back to Relationships

Note: this piece originally appeared on Vanessa’s blog. 


Welcome to Reader Request Fridays, when I answer questions from reader emails. This week the question comes from Julia*, who writes, “I try to enjoy sex, but it never feels good. I’m recently married, and it scares me to consider a lifetime of bad sex. Is something wrong with me? Is there anything I can do?

There are a huge number of women out there whose sex lives are devoid of pleasure. I’m always thankful when I get a client with these kinds of complaints, because I know with almost complete certainty that there’s something I can do to help her.

It saddens me to think of how many women are simply gritting their teeth, staring at the ceiling, and grimacing through uncomfortable, unpleasurable, or downright painful sex.

Even typing that sentence makes me want to cry. I want all women to be able to experience pleasurable sex, and I know that this dream is possible!

Some women out there might think that bearing with uncomfortable sex isn’t that big of a deal. It’s up to each of you to make decisions for yourselves, but here are some reasons why you might want to reconsider:

You may be harming your body

One of the most frequent culprits of painful sex is a lack of proper vaginal lubrication. If you keep having sex and don’t do anything to rectify this issue, you can cause vaginal tears, which can lead to infections.

You may be hurting your psyche

There’s something soul-deadening about repeatedly forcing yourself to do something that causes you pain or discomfort.

Again, it’s up to each woman to take her own unique situation into consideration and make the decisions that feel best for her.

Sometimes it may feel generous and kind to throw your partner a bone when you’re not feeling particularly aroused.

Other times it may feel like you’re being coerced or guilted (by yourself or by your partner) into doing something you really don’t want to do.

I want to encourage you to honestly examine your own motivations.

You’re cheating yourself out of pleasure

You have an almost unlimited capacity for experiencing pleasure. Women’s bodies are exquisitely sensitive.

Our clitorises have double the nerve endings that penises have. Double! And think of how much smaller a clitoris is than a penis! Why deny yourself all of that potential?

Your partner probably doesn’t enjoy it either

It’s usually easy to tell when you’re being intimate with someone who isn’t enjoying themselves. You may think you’re being self-sacrificing for your partner, but odds are they’re not particularly enthralled with having sex with you while you lie there limply.

Sex is so much more fun when both partners are into it.

So what can you do if you don’t enjoy sex? Each situation is unique, but here are some general guidelines to follow:

Get a medical evaluation

There can be a whole host of physiological reasons for painful sex, including sexually transmitted infections, endometriosis, fibroids, cystitis, vaginismus and dyspareunia.

Having a thorough medical workup can help you find the cause of your discomfort, or give you the peace of mind that there’s nothing biologically wrong.

Consider psychotherapy

This is particularly important if you have a traumatic sexual history. Women who have been sexually abused frequently complain of sexual pain and discomfort.

Even if the abuse was years ago or you think you’re “over it”, your body can still respond in ways that your head doesn’t understand. I’ve worked with many sexual abuse survivors, and I can wholeheartedly assure you that psychotherapy helps immensely. This book is also a great resource.

Give yourself enough time

So many women have intercourse before their bodies are properly warmed up. Women who have sex with men tend to rush themselves because men generally get aroused faster.

As I mentioned above, lack of lubrication is one of the most frequent causes of sexual pain. If you don’t have enough lubrication, there’s too much friction between your vaginal walls and your partner’s penis. Excessive friction can cause microscopic tears in your sensitive vaginal tissues.

If you make sure you’re aroused before having sex, you’ll be better lubricated and less likely to experience discomfort.

Use lubricant

I wish more women were clued in to the magical powers of great lube! You can use lube if your body doesn’t produce enough natural lubricant, but it’s wonderful even for women who get wet enough on their own.

Lube can not only decrease sexual pain, but can also amplify the pleasurable sensations you feel during sex.

The brand I recommend is Eros. It’s more expensive than drugstore brands, but it has the best texture of any lube I’ve come across, and a little bit goes a very long way.

Don’t neglect your clitoris

Many women think that they’re supposed to feel good simply from penetration. The reality is that the vast majority of women need clitoral stimulation in order to feel sexual pleasure.

Try improving your sexual skills

So many women don’t enjoy sex because they’re having terrible sex! I know it sounds simplistic, but it happens all the time.

Learning how to have better sex can be an exciting and joyful experience, and can help you and your partner bond on an even deeper level.

Consider signing up for a joint Sexploration Session to get started on this thrilling journey!

Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in all things sex. Her aim is to take the intimidation out of sex therapy and bring the fun back into the bedroom. She sees clients in San Francisco, and offers online sex education and coaching programs like Finishing School: Learn How To Orgasm. In her spare time, she enjoys reading three books at once, going on walks with her pug, and making her husband laugh. Visit her at read more about