal woman". Maturitas. 6 (1): 19–29. doi:10.1016/0378-5122(84)90062-8. PMID 6433154.
  13. David Delvin. "Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)".
  14. 1 2 Bancroft J (1989). Human sexuality and its problems (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 0-443-03455-9.
  15. Whelan. Male dyspareunia due to short frenulum: an indication for adult circumcision. BMJ 1977; 24-31: 1633-4
  16. Dockray J, Finlayson A, Muir GH (May 2012). "Penile frenuloplasty: a simple and effective treatment for frenular pain or scarring". BJU International. 109 (10): 1546–50. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2011.10678.x. PMID 22176714.
  17. Douglas E. "JQuad".
  18. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013. ISBN 978-0-89042-555-8.
  19. Walid, MS; Heaton, RL (September 2009). "Dyspareunia: A complex problem requiring a selective approach". Sexual Health. 6 (3): 250–3. doi:10.1071/SH09033. PMID 19653964.
  20. Krychman, ML (March 2011). "Vaginal estrogens for the treatment of dyspareunia". The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 8 (3): 666–74. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02114.x. PMID 21091878.
  21. Vercellini P, Frattaruolo MP, Somigliana E, et al. (May 2013). "Surgical versus low-dose progestin treatment for endometriosis-associated severe deep dyspareunia II: effect on sexual functioning, psychological status and health-related quality of life". Human Reproduction. 28 (5): 1221–30. doi:10.1093/humrep/det041. PMID 23442755.
  22. Kompanje, EJ (October 2006). "Painful sexual intercourse caused by a disproportionately long penis: an historical note on a remarkable treatment devised by Guilhelmius Fabricius Hildanus (1560-1634)". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 35 (5): 603–5. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9057-z. PMID 17031589.
  23. From δυσ-, dys- "bad" and πάρευνος, pareunos "bedfellow".
  24. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. 1994. ISBN 0-89042-062-9.
  25. Binik, YM (February 2005). "Should dyspareunia be retained as a sexual dysfunction in DSM-V? A painful classification decision". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (1): 11–21. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-0998-4. PMID 15772767.
  26. Moser, C (February 2005). "Dyspareunia: Another argument for removal". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (1): 44–6, 57–61; author reply 63–7. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-7473-z. PMID 16092029.
  27. Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013. ISBN 978-0-89042-554-1.

Further reading

Look up dyspareunia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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