Canadian researchers have provided new insights into genital pain and pleasure for women.
Their study, published online in April in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, examines both pleasure and pain with respect to sexual arousal and orgasm.
The authors noted that in past research, orgasm had not been adequately studied in relation to pleasure and pain. Also, pleasure and pain had not been measured in the same study.
“Before we can understand and address dysfunctional genital sensitivity, it is necessary to first document normative changes in sensation quality and intensity occurring over the course of sexual arousal and orgasm,” they wrote.
To learn more, they recruited twenty-six healthy women between the ages of 18 and 30 to participate in a genital sensitivity study, which was conducted over two visits spaced several weeks apart.
During each visit, the women were asked to masturbate in a lab room that resembled a comfortable bedroom. At one visit, they were instructed to reach orgasm. However, in the other visit, they were told to “almost” reach orgasm. (Specific instructions were to get “as close as possible without accidentally reaching orgasm” or “80-90% of the way there.”)
Sensitivity to pleasure and pain was measured in three locations: the glans clitoris, vulvar vestibule, and volar forearms. The women rated their pleasure or pain sensations on a scale of 1 to 11, with higher numbers indicating greater pleasure or pain.
Pleasure and pain were assessed three times during each visit: at baseline (before masturbation), right after masturbation, and after a fifteen-minute rest period after masturbation.
Data were also collected with questionnaires and interviews.
The researchers found that masturbation enhanced pleasure, but also increased pain sensation. They suggested that vaginal lubrication may be more important than was originally thought, as it may decrease the direct pressure on the genitals, thus decreasing pain.
“The traditional sex therapy recommendation to increase levels of sexual arousal therefore appears to facilitate pleasurable activity as intended, but may be overly simplistic as a strategy to decrease pain,” they explained.
They added that psychological sexual arousal may serve as a distraction to physical pain during sex.
Future research could build on this study by investigating pain and pleasure sensitivity in women with sexual dysfunction or chronic genital pain, they said.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Paterson, Laurel, Q. P., BA, et al.
“Pleasure and Pain: The Effect of (Almost) Having an Orgasm on Genital and Nongenital Sensitivity”
(Full-text. First published online: April 3, 2013)