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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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Months after giving birth, it was difficult for me to go from a sitting or lying position up to a full standing position without feeling that I had to remain hunched over until a bit of time had passed to get fully upright. However, after taking Heather’s course, I learned exercises to get my body back to normal. She also showed me correct ways to lift and carry my son as well as put him in/take him out of the carseat and stroller. This class was really beneficial and Heather is a wonderful teacher who made me feel very comfortable.

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My last appointment with Heather was over 6 years ago but I still think of her every day. I don’t take for granted that I can easily get out of bed, care for my two active and busy young boys, run, play tennis, clean my house, or sit at a desk for several hours at a time. None of these tasks were easy for me before meeting Heather. Eight years ago my car was struck from behind by a tractor trailer that was estimated to have been speeding. I spent 3 years working with different PTs and Drs trying to heal and move on with my life. When I became pregnant and the hormone relaxin that “relaxes” all the joints of the body and the additional weight gain erased all my progress and I was suddenly in a lot of pain again. My OB sent me to Heather for one last try.

Read more: Testimonial by J.H.

Testimonial by A.M.

Months after giving birth, it was difficult for me to go from a sitting or lying position up to a full standing position without feeling that I had to remain hunched over until a bit of time had passed to get fully upright. However, after taking Heather’s course, I learned exercises to get my body back to normal. She also showed me correct ways to lift and carry my son as well as put him in/take him out of the carseat and stroller. This class was really beneficial and Heather is a wonderful teacher who made me feel very comfortable.

-- A.M.

Testimonial by Fritzette H.

I went to Heather after the birth of my third child. It was lucky, really, that I was referred to her, because my doctor had referred me to a surgeon for a possible hysterectomy or pelvic wall rebuild. Thankfully, I went to Heather before undergoing either surgery, she was able to fix the problem. She has studied extensively in women's health--even written a book about it--and was able to diagnose my problem, suggest a course of treatment (6 weeks), and then follow through with said treatment. By the end, as she said, I was as good as gold. Boy, was it worth it! Though uncomfortable to talk about, much less write about, it is worth getting the word out there. If you have painful intercourse, especially after birth or other trauma, the treatment may be as simple as Physical Therapy (with Heather, of course). I highly recommend her.

-- Fritzette H., 3/24/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Julie T.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has honestly changed my life. Before receiving treatment at Femina, I was going doctor to doctor to try and find the answer to my pelvic pain. It has taken me YEARS to find someone that can help fix this. It wasn't until my gynecologist recommended your clinic that I finally felt relief. My pelvic pain is almost gone, and granted I still have a lot more to work on with Laureen (my PT), my original problem is nearly cured. I am so grateful to her.

What is even better is she gave me practical exercises to do at home that were not tedious and provided instant (and lasting) relief. Although I mainly work with Laureen, my interaction with the owner (Heather) has been great. She is very generous, kind, and committed to her business.

It hurts to know there are women out there suffering who will never know or have the opportunity to work with women like Laureen and Heather because this issue is hardly talked about and this field is so rare. I hope more doctors and physical therapists see the value in this work and can relieve more woman of their pain.

-- Julie T., 12/4/16 via Yelp!

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.

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