Good sex is supposed to leave you buzzing.
If you’re left feeling tingly, numb, or unable to climax… we’re here to help you figure out what to do next.
And they’re not the same.
A tingling numbness isn’t that different from the “pins-and-needles” feeling you might get when your arm or leg “goes to sleep.”
This kind of prickly, tingly sensation is almost always nerve-related. Some people feel it during arousal or after rigorous sexual activity.
This is very different from a complete lack-of-feeling kind of numbness.
If you don’t feel anything at all during sexual activity, something more serious could be going on that requires clinical treatment.
Neither kinds of numbness are necessarily “normal,” but according to Regina Cardaci, a women’s health nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, “they aren’t as uncommon as people think.”
When it happens after sex, it’s more often than not caused by overstimulation of the nerves in your genitals or hypersensitivity.
“Some people are super sensitive after sex and don’t like any further touching,” says Cardaci.
More often than not, post-sex numbness will feel more like tingling, but, according to Cardaci, it can feel a little different for everyone.
“For some, this [sensitivity] can be numbness, which can be frustrating when your partner wants to continue even though you aren’t capable of really feeling anything.”
The good news is that any vaginal numbness you experience after sex is usually temporary and it should resolve with some rest.
Contrary to any scary myths you might have heard, you aren’t going to “break” your vagina by using a sex toy.
It’s true, though, that sex toy stimulation can cause temporary numbness after orgasm.
“Some sex toys, especially vibrators set on a ‘stronger’ or ‘higher’ vibration mode, can cause numbness even before orgasm, sometimes making climax impossible,” says Cardaci.
She reiterates, “this doesn’t cause long-term damage. Just [turn] it down and have some fun.”
The hormonal changes caused by menopause can cause some vaginal numbness or decreased sensation.
Ritter explains that this is due to “lower estrogen levels, which cause the tissues of the vulva and vagina to become thinner, drier, and less elastic.”
Numbness could also be caused by stress, especially if it’s persistent.
“Sexual function is highly dependent on what is happening consciously and subconsciously, as well as what’s happening physically,” Ritter continues.
This likely resulted from a mix of stress-related mental distractions and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Giving birth can put pressure on, stretch, or even injure the nerves in the pelvic floor. This is especially common if you delivered a large baby.
“Any time a nerve is cut or the vessel that brings blood to the area is cut, there can be a loss of sensation,” explains Cardaci.
This will affect how sex feels, and, for some people, that manifests itself as tingling or numbness.
“The good news is that this usually does resolve in time,” she continues.
“The nerves do regenerate and blood flow improves. This typically takes up to 3 months, but in larger areas it can take longer.”
If you’ve experienced sexual assault or other trauma, it could cause numbness during sexual activity.
This could be due to a physical injury that you sustained or a psychological reaction to what happened, causing you to feel fearful or stressed by the very idea of having sex.
If you have a history of assault or trauma, you may find it helpful to talk to a doctor so they can get you the care you need.
If you have other symptoms or your vaginal numbness is persistent, there are a few other things it could be.
According to Dr. Kecia Gaither, director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln and OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine specialist, vaginal numbness could be a sign of a neurological issue.
This includes a herniated disc or, in some cases, a tumor compressing on the nerves in that region of the body.
In both of those scenarios, other symptoms would likely be present — such as difficulty walking or trouble with urination or bowel movements.
Gaither says it could also be associated with certain autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or a herpetic outbreak.
If it’s herpes, you’ll likely also feel pain, itching, or have sores.
Numbness can also be caused by diabetes. That’s because high blood sugar can cause neuropathy, resulting in tingling or numbness in different parts of the body.
However, that numbness is more commonly felt in your fingers, toes, hands, and feet — so it’s unlikely you’ll only feel numbness in your vaginal area.
According to Ritter, numbness can also be caused by multiple sclerosis, obesity, and substance misuse.
In some rare, but serious, cases, it can also be caused by cauda equina syndrome, a disorder that she says “requires immediate treatment and should be addressed quickly.”
“This disorder affects the nerves located in the lower spinal cord and is a surgical emergency,” she explains.
In addition to vaginal numbness, you may also experience a mix of:
- back pain
- buttocks pain
- leg weakness
- thigh numbness
- difficulty with bladder or bowel functions
“Unless it was due to something that a patient can easily attribute it to, such as sexual activity, [vaginal numbness] is never really normal,” says Cardaci.
If you’re concerned or if numbness is persistent, it’s best that you talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider as soon as possible.
They’ll perform a physical evaluation to determine what’s causing your symptoms and advise you on next steps.
Treatment will, of course, depend on the diagnosis — a process that will start with a pelvic exam by a gynecologist.
From there, next steps will depend on what your doctor thinks might be the cause.
For example, if they think you have a herniated disc, a tumor, or nerve damage, you’ll be sent to a neurologist for further testing.
If your doctor thinks it’s related to pelvic floor damage, they may refer you to a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor rehabilitation.
They can offer you a variety of treatments and exercises to help regain sensation.
If stress or trauma are at the root of it, you might be referred to a psychologist or other mental health specialist.
Your doctor might also change your medications or prescribe something like Viagra, which helps dilate blood vessels in people of all genders to enhance sexual pleasure.
Although it can be common, lingering numbness in your vagina is never really “normal.”
If it’s happening often, interfering with your ability to enjoy sex, or if you’re otherwise worried about it, talk to a doctor about your symptoms.
They can help develop a treatment plan suited to your individual needs. Try not to despair — it’s possible to regain feeling with proper care.