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Painful sex treatment sometimes hard to find as more women seek help

Written by on 13/05/2018

Sex can be painful for many reasons.

Candidiasis (thrush), endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, trauma, not being aroused, and simple dryness from breastfeeding or after menopause can all contribute to the problem, which hinders as many as one in five women.

As well as the physical burden, pain during sex can harm both relationships and self esteem.

Historically, many sex-related problems were not dealt with adequately, or at all, as sufferers chose to stay quiet, often out of fear or embarrassment.

But that’s changing.

More women suffering pain during sex are seeking help, said Dr Amanda Newman, a women’s health GP at the Jean Hailes Medical Centre, in Melbourne.

“There is [now] more awareness and reporting,” Dr Newman said.

“Sex in general is spoken about more openly and there is more information available online.”

There are also more skilled practitioners today and painful sex is treated more seriously, according to Jennifer Langford, who is director at Melbourne’s Clifton Hill Physiotherapy and specialises in pelvic floor rehabilitation.

“There is [now] more awareness and reporting,” Dr Newman said.

“Sex in general is spoken about more openly and there is more information available online.”

There are also more skilled practitioners today and painful sex is treated more seriously, according to Jennifer Langford, who is director at Melbourne’s Clifton Hill Physiotherapy and specialises in pelvic floor rehabilitation.

“Women with pain would often be told ten years ago ‘have a glass of wine at home and relax’,” Ms Langford said.

“Health professionals now have a deeper understanding of the complexity of sexual pain. It can take a number of specialists to manage appropriately.”

‘Hitting a brick wall’
Painful sex can be linked to vaginismus, which makes penetration difficult because of increased muscle tension in the vagina.

This happens in response to pain and discomfort or a fear of pain. It can be due to a variety of causes, such as thrush, endometriosis, cultural taboos, trauma or anxiety.

“I describe it as a panic attack of the pelvic floor,” said Dr Janet Hall, a sex therapist and psychologist.

“When the man tries to insert his penis into the woman’s vagina he says ‘it’s like I’m hitting a brick wall, it’s totally impenetrable’.”

Pain during sex also affects partners, who Dr Hall said are often involved in treatment.

“I’m always open to seeing [clients] as a couple. You know, it’s a partnership.”


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