***TW: below some difficult reasons are discussed as to why sex can be painful or uncomfortable, including medical reasons, post-sexual assault or because of coercion/control***
Often there is a really valid reason as to why we don’t want sex, yet we doubt ourselves about why that is.
There could a be thousand good reasons why we don’t (find out more here).
However, sometimes that reason might be that the sex itself (or the build up to it) is the problem
The simple truth is that if sex doesn’t feel good, we’re unlikely to want it in the future.
You wouldn’t want to eat something that tasted gross, made you worried about eating it, or hurt you.
In fact, you’d probably actively avoid it.
So if you’ve been shuffling away from your partners advances or going to bed later/earlier than them to avoid sex, perhaps there’s something in it about how the sex feels.
Read on for details about how distressing, unexciting, bad or painful sex (either the sex you’re having or your experience of the build up) can impact on your sex drive….
It might be that sex has become stressful for you, for a variety of reasons.
This might be around anxiety.
You might be trying your hardest to relax into sex but if you feel stressed or worried, sex might be the time when these anxious thoughts seep into your mind.
You might be trying your hardest to be “in the moment” and surrender to pleasure but instead are fighting an internal battle against intrusive thoughts.
To really enjoy sex you need to be relaxed so this then becomes a vicious cycle in which you can’t orgasm because you’re so stressed by not feeling like you’re going to orgasm. Capeche?
This worry might then extend to the build up to sex so that anxiety about sex becomes triggered every time you think about it or your partner tries to initiate it. You might worry about whether you’re going to be able to perform- e.g. will you be wet enough to have sex? (I always felt embarrassed about the idea of using lube!). Will you be able to relax enough to enjoy it? Are they enjoying it? Do you look OK? Will you be able to orgasm?
These worried thoughts become so tied to sex that any kind of initiation trigger- e.g. a hand on your back, the pre-breakfast sex request– can send you into a spiral of worry. Sex is so enmeshed with anxiety that it isn’t enjoyable. And if it’s a stressful experience for you, makes sense that you’d avoid it!
To read more about sex and anxiety, click here.
It’s a similar issue with body image.
If you’re worried about how you look, whether this bit is jiggling, if his ex looked better, if they’ve noticed your scar, if you smell OK- you’re not focused on what you’re doing and are again stuck inside your own head (just like anxiety).
This takes away the pleasure of sex and instead turns it into the equivalent of your year 10 PE classes where you feel vulnerable, exposed, and forced to do an activity where you feel the height of discomfort because you’re worried about what your peers are thinking. The same goes for the build up cycle- if you know you’ll be worried about how you look, even the initiation of sex becomes something stressful. To read more about sex and body image, click here.
Both issues (and any others you can think of that might mean sex is stressful for you) can mean that your libido takes a nose dive because sex is a stressor not a relaxer. Click through to the above pages for more guidance on how to move past this so that you can enjoy the great sex you deserve!
Note that sometimes sex becomes so entwined with worry that it’s also worthwhile consulting a professional on how to move forwards.
If sex is always the same old same old, it’s likely to be very uninspiring and unappealing to you.
Especially when you’ve been in a long term relationship and you feel like you’ve done every position under the sun.
Take a read of this article on having engaging, varied sex to see how it could be very simple things you incorporate into your lifestyle to change up sex and make it exciting again. Especially worth noting is the advice from Esther Perel!
Sex that makes you feel bad
So- sex should NEVER make you feel bad.
And yet, there are times when having a low libido can mean sex becomes a charged issue with the household.
Sex (or the lack of it) can cause arguments, leave one or both partners feeling rejected, and can create bad feeling as well being a consequence of it.
One of the most common ways that sex can leave you feeling bad is around losing control of the initiation process.
Feeling constantly hounded for sex, being the one that is pursued and then have to “give in”, is one of the least sexy patterns to be stuck in.
But having a low libido can mean that a couple can be stuck in a rut of one partner initiating and the other feeling a total lack of control over sex generally. And often it’s the element of control that makes you feel sexy in the first place.
So the initiation of sex itself and the signs that go alongside it can become associated with occupying a certain position in the relationship that gets played out over and over, leaving one or both partners feeling bad or frustrated at the role they play. Read more about initiation and control here.
Sex can also leave you feeling bad if you’re anything like me and don’t like the idea of scheduling sex and the impending doom that calendar entry creates when it arrives- the pressure and expectation around scheduled sex isn’t for me at all! Read more here on scheduling sex.
“Feeling bad” after sex can also have a more concerning side.
Many of us often think we understand consent, yet navigating sex and consent in a long term relationship where one partner has a lower libido can be an issue that is complex. Often women are told to “just do it” in order to get in the mood, yet this creates problems when we only talk about sex in terms of “enthusiastic consent”.
We also don’t tend to talk about sexual assault within relationships, and when a low libido is at play (possibly caused by issues within the relationship to begin with), partners might be more at risk of “giving in” to sex to “keep the peace” or experiencing forced intercourse from a partner that feels entitled to sex.
This can leave women feeling guilty, confused, upset, and unsure how to feel after being manipulated or coerced into sex.
When sex doesn’t feel good or leaves you feeling bad, this is a very good reason for not wanting it in future. If you recognise yourself within this or are concerned, Rape Crisis England have some amazing resources and a helpline to call if you’re experiencing sexual coercion.
Before you begin this section, take a read of this fantastic article: “Why do women put up with painful sex?” which goes through some of the cultural problems with painful sex and how sex education can perpetuate the myth that sex should be painful for women.
Below are some of the common causes of pain during sex. Note, there are many!
Any pain during sex means that sex isn’t pleasurable. It’s advisable to speak to your GP or sexual health clinic if you are experiencing pain or discomfort. For goodness sake don’t put up with it for your partners sake- sex should feel great not hurt! There is support and help available if you reach out.
Vaginal dryness: not getting wet can be caused by a number of reasons, including during the menopause, when breastfeeding, feeling anxious or unable to relax, because of perfumed soaps or as a result of medication (to name a few). This can mean trying to have sex can feel uncomfortable or even painful.
Being worried/tense: generally feeling worried or unable to relax makes your body tighten up- including your pelvic muscles! This is a common reason why sex might hurt. This article is great on ways to relax and unwind during sex.
Fear of being hurt (again): this is worry about future pain, or pain re-occuring, during or post-sex. The pain could be due to previous experiences where the vagina has been impacted, e.g. childbirth, sexual assault, a termination. It is normal to feel apprehensive about sexual activity if you think it will cause soreness or pain.
Cystitis: I wanted to include cystitis in here because it’s a FUCKER! Read my article here on the perils of cystitis and your sex drive.
Thrush: thrush is also great at killing your sex drive! Who feels sexy and “up for it” when your vag is itching like a mo’fo and you feel less than clean downstairs. Recurrent thrush can even make you feel worried about having sex again in case it comes back.
Vulvodynia: Charlotte famously had vulvodynia in “Sex and the City”, and was mistakenly labelled as having a “depressed vagina”. You can find out more about vulvodynia in this article by the Independent, however it’s often described as pain in the vagina that feels like burning. If you experience vaginal pain, the amazing Vulval Pain Society have a great article on the treatment of vaginal pain as well as links to places where you can get support on this issue.
Lichen Sclerosus: this is a dermatological condition causing white bumps on the skin, particularly on the vulva or anus in women. The bumps may become itchy and can be associated with pain during intercourse as well as women feeling unattractive or having body confidence issues as a result. The Association for Lichen Sclerosus and Vulva Health is a great first point of call for assistance.
Vaginismus: “is the involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted” and can both physical and psychological impacts on the women that suffer with it. A great source of support is the Vaginismus Network– a community of women talking out about their experiences.
Pelvis Inflammatory Disease:
Endometriosis: there is a great #sexdrivestories post by Sensual Delights on the impact of Endometriosis on her sex drive available here .
Fibroids: are small non-cancerous masses that can grow in the uterus. Penetration can cause pressure on the fibroids that cause pan or discomfort. This article explains the link between fibroids, pain and sex.
IBS: IBS can cause pain from bloating/swelling and also have a huge impact on your sex drive because it can leave you feeling less than sexy. There’s a great post on sex and IBS here.
Sensitive skin: you might feel irritation from latex condoms or have reactions to certain soaps or scented bath products that can cause pain or itching during sex.
Post-surgery or childbirth: this could be because of time needed to heal post-operation, the surgery or event itself changing the shape/look of your external or internal organs (e.g. after a hysterectomy), or it could also be linked to fear of being hurt. All of these reasons are perfectly valid as to why you might feel apprehensive or even terrified of penetration or any kind of stimulation. There is a fantastic #sexdrivestories post on sex after childbirth here to read.
Is there anything else that has worked for you if sex hurts or is uncomfortable?