A new study out of Britain reveals that pain during sex afflicts a surprising number of women. The survey of nearly 7,000 sexually active women found that one in 10 reported some type of pain during intercourse, the BBC reports. Writing in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the authors note that painful sex (dyspareunia) is a neglected, often chronic problem that afflicts women around the world. The latest sampling of women aged 16 to 74 found that women in their late 50s and 60s were most affected, though younger women were not spared. Pain during sex can be caused by vaginal dryness, particularly post-menopause, but can have more serious roots in untreated conditions such as STDs, endometriosis, and fibroids. Emotional causes such as anxiety can also play a role.
"You worry and get tense and that only makes it worse," says one middle-aged woman of the "vicious cycle." After her sex drive dipped, she experienced vaginismus, involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles during penetration. One quarter of the women who reported painful sex said it happened often or all the time in the past six months. About 33% said they were unhappy with their sex life. Lead author Dr. Kirstin Mitchell says embarrassment prevents many women from seeking help, including young women new to sex who may be ill at ease. Given that women aged 16-24 came in second in the survey, she urged better sex education in school—"for example the importance of being able to talk about what you like and don’t like," per the Independent. (This ignored disease afflicts 176 million women worldwide.)