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Has Sex Become a Pain?

New study says it’s a common problem

Has Sex Become a Pain?

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Among postmenopausal women 10.4 percent reported painful sex.

Has the big O become the big Ow for many women?

A large, new British study finds that about 1 in 10 sexually active women find sex painful. Women ages 55 to 64 are most likely to be affected, but younger women report problems as well, especially those under 34.

Not surprisingly, the survey of nearly 7,000 sexually active women ages 16 to 74 also found a strong link between painful sex and other sexual problems, including vaginal dryness, anxiety during sex, and lack of sexual enjoyment.

This is the fourth such study in an ongoing British national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyle that began in 1990. The study was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Many women also reported they found it difficult to discuss the subject with medical providers, which can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, depression and sexual inadequacy, the researchers said.

Among all women surveyed, 7.5 percent reported painful sex. Among postmenopausal women (ages 55 to 64), 10.4 percent reported painful sex for three months or more. Younger women also had problems with pain, including 9.5 percent of those 16 to 24 and 8 percent of those 25 to 34.

About a third of women reporting painful sex said they were dissatisfied with their sex life, and nearly 45 percent said fear of pain and other sexual difficulties had caused them to avoid sex.

Older women, in particular, can find sex painful due to vaginal dryness after menopause, lead researcher Kirstin Mitchell, of the Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC News.

So what can postmenopausal women do to reduce pain during intercourse?

JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia Health System and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, has these suggestions:

  • Help your body produce more natural lubrication with regular use of an over-the-counter, long-lasting lubricant. Using sex toys may also help increase sexual stimulation and the natural flow of things.
  • Prescription low-dose estrogen applied directly to vaginal tissues — by cream, ring or suppository — can help counteract the thinning and dryness of vaginal tissues. Unlike hormone replacement therapy, it is safe and effective because very little gets into the bloodstream.
  • Ask your doctor about Osphena, a nonhormonal prescription oral medication that acts on estrogen receptors in the vagina. However, those with a history of blood clots can’t use it, and it hasn’t been tested for safety on women who have had breast cancer, Pinkerton adds.

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