Dyspareunia: A Psychological Perspective

You experience pain during sex, but the doctor says it couldn’t be medical! Read to know what’s going wrong then, and how you can help yourself.

woman in pain

‘Dyspareunia’ describes pain that is experienced during sex. If you have not already, do take a look at the Medical Perspective first, as these causes are more common and threatening than psychosomatic ones.

If the pain has begun after a traumatic incident (which could be sexual or non-sexual), it is likely psychological. However, even if it has been there since the beginning of your sex life (and your medical tests say it’s nothing) it is probably psychological. Psychological pain is generally not as sharp, but lasts longer, possibly throughout intercourse and way after. However, due to the subjective nature of their cause (the mind), no sensation can really be ruled out. Some causes of it are:

  • Sexual Abuse or Trauma – Something that left a deep scar in your memories – whether it happened to you or someone else – can affect you greatly. Do not be complacent and say that you don’t remember it, or that it happened long ago when you were just a child. The mind tends to carry traumatic memories to the grave. If you have never talked about your trauma, acknowledged it, and dealt with it, it is likely that it will crop up at random times, like when you’re having sex. However, even if you have been to therapy and begun the process of closure, having sex can still be very intimidating. You can be in a stable relationship without sex. Your mental health should come first. Speak with your partner and don’t do it till you’re ready. If you know you want to do it, try to make the environment calm and pressure-free. Make sure you feel comfortable.
  • Anxiety around sex – Have you always been afraid of penetration? Or maybe you’ve always thought that it was going to be painful, and you never looked forward to it. It is possible for these ideas to become firmly grounded in your mind, and they can be hard to get rid of. If this is the case and your pain is not crippling, you can try using sex toys, masturbating, and watching porn or reading erotica to help reconfigure your mind into believing sex is pleasurable. However, if you find that this is keeping you away from any kind of sexual interaction, even with yourself, the earlier you begin therapy, the easier it will be to get rid of.
  • Guilt/Stress/Fear – Other aspects of your life can affect your sexual well-being as well. Have you recently lost a family member? Or a job? Or gone through a divorce? These are all stressors that can affect how hard/wet you get because of how much you’re thinking of them, even in bed. When the stress is short lived, you can try a simple fix like oral sex, but if it continues to affect your sex life for long after, you should try meditation or therapy.
  • Depression/Emotional instability – Have you felt emotionally numb, or had erratic moods, for a while? The lack of interest in sex is generally a symptom for mental instability in this case. It is best to consult a psychiatrist or therapist for help – the earlier the better. There are also many mental health helplines you can call if you don’t have the time or money for therapy. Please do so ASAP!
  • A Strict Religious Upbringing – This is such a big and unique problem that it couldn’t be covered under ‘anxiety around sex’. What differentiates it from anxiety is that the sex-negative attitude of religion is far more pervasive. Due to the constant feedback from your surrounding that tells you, over and over again, that sex is wrong, dangerous, and sinful, it can be much harder to believe otherwise while attempting to do it. However, many a time, a strict religious upbringing can cause you to be rebellious from an early age and engage in sexual acts anyway. Don’t be fooled into believing this alone means you’re fine. It is possible to carry shame and guilt way into the future, and it can crop up when you fall in love, or get married. The process of reconfiguration here has to be deliberate and may require for you to remove yourself from this environment for a while so you don’t have sex-negative energy around you impeding your progress towards a better sexual life. However, once you feel confident in your beliefs and your sexuality, you may return with greater immunity to societal expectations.

“We are all born sexual creatures,thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift.” 

Marilyn Monroe

LGBT Shame and Dyspareunia:

Due to strict social norms many people in the LGBT community find it difficult to express their sexuality even when around supportive partners. This is due to the indoctrination or internalization of the shame they have had to experience from when they were young. Shame can cause the extreme repression of sexual desires and dyspareunia. Repression is more likely to occur in individuals who have been victims of violence. Common behaviors that accompany internalized shame include embarrassment in talking about sex/flirting with someone you’re attracted to, difficulty in masturbating to sexual fantasies about the same sex/other transgender individuals, and a general sense of discomfort when reading/talking about sex on a personal level. LGBT shame can be awful, not only for your sex life, but also for your liberation and expressive power. It is best to consult a therapist in this case as well, but be sure to check the references of your therapists. The stigma associated with the LGBT community can get in the way of effective growth from therapy.

“Sex is the most fun you can have without laughing.” 

Woody Allen

Remember that sex is about pleasure. It’s about yours and your partner’s pleasure. Don’t normalize internal pain, even if you can bare it, or are pleasured by it. There are many ways to practice safe BDSM, and this is not one of them! Even if your concern is not medical, psychosomatic pain is generally the symptom of a greater trend of repression than a disease in itself. It can often manifest physically in the most vulnerable of times (like when you’re having sex) and can have lasting effects on your relationships and your own pleasure. It must be taken as seriously as a medical issue and must be addressed as soon as it is identified.

Once again, do take a look at the first part of this article, Dyspareunia: A Medical Perspective if this is a condition you experience, and consult a doctor!

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