If you’re experiencing soreness around your vaginal area after sexual intercourse, it’s important to understand where the pain is coming from so you can suss out the potential cause and best treatment.

The vagina is a long, muscular canal the runs from the vaginal opening to the cervix.

The vulva comprises the labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and urethral opening. The labia are the lips, or folds, of skin around the vaginal opening.

Many people say “vagina” when they really mean “vulva.” We’ll keep these differences clear as you read about reasons why your vaginal area may hurt after sexual activity.

If you experience pain in your vagina or vulva after sexual penetration, there are several reasons why it could be happening. You can treat or prevent most causes. Rarely the pain may be a sign of an emergency.

Let’s explore the many reasons for a sore vaginal area after sexual activity, how to prevent soreness, and what you can do to treat it.

Several issues can be behind a sore vaginal area after sexual penetration. These causes include:

Lack of lubrication

When you’re aroused, your body releases natural lubrication. But sometimes, that lubrication isn’t enough. If your sexual arousal is low or you rush into things without giving yourself time to warm up, you may experience a little more friction than normal.

That friction can result in tiny, microscopic tears in the vagina, which can cause pain and discomfort. In some cases, it may even lead to infection.

Prolonged or vigorous sex

If sexual penetration got a little rough, you may feel some pain or discomfort, both in your vagina and around the vulva. The friction and extra pressure can inflame the sensitive tissue.

If you or your partner used fingers, a sex toy, or any other object during sexual activity, you might experience some additional pain, too.

Depending on the material of the sex toy, some toys may require extra lubrication to reduce friction. Not properly using sex toys could experience some soreness after sexual activity as well.

Allergic reaction to condoms, lubricants, or other products

An allergic reaction to a latex condom, lubricant, or other product you bring into the bedroom could result in pain down below. It may cause genital irritation in the vulva as well. If anything was inserted into the vagina, the pain may extend into the canal.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Vaginal pain during sex may be the first symptom of an STI like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or genital herpes.

If you haven’t been tested, consider an STI screening to rule out infections. If your partner hasn’t been tested, ask them to get screened, too. Treatment for both of you is vital to prevent future reinfections.

Yeast infection

Pain after sexual activity in the vulva or vagina is one of the more common symptoms of a yeast infection. Other symptoms include:

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A UTI can cause more than just pain when you urinate. It can also cause pain in your vaginal area and pelvis.

If you have a UTI when you have sexual intercourse, you may experience additional irritation and inflammation.

Bartholin’s cyst

Two Bartholin’s glands sit on either side of the vaginal opening. They provide natural lubrication to the vagina.

Sometimes, these cysts, or the ducts that move the fluid, can become blocked. This causes tender, fluid-filled bumps on one side of the vaginal opening.

Sexual activity can irritate Bartholin’s cysts and the tissue around them, which could cause unexpected pain.

Menopause

Before and during menopause, hormone levels in the body change dramatically. With less estrogen, the body produces less of its own natural lubricant.

Plus, tissue in the vagina becomes drier and thinner. That can make penetrative sex more uncomfortable, even painful.

Vaginitis

A change in the vagina’s natural balance of bacteria can result in inflammation. This condition, called vaginitis, can also cause itching and discharge.

Pain may be present in the vagina or labia even without sexual touch. Sexual activity may increase it or make it more noticeable.

Vulvar pain

Sexual touch can cause pain in the vulva, from both friction and pressure. If the pain is present before you start sexual activity, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition, like vulvar ulcers.

See a healthcare provider if vulvar irritation remains beyond a few hours or days. You may have a more serious issue, such as vulvodynia.

Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is vulvar pain that lasts at least 3 months. It’s not clear what causes this condition, but it’s not uncommon.

In addition to pain after sexual activity, you may experience throbbing, burning, or stinging in the vaginal area. In severe cases, the sensitivity is so great, it’s nearly impossible to wear clothing or perform daily tasks.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis occurs when uterine lining grows elsewhere in the pelvis. It may grow on ovaries or fallopian tubes. It could even grow on the tissue lining the pelvis.

Pain during sexual intercourse and painful periods are common symptoms of endometriosis. This pain may be felt deeper in the body, like in the pelvis or upper vagina.

Uterine fibroids

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that can develop on or in the uterus. When they become large, they can be quite painful. If you have uterine fibroids, you may experience pain in your pelvis after sexual activity.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID is a bacterial infection. Some of the same bacteria that cause STIs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause PID. Once established, the infection can spread to the:

  • uterus
  • fallopian tubes
  • cervix
  • ovaries

PID can cause:

  • pain in the pelvis
  • painful sexual intercourse
  • painful urination
  • bleeding
  • discharge

Vaginismus

Vaginismus causes muscles in and around the vagina and vaginal opening to contract tightly on their own. This shuts off the vagina and can make penetration during sex uncomfortable, if not impossible.

If you’re able to have sexual intercourse, the result might be pain in the vagina and around the vaginal opening after sexual activity.

Medication

Birth control suppresses natural hormone levels. It can make the tissues in the vagina thinner and drier.

If you don’t allow for proper natural lubrication (more foreplay is the answer), or you don’t use another lube, you may experience pain from friction after sexual activity.

Tight pelvic floor muscles

Tight pelvic floor muscles can make for uncomfortable sexual intercourse. Pelvic floor muscles may tighten as a result of:

  • poor posture
  • certain types of physical activity, like cycling
  • a naturally tighter muscle structure in and around the pelvis

Reverse Kegels can help. Instead of contracting and holding the muscles to build strength, you’ll want to work on relaxing them.

Swelling and irritation in the labia after sexual activity isn’t always concerning. After all, these tissues naturally swell with arousal, as blood and fluids rush to the area.

But if you’re experiencing pain in addition to inflammation, you may have some minor irritation from friction and pressure. This should go away in a few hours, or by the next day.

Make an appointment to see a healthcare provider if swollen labia persist, or if you begin to experience other symptoms, like:

  • painful urination
  • throbbing
  • burning

These may be symptoms of an infection that needs prescription treatment.

You can treat some of these conditions at home. Others may need the attention of a healthcare provider.

Ice pack

Pain from friction or pressure should end on its own in a matter of hours. In the meantime, an ice pack may help ease vulvar discomfort.

Hold the ice pack in place for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Don’t place the ice pack directly on the vulva; have underwear or a washcloth in between. Don’t insert the ice pack into your vagina, either.

If using an ice pack is uncomfortable or painful, stop and consult a healthcare provider.

Antibiotics

Prescription antibiotics can treat infections like a UTI, PID, and some STIs. Some over-the-counter treatments are also available for yeast infections. However, it’s advisable to get a diagnosis and recommended treatment from a healthcare provider before self-treating.

Hormonal treatment

Hormone replacement therapy may benefit some people. This allows the body to gradually adjust to the hormone changes caused by menopause, for example. It may also help restore some natural lubrication and reduce painful sexual penetration.

Healthcare providers may prescribe hormonal birth control to people with endometriosis. This may stop painful episodes.

Surgery

If you have a Bartholin’s cyst or uterine fibroids, a healthcare provider may recommend surgery to remove these. In the case of a cyst, draining may be attempted before the gland is removed.

Lubricants

If you want a helping hand in reducing friction, load up on lube. Opt for water-based lubricants, as they’re less likely to irritate the delicate skin of the vagina and vulva.

Oil-based lubes can break down the material of a condom, which could cause tears.

Don’t be afraid to reapply if you start to feel any tugging or tearing. When it comes to lube, more is almost always a good thing.

Allergy-free products

If you suspect you’re allergic to materials in the condoms or sex toys you use, try new ones. Polyurethane condoms are available. Just keep in mind they aren’t as strong as latex.

If lube makes your vulva sensitive, skip it. Go for synthetic materials that are less likely to cause irritation and pain.

Pelvic floor muscle exercise

Reverse Kegels may help you relax your pelvic floor muscles. Not only might this reduce pain after sexual intercourse, it could make sexual penetration more enjoyable from the start.

Therapy

Some people with a vagina may experience anxiety after having painful sexual penetration. That can prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure or being able to relax during intercourse.

In that case, sex therapy may help them overcome and manage their anxiety. For a list of certified sex therapists in your area, check out the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) directory.

If pain persists longer than a day or two, or you experience bleeding or unusual discharge, see a healthcare provider.

They can make a diagnosis and provide the right treatment for you. Earlier treatment can prevent further complications.

Sexual penetration should never be painful. Talk with a healthcare provider about pain you’re experiencing, even if it goes away within a day or two.

Together, you can treat the issue that’s causing the pain and prevent it from happening in the first place.