Experiencing unwanted pain during sex can be very traumatic. It can disrupt sexual and romantic relationships and cause high amounts of stress and anxiety to sufferers and their partners. According to the World Health Organisation between 8-21% of women will experience dyspareunia, or pain during sex at some point in their lives. This widespread and often under treated problem can have a wide range of causes including:
- Infections and illnesses such as UTI’s, chlamydia and yeast infections
- Injury and trauma for example following giving birth or post-surgery
- Hormonal causes including endometriosis and estrogen deficiency
- Vaginismus which is where the vaginal muscles involuntary spasm shut. Vaginismus is mainly psychosomatic. This means it is triggered by psychological factors such as fear and anxiety, sexual trauma, stress and negative emotions about sex and/or your genitals
- Vulvodynia – pain and discomfort around the vulva and/or entrance to the vagina with no distinct cause.
Accessing Help and Support
If you are experiencing pain during sex please see a healthcare professional. Help for painful sex can come in many forms. Physiotherapy, medications, psychological therapies, self help and relaxation techniques can all be part of addressing this issue. Remember, no one should tell be telling you that unwanted pain during sex is normal, or that you should push through the pain. If they do – don’t be afraid to be your own advocate and seek a second opinion.
In some cases, using sex toys can help people with conditions such as Vaginismus. This guide offers some advice and ideas for products which may be helpful. It should not however be taken as medical advice.
What is Sex Anyway?
For a lot of people sex means penetration. When pain makes penetration unpleasant or even impossible it can be helpful to expand the boundaries of what sex means to you. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy sexual pleasure on your own or with a partner that do not involve penetration. Oral sex, massage, grinding, nipple play and BDSM are just a few ideas to try!
Masturbation is often recommended as a way to help people with vaginismus and other causes of vaginal pain overcome negative associations and anxiety around sex and penetration. A clitoral vibrator can be a fun addition and can be used solo or with a partner. If your partner has a penis, they also may want to try a masturbation sleeve to experience the sensation of penetration without causing pain. Exploring new experiences together can help maintain and even build intimacy in sexual relationships when penetrative sex is off the table.
Sex toys for Vaginismus and Painful Sex
It might not exactly be a sex toy but at The Pleasure Garden we think lube should be in everyone’s toy box. It makes everything just that bit easier and a whole lot more fun! Just to be clear – there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing or wanting to use lube! There are all sorts of causes for vaginal dryness which have nothing to do with ‘not being aroused enough’ or being ‘broken’. Vaginal dryness can itself be a cause of pain during sex. Many people experience vaginal dryness as one of the results of the menopause, or while they are lactating. A good helping of water-based or silicone lube can make all the difference.
Lube is also essential if you choose to explore insertable toys. It helps reduce friction and ensures everything slides smoothly. There are two main types of lube – water-based and silicone-based. Water based works with almost everything and has a lovely light texture. Silicone based is often thicker, longer-lasting and you can use less of it – but it can damage silicone sex toys. When choosing lube make sure to read the ingredients. You want to avoid anything with glycerine which can encourage bacterial growth and cause yeast and other infections.
- Yes WB – Yes is a water-based personal lubricant which is designed to mimic your bodies natural lubrication. It has intensely hydrating formula which has been specifically designed to address vaginal dryness. (It also comes in a thicker variety for anal play called Yes Butt… How can you not love that!)
- Sliquid Silver – Silver is the silicone lube from the excellent Sliquid range. Thick, long-lasting and super slippery Silver is a great product from a great ethical company.
Kegel exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor including the muscles around the vagina. Strengthening the muscles of the vaginal wall may seem counter intuitive if you have a condition like vaginismus, which causes the muscles in the vagina to clamp shut. Some people however, find that learning to control and relax these muscles through kegel exercise can be a successful treatment.
Kegel Balls are a really useful tool for kegel exercise. Think of them like a set of dumbells for your vagina! Sometimes called love balls or Ben Wa balls, they are generally a set of small weighted balls that you insert in to your vagina. They encourage you to engage the muscles of your pelvic floor, building strength and control over time.
- Fifty Shades of Grey Delicious Pleasure – While the books might not offer the most accurate description of kegel balls, The Delicious Pleasure balls are great for beginners. The oval shape of the balls make them easier to insert than more traditional balls.
- Je Joue Ami – This set of three differently sized and shaped kegel balls is perfect for those looking to enhance their kegel training. Each ball has a different weight and feel allowing you to build strength and control over time.
For many people experiencing pain during sex, particularly vaginismus, a suggested treatment is the use of vaginal dilators. These are rods which can be inserted in to the vagina and often come in sets of gradually increasing size. The idea behind them is that you can gently train yourself to be able to achieve penetration without pain by slowing increasing the size used. Some doctors may prescribe a dilator set, but many people choose to use commercially available dildos. Dildos have the added advantage of being designed for sexual pleasure as well which is a bit of a plus!
Here are a few tips on using a dildo or dilator as part of vaginal training:
- Use lube – lots of lube.
- Try to relax as much as possible. Use deep calming breaths and focus on relaxing your vaginal muscles. Having a session after a relaxing bath or shower can help as well as bending your knees.
- Never push through pain. If you start to experience pain or discomfort, stop. Don’t try to insert any further. Take your time to adjust to the sensations.
- Introduce gentle movement such as rocking thrusting or swirling. Try some kegel exercises and actively relax your vaginal muscles during insertion
- While many medical dilator sets are made of hard plastic, a lot of people find the softer feeling of silicone more comfortable and easier to use.
The advantage of using a dildo or dilator to help overcome painful penetration is that it puts you in complete control. You can work at your own pace and build towards your goals, whether it is to have penetrative sex or have a pain-free smear test.
- BS Atelier Oben – This beautiful, colourful dildo has been designed specifically with vaginal training in mind. With a slim 2.5 cm wide shaft, it is made of dual density silicone with a special soft tip for easy insertion. It is also a fantastic toy for g-spot stimulation
- Inspire Silicone Dilator Set – With 5 gently curved dilators ranging from 1.25 cm to 3.25 cm wide this set is perfect if you want to start small and work your way up
- Sportsheets New Comers Strap On Set – This set comes with a petite (2.2cm wide) and simple silicone dildo. At £28 is it cheaper than many other silicone dilidos and comes with a fun strap-on harness which you may want to use to explore other sexual adventures!
Many insertable vibrators can be used in much the same way as a dildo, but with the added advantage of vibration! The theory is vibration can help stimulate blood flow to you genitals which may have a beneficial effect. The research on that isn’t clear, but we do know that vibrators can feel great! Adding pleasurable stimulation may help overcome previous painful or negative experiences. They can also be used for clitoral stimulation as well – bonus!
- Platinum Power Bullet – This powerful bullet vibrator is a great choice for people who want to add vibration to their dilation training. At 1.7 cm diameter this vibrator is perfect for those looking for something super slim.
- Rocks Off Kama – The very gentle tapered design of the Rocks Off Kama makes it easy to insert.
- Fifty Shades of Grey Charlie Tango – With a simple smooth design the Charlie Tango is a great choice as a vibrating dilator. With a diameter of 2.7 cm it is a good step up in size without becoming overwhelming.
If you are looking for some more information about Vaginismus and other causes of pain during sex you might want to check out these:
- The fabulous webcomic Oh Joy Sex Toy has two great comics which explain Vaginismus and Vestibulodynia (a form of Vulvodynia) in more detail.
- Peer support is a really useful tool for helping understand, cope and heal. The Vaginismus Network is an online peer support network connecting people who are effected.
- Some people may want to seek support from a sex therapist to help them to identify the causes of pain during sex and create a treatment plan. The College of Sex and Relationship Therapists has information on finding a qualified therapist in the UK.
Note on recommended products
We have chosen the products to recommend in this guide based on user reviews and feedback, not at the request of manufacturers. We aim to stock as many of these products as possible at The Pleasure Garden, but where we are unable to currently stock them we will provide a link directly to the manufacturer. We do not generate any income from these external links.