In many cases, vaginal or penile burning results from insufficient lubrication or friction.

Although neither of these conditions is life-threatening, the discomfort they cause can certainly put a damper on things.

Dyspareunia — pain associated with penetrative sex — is common.

It may affect up to 20 percent of cisgender women in the United States, as well as up to 5 percent of cisgender men in Australia.

It’s also treatable. After reviewing your symptoms, a doctor or other healthcare provider can recommend therapies that will help you get back to business, pain-free.

Here’s what to watch for and when to seek medical attention.

Burning usually results from dryness, an allergic reaction, or an underlying infection.

Insufficient lubrication

Not having enough natural lubrication can increase skin irritation and sensitivity. This can lead to a burning sensation.

In some cases, the medications that you’re taking can cause dryness. This includes antihistamines, decongestants, and diuretics.

Other times, a lack of foreplay, trouble relaxing during sex, or other sex-related concerns can lead to insufficient lubrication.

If possible, talk to your partner about how you both can work to make sex more comfortable and less likely to cause burning.

You can also try water-soluble lubricants. These shouldn’t affect condom use and can enhance overall sexual pleasure.

Rough stimulation or intercourse

Vigorous stimulation or penetration can create too much friction and result in unwanted burning.

It’s important that you and your partner are on the same page about the activities you’re trying, as well as the overall pace.

Speak up if what’s happening is too rough, hard, or fast for you.

Talking to your partner about how you feel is the only way to prevent further irritation and discomfort.

Allergic reaction to products used during sex

While some people can use condoms, lube, and toys without issue, others may find they’re really sensitive to them.

For example, you may be sensitive to the latex present in many condoms. This can lead to redness, swelling, and irritation that makes sex painful.

Scented or fragranced products can also contain dyes and perfumes that some find irritating and painful.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what you will and won’t have an allergic reaction to until after it has already happened.

However, if you experience an allergic reaction once, it’ll probably happen again.

To avoid this, toss any new products or toys that you think could have caused your symptoms.

Allergic reaction to semen

It’s possible that be allergic to your partner’s semen. There are proteins naturally present in sperm that can trigger symptoms.

In addition to burning, you may experience:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • hives
  • itching

The symptoms can appear anywhere that came into contact with semen, including:

  • hands
  • mouth
  • chest
  • vaginal canal or labia
  • shaft or area above the penis
  • anus

Most of these symptoms begin within 10 to 30 minutes of exposure. They may last anywhere from several hours to several days.

It’s possible to have a symptom-free encounter with one partner and experience an allergic reaction with another, so consult a doctor to be sure.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A UTI can affect more than your ability to pee — it can also cause irritation and painful sex.

This condition occurs when excess bacteria builds up in the urinary tract and causes inflammation.

Symptoms may include:

  • burning during urination
  • passing cloudy urine
  • urine that appears red, pink, or cola-colored
  • urine that smells foul or strong
  • pelvic pain, especially around the pubic bone

UTIs are treatable with prescription antibiotics.

Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Certain STIs can cause pain and burning during intercourse. These include:

Sometimes, pain during or after sex may be the only symptom present.

If other symptoms are present, they may include:

  • itching or swelling in the affected area
  • blisters, bumps, or sores on the vagina, penis, or anus
  • unusual bleeding from the vagina, penis, or anus
  • unusual discharge, likely yellow, green, or gray in color
  • pain the the lower abdomen
  • pain in the testicles

Chlamydia and trichomoniasis are both curable with prescription antibiotics.

There isn’t a cure for herpes, but prescription medication can help reduce the frequency and overall severity of symptoms.


Urethritis is a bacterial or vial infection of the urethra. This is the long, thin tube that carries urine from the bladder to the opening where you pee.

It’s usually caused by an underlying STI.

In addition to burning, urethritis may cause:

  • painful urination
  • frequent urination
  • itching at the site where urine comes out
  • unusual discharge from the urethra, such as cloudy urine, mucus, or pus
  • pelvic pain

Urethritis is treatable with prescription antibiotics.

Interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a condition that causes bladder and pelvic pain, which can make sex painful and uncomfortable.

The condition can closely mimic that of a UTI, but it won’t cause a fever or other symptoms of infection.

Symptoms can include:

  • pelvic pain, especially between the vagina and anus or scrotum and anus
  • frequent need to urinate, even though you produce less urine each time you go
  • pain as your bladder fills and relief when it empties
  • accidental urine leakage (incontinence)

Doctors can treat this condition with prescription medication and nerve stimulation techniques. Sometimes, surgery is required.

Some possibilities are specific to your individual anatomy.

A result of douching or other pH disruption

Douching introduces irritants (such as perfumes) into the vagina, altering the pH balance.

This can irritate and inflame the vaginal tissues, making sex painful.

It can also increase your risk of infection, such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

Your symptoms should subside when you stop douching.

If you’re concerned about vaginal cleanliness or odor, take a look at our guide. We go over where to wash, what to use, and what to avoid.

A result of hormonal birth control or other imbalance

Hormones play a major role in how thick your tissues are, as well as in creating and releasing lubrication.

If your estrogen levels are low, you may vaginal dryness. This can lead to painful sex.

Other signs of low estrogen include:

  • frequent UTIs
  • irregular or absent menstruation
  • hot flashes
  • tender breasts

If you suspect that low estrogen is behind your symptoms, consult a doctor. They may prescribe an estrogen pill, shot, or suppository to help alleviate your symptoms.

Some people who take low-dose birth control pills may also experience a condition called provoked vestibulodynia (PVD).

PVD occurs when the body senses the low hormone doses and begins to suppress hormones like estrogen. This can result in pelvic pain and vaginal dryness.

Talk to your doctor about switching to a pill with more estrogen or to a different form of contraception.

Vaginal yeast infection

A yeast infection occurs when there’s too much Candida fungus (yeast) in the vagina.

The vagina naturally contains a mix of bacteria and yeast. If this balance is disrupted — with douching, for example — it may cause the yeast cells to multiply.

This can cause itching or irritation, leading to burning after sex.

Other symptoms may include:

  • painful urination
  • swelling around the vagina
  • white or gray discharge
  • watery, clumpy, or cottage cheese–like discharge
  • rash

Yeast infections can usually be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medication.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV is caused by a bacterial overgrowth in the vagina.

This usually results from a change in vagina pH, which may be caused by a change in sexual partners or douching.

This can cause itching or irritation, leading to burning after sex.

Other symptoms may include:

  • painful urination
  • itching around the vagina
  • unusual discharge, likely yellow, green, or gray in color
  • strong-smelling odor that gets worse after sex

BV is treatable with prescription antibiotics.

Atrophic vaginitis

Atrophic vaginitis causes your vaginal tissues to become thinner and dryer.

This can cause itching or irritation, leading to burning after sex. You may also experience light spotting afterward.

Other symptoms may include:

  • painful urination
  • frequent need to urinate
  • accidental urine leakage (incontinence)
  • frequent UTIs

Although this condition is more common in those experiencing menopause, it can occur any time there’s a substantial decrease in estrogen.

This may occur for a number of different reasons, including breastfeeding, hormonal contraception, and pelvic radiation therapy.

If you suspect that atrophic vaginitis is behind your symptoms, consult a doctor. They may prescribe an estrogen pill, shot, or suppository to help alleviate your symptoms.

Some possibilities are specific to your individual anatomy.


Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland. The prostate is responsible for creating the fluid that transports semen through the penis.

Although some cases are result from an underlying bacterial infection, others may have no known cause.

In addition to painful ejaculation and burning, prostatitis may cause:

  • bloody urine
  • cloudy urine
  • painful urination
  • frequent need to urinate, even though you produce less urine each time you go
  • fever or chills
  • muscle aches

If you suspect that prostatitis is behind your symptoms, consult a doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics or medications to help relax your bladder.

In many cases, burning will subside if you increase the amount of time spent on foreplay and use added lubrication.

If sex continues to be painful, make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare provider.

You should also make an appointment if you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as unusual discharge or a four odor.

Your provider will review your symptoms and advise you on any next steps. Many underlying conditions can be successfully treated with antibiotics.