Painful intercourse, ‘dyspareunia’ in medical terms, happens to many women at different points during their lives and has a number of different causes. The Mayo Clinic defines dyspareunia as “persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse” and urges anyone experiencing pain on intercourse to consult with their doctor.
Recently at the clinic, myself and one of our wonderful acupuncturists treated a patient who had been experiencing sharp, shooting pains during intercourse. She and her hubby had been together for several years, and this had only become an issue in the past 12 months. The pain was so unbearable they were hardly ever able to do the deed; plus, they have been trying to conceive for two years, hoping to expand their family. The patient described feeling like one side of the vaginal canal was stiff, and when they tried to have sex she was putting up with severe knife-like pain, followed by bleeding. Most lubricants aggravated the condition, none they had tried was helpful. She went to her medical doctor who did a pelvic exam and requested an ultrasound – the results showed that there was some ‘muscular tension,’ but nothing remarkable (no infections or red flags). Needless to say, it was killing her libido and snuffing their sex life.
It’s been 3 months since her initial visit with us, and in the past month and a half she has had absolutely no pain on intercourse. She’s been experiencing more regular cycles (previously cycling between 16-40+ days in length; most recent cycles have been 25-28 days in length), improved energy, increased natural lubrication, and her libido is approaching what it once was in her 20s.
What did we do with her? We made some simple dietary shifts and suggested a few natural supplements, along with regular weekly acupuncture. It’s my guess that the following changes have had the biggest impact:
-reduced processed foods, sugar, red meat and other inflammatory foods
-increased hydration status (through increased water intake, herbal teas, coconut water, etc.)
-high doses of vitamin D (we tested her levels, which were shown to be well below acceptable)
-high ratio EPA:DHA fish oil to reduce inflammation and assist with natural lubrication
-herbal formulas to balance her cycles (estrogen detoxification in the first half of the cycle, progesterone building in the second half)
-stress reduction lifestyle techniques (mindfulness, engaging in activities that bring joy, breathing exercises)
-acupuncture to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and help to balance the nervous system
She is in disbelief that in three short months we’ve been able to achieve so much with simple, gentle, natural therapies.
I need to mention that painful intercourse can result from a number of different causes that can be treated by natural medicine: reduced lubrication and vaginal thinning around menopause, skin disorders like eczema, vaginismus (involuntary vaginal spasms), endometriosis, uterine fibroids (in some cases), hemorrhoids, scar tissue from previous surgery, high stress, psychological concerns (about your appearance, about intimacy, depression, anxiety, etc).
But it can also result from a number of conditions you’d want to be treated with pharmaceuticals or surgery for: like sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids (in other cases), cystitis, ovarian cysts, uterine prolapse, etc.
If you or someone you know is experiencing painful intercourse, be sure to make an appointment with your primary care doctor (natural or conventional) to rule out any serious causes – and seek the help of a naturopathic physician if the pain is unresolved from conventional treatment. It may be just the thing you need.