For women, vaginal lubrication is an important part of sexual arousal. It readies the vagina for penetration, making it easier for the penis to enter and reducing any accompanying friction or irritation. Pain during intercourse is often caused by inadequate lubrication.
Lubrication usually occurs naturally, but some women become more lubricated than others. Lubrication can also be a matter of preference. Some women feel that sex is better when they are more lubricated.
Sometimes, especially after menopause, a woman experiences vaginal dryness. Her vagina doesn’t lubricate enough and intercourse becomes painful. A personal lubricant, usually available over the counter at a pharmacy or department store, can help. (There are several types of over-the-counter lubricants, each with advantages and disadvantages.)
It’s important for partners to understand the role lubrication plays in comfortable intercourse. Partners may need to openly discuss the best ways to ensure lubrication. Sometimes more foreplay is all that’s needed for a woman to become sufficiently lubricated. Other times, a personal lubricant may need to be applied during sexual activity. (The application could be part of foreplay, too.)
Women who experience painful intercourse are sometimes told that becoming more aroused will help. However, an April 2013 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that this might not be the case.
Canadian researchers studied sexual pleasure and pain sensitivity in women. They found that when women were aroused or partially-aroused (immediately after sexual activity or after a 15-minute rest period), their genital pain sensitivity was higher than it was when the women were not aroused. In other words, the study subjects reported more pain when they were aroused.
This finding led the researchers to think more about lubrication as a way to protect against sexual pain by decreasing pressure on the genitals.
The researchers also theorized that focusing more on pleasure during sex may take women’s attention away from the pain. Women may find it helpful to tell their partners what, specifically, feels good to them.
More study is needed on both of these points, however.