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partner has dyspareunia
Illustration by Brandon Cornwell
We've got lots of articles on dealing with dsypareunia and the painful sex that often accompanies it, but what if it's not you suffering, but instead your partner has dyspareunia? Giddy writer Alex Denny wanted to find some answers and reached out to me for my thoughts. Here are some snippets from the article, followed by a link to the full article at the Giddy website.

Heather Jeffcoat, DPT

Here's What You Need to Know if Your Partner Has Dyspareunia

Author: Alex Denny
Reviewer: Vita Eizans, D.O.

Support goes a long way when your significant other suffers from painful intercourse.

Many people experience painful intercourse at some point in their lives. Whether you needed more lubricant or you just weren't in the mood—the reason doesn't matter—it's not unusual to occasionally feel pain during sex.

When that pain is chronic, however, it might be a condition called dyspareunia. Dyspareunia is the medical term for genital pain that occurs consistently before, during or after sex. This recurrent pain can make having sex nearly impossible for some sufferers.

Dyspareunia affects approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of all women in the United States. You may have a female partner with the condition, now or in the future, so understanding what it means to have dyspareunia and how you can best support your partner is important.

What is dyspareunia?

There are two different types of dyspareunia, according to Heather Jeffcoat, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Femina Physical Therapy in Los Angeles and author of "Sex Without Pain: A Self-Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve."

"Dyspareunia is categorized as deep or superficial," Jeffcoat explained. "Deep dyspareunia is pain near the cervix. Superficial—sometimes referred to as introital dyspareunia—is pain with initial penetration. Pain with initial penetration may be determined to be vestibulodynia or vaginismus. Pain with deeper thrusting located closer to the cervix may be due to endometriosis, for example."

Being examined by a qualified doctor is a crucial first step in healing from dyspareunia. The causes are many, and only a doctor can determine the best treatment plan.

While your partner seeks treatment, you can take the emphasis off penetrative sex, which can go a long way toward strengthening your relationship.

Educating yourself about the condition can also indicate your willingness to be supportive. We talked to experts about the facts you should understand about dyspareunia in order to be a supportive and understanding partner.

Fact #1 - Dyspareunia has several root causes

Many medical conditions are a direct result of a specific factor, but dyspareunia is different. There are many reasons a woman may be suffering from chronic painful sex. The good news is that determining the cause means a doctor can prescribe the correct treatment.

Dyspareunia is not a lifetime disorder in the vast majority of cases. Once the root cause is determined, a treatment plan can be put in place to help support your partner," Jeffcoat said.

The potential causes vary by type of dyspareunia, deep or superficial. The causes of superficial dyspareunia may include the following:

  • Genital infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema
  • A lack of lubricant
  • Vaginismus
  • A physiological difference, such as a vagina that never fully formed or an imperforate hymen

Causes of deep pain can come from medical conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ovarian cysts, uterine issues and more. Scarring from past surgeries, such as hysterectomy, can cause painful intercourse. Certain medical treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can also cause dyspareunia.

Emotional factors can also contribute to painful sex, and these may fluctuate depending on your partner's emotional state at that time. Anxiety, stress, self-esteem issues and other psychological distress may cause dyspareunia.

Fact #2 - Dyspareunia is often a side effect of endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common uterine disorder that affects more than 200,000 women in the United States and occurs when endometrium-like tissue—similar to the tissue that lines the uterus—grows outside of the uterus, typically on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or intestines.

If deep dyspareunia is due to endometriosis, the gold standard to determine if this is present is laparoscopic surgery, as there is no single test, nor any combination of tests, that will rule out all types of endometriosis," Jeffcoat said.

Even after laparoscopic surgery, however, it's important to know that endometriosis can return, and with it your partner's dyspareunia.

Fact #3 - Dyspareunia may not happen every time the woman has sex

As discussed above, dyspareunia can be the result of many different root factors, and because of this, the condition tends to flare up depending on those factors.

Fact #4 - The condition is usually treatable

Depending on the cause of your partner's dyspareunia, the symptoms are often treatable. It can take time to find the best course of treatment, and those treatments may fluctuate in effectiveness. These treatments include the following:

  • Water-based lubricants, because dryness can occur when there is anxiety about intercourse, causing deep pain and, therefore, less natural lubrication
  • Medications for dryness due to menopause
  • Sexual therapy
  • Pelvic floor therapy

Treatments for suppressing the endometriosis implants, such as progesterone, birth control pills, certain intrauterine devices (IUDs) or medications that can alter or suppress ovulation. If your partner is open to it, go to appointments with them and continue to educate yourself about the condition and the various treatments. This level of support can make them feel less pressured to constantly explain the pain they are experiencing.

This treatment plan should include a great deal of ongoing education regarding why specific treatments are chosen to be a part of recovery or why certain providers are recommended to be a part of [the] care team," Jeffcoat said.

If your partner has dyspareunia and you want to know more, go here for the full article at Giddy.com, and go here if you're ready to make an appointment with one of our trained physical therapists.

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What Our Patients Have to Say

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Testimonial by T.H.

I started seeing Heather in October 2014. For more than two years, I had been suffering from painful urinary tract infection type symptoms after my bartholins gland surgery which included constant burning and urinary frequency sensation that led to more and more painful intercourse. I had made multiple visits to internist, obgyn and urologist's offices, went through a range of treatment with UTI and bladder frequency medication that included antibiotics, vesicare, estrogen cream, but nothing worked.

Read more: Testimonial by T.H.

Testimonial by Mary L.

I started seeing Heather to treat my Interstitial Cystitis in November 2016. At this time, I was extremely miserable, in constant pain, and felt as though no one was listening or understood what was going on with my body. I have just finished my last appointment and I can honestly say that my life has completely changed for the better because of Heather and her team of PTs! I live almost completely pain free, and when I do have flare ups, I am able to treat them at home on my own. I am so grateful that this office was recommended to me a honestly cannot recommend them enough!

Read more: Testimonial by Mary L.

Testimonial by R.D., age 38

"I had a severe tear during childbirth that was not stitched together correctly and therefore healed poorly. Even after having a surgery a year later to remove the scar tissue, I was still having pain, and no one could explain why -- there was no overt 'reason' to explain the pain. I had tried other 'specialists' and even saw another physical therapist who had me do hip / leg stretches -- what a joke! I was about to give up and just 'live with it' until thankfully I kept searching online and found Heather.

Read more: Testimonial by R.D., age 38

Testimonial by M.M.

My husband and I were married for 5 years and unable to have intercourse, but I never knew why. After numerous awful experiences at doctor’s offices (where many doctors told me I “just needed to relax”), a surgery that didn’t fix the problem, and a year of owning dilators that didn’t get me anywhere, someone finally referred me to Heather for Physical Therapy. I finally had answers and information from someone who knew exactly what I was dealing with!

Read more: Testimonial by M.M.

Testimonial by Amanda W.

Heather's unique physical therapy program literally changed my life! After years of struggling with vaginismus, a condition that made it impossible for me to have intercourse and very difficult to use tampons without pain, a gynecologist referred me to Heather. I was nervous for my first appointment, but Heather's professional and friendly demeanor put me at ease. She did a great job explaining each technique she was using to help my muscles relax. Heather uses a combination of internal and external stretches and exercises to relax the pelvic floor and build muscle strength. Her specially developed home program helped me quickly recover from an issue that seemed insurmountable before meeting Heather. She was optimistic about my progress and incredibly encouraging. Less than 6 months after my first session, I was able to have pain-free sex for the first time in my life! If you are suffering from vaginismus or any other pelvic floor issues, I highly recommend making an appointment with Heather and reading her book!

-- Amanda W., 2/15/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by M.N., age 28

A personal journey and testimonial from one of my patients:

I was diagnosed with vaginismus 4 years ago. I never heard of such medical condition until after I got married. At first my husband and I didn't know what to do, we didn't know what the issues were or how to overcome it. Being born and raised in Armenia and being Christian I wasn't that open about talking to sex with others and so it wasn't easy to seek help. But eventually I went to an Ob-Gyn and luckily she knew about the medical condition (not many doctors know). She referred me to a physical therapist and I couldn't believe it and thought it's something I can handle myself. I ordered a kit from vaginismus.com and started practicing with dilators. There was some small progress but wasn't much helpful.

Read more: Testimonial by M.N., age 28

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