Many women experience pain during sexual intercourse. Physiotherapist Lissy Changuion explains how the pelvic floor can play a factor in sexual function and shares her advice if you’re experiencing pain.
Your pelvic floor muscles move and react throughout the day in many situations. For example, when we cough or sneeze, we need the muscles to contract [shorten] to stop urinary leakage from happening. During intercourse, we need our pelvic floor muscles to be able to relax. Of course, it isn’t always simple. Sometimes we hold tension and stress in our pelvic floor muscles – like the kind we may experience in jaw and neck muscles.
What can cause pelvic floor tension?
Common factors may include:
- feelings of stress or anxiousness
- increased bladder urgency or frequency
- constipation or changed bowel habits
Many physical and lifestyle factors can lead to a slow build-up of pelvic floor muscle tension, or not being able to relax the pelvic floor during intercourse. Both of these can lead to a painful sexual experience.
There are also many factors which influence sexual intimacy, including:
- pelvic shape and structure
- arousal during sex
- stress levels
- vaginal health due to hormonal changes
- specific positions
- previous experiences and feelings
- partner’s anatomy.
Who can help? What does treatment involve?
A pelvic health physiotherapist can assess your pelvic floor and find any possible links to painful intercourse. Often, treatment involves retraining the muscles to move and relax, improvement of pelvic and hip movement, pelvic floor stretches (sometimes with specific devices), lifestyle changes, stress management and a gradual re-introduction to intimacy and penetrative intercourse with a partner.
Listen to your body
If you experience pain during intercourse, you should not be “pushing through” pain to have intimacy with your partner. This will only increase the body’s stress and pain response. Your body is experiencing pain for a reason. There is help available from health professionals who will work closely with you to make sure that your bladder, bowel and pelvic health are at their best.
STEPS TO DEEP BREATHING
Lissy says deep, focused breathing is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and tension in the body and pelvic floor.
- Find a comfortable position, lying on your back.
- Place one hand on your stomach below your rib cage and the other hand on your chest.
- For the next few minutes, try to focus your attention to your breathing.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, for the count of three seconds. Feel your belly gently push your hand out, without your upper chest moving. Try to imagine the muscles in the base of your pelvis getting softer.
- Slowly let your breath out through your mouth for the count of 5 seconds. Feel your belly return to the resting position as all the air is pushed out of your lungs.
- Try to take your time with each breath. If possible, slow down your breath in for the count of 5 seconds, and your breath out for the count of 7 seconds.
- Repeat this for another 10 times.
Notice how you feel at the end of this breathing exercise. You might like to keep repeating this until your body feels calm and relaxed.
This story was first published in Bridge Magazine. Subscribe and receive Bridge straight to your inbox.