Peer Health

Female Problems with Sexual Functioning

Male problems with sexual functioning often receive more attention than do women’s, since, in heterosexual relationships, men are often perceived as the partner who must “perform.” But women may also have problems which prevent them from enjoying intercourse fully. When both partners are conscious of each other’s emotional and physical feelings, sexual intimacy–whether it takes the form of sexual intercourse or other activities–may be a more pleasurable experience each.


Women may experience uncomfortable or painful sexual intercourse, known as dispareunia, for a variety of physical reasons. Vaginal infections or irritations may make penetration of the vagina painful, or penetration may cause the infection to flare up. Women may also develop reactions to contraceptive products, lubricants, or other feminine hygiene products. Lubrication of the vagina is also important in making sexual intercourse fully pleasurable. Insufficient lubrication of the vagina may have physical causes or may be the result of nervousness or lack of arousal. A spermicidal or water-based lubricant is the best method for adding vaginal lubrication, particularly if you are using condoms (oil-based lubricants will break down latex). During the first few times she has intercourse, a woman may feel pain due to an unstretched hymen or nervousness. Waiting until she is most aroused and trying to relax may help reduce this discomfort. Pain deeper in the pelvic area during intercourse may be caused by an infection or other medical problem. If any pain during intercourse persistently recurs, seeing a gynecologist is a good idea.


Strong involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles, specifically of the outer third of the vagina, may make penetration sharply painful. This spasm of the vaginal muscles, known as vaginismus may be an unconscious defense against an uncomfortable sexual situation. Previous unwanted sexual experiences, including rape, may also result in vaginismus. Health care professionals or psychotherapists may be able to suggest self-treatment techniques to help alleviate painful penetration.