Health

Sex Q&A: Is My Vagina Too Tight?

We asked the sex experts if painful penetration might be a matter of ~size~.

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Welcome to the new BuzzFeed Sex Q&A where you can ask us your awkward, confusing, gross, embarrassing, or thought-provoking questions, and we'll provide answers from leading sexual health experts. Have a question about sex or sexual health? Send it to sexQs@buzzfeed.com.

Dear BuzzFeed Sexperts,

I read your previous Sex Q&A on how to deal with a small penis — my problem concerns an uncooperative vagina. I don't have sex all that often, but when I do penetration tends to be painful (with the exception of a small penis I had sex with that didn't hurt me). I don't bleed from penetration anymore, but I had hoped the pain would be restricted to the first few times I had sex as I "got used to" penetration or whatever, but this hasn't happened.

Not all penetration is painful — my fingers and very (I mean, VERY) small sex toys can go in without any discomfort, but anything bigger is an issue. During sex I normally just put up with it, as the pain isn't as bad after the initial penetration, but it's not exactly fun. I've attempted to use bigger sex toys to see if I can get used to them, but this has not gone well. I don't feel like I should be having to force things up there when I'm alone and chill and doing all the rights things, like using lots of lube, etc.

I wonder if I just have a small vagina, or if it's all in my head? I do remember past penetration being painful, and particularly the first time I had sex I was pressured into it, so maybe my brain is like, "No, stop, the thing sex is bad"? Either way, I'm not sure what to do. For right now I don't mind because I don't really get much from internal stimulation, and external masturbation is more than enough for me. But I'm worried that this could affect things if I got into a relationship.

Kind Regards,
Tight Lipped

Hi, Tight Lipped! Thanks so much for sending along your question. To help answer it, we spoke with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, OB-GYN and co-author of V Is for Vagina, and Dr. Madeleine Castellanos, sex therapist and author of Wanting to Want. Here's what they had to say:

There are SO many different things that can cause painful sex, but it probably has nothing to do with the size or tightness of your vagina.

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It's highly unlikely that you're just too tight anatomically, since vaginas are made to expand during arousal, and obviously a whole lot more during childbirth, says Castellanos. Of course, it takes time, adequate foreplay, and lots of lubrication for your vaginal canal to open up so that penetration can be comfortable. But just know that having a "too small" vagina isn't really something you need to worry about.

That said, in very rare cases, a woman can be born with much thicker hymenal tissue (an imperforate hymen) or you may have remnants of the hymen in your vaginal opening, which could actually make things tight or blocked down there. It's very unlikely, but your gynecologist can diagnose it during an exam, says Dweck.

It's totally possible that there's actually nothing wrong with you at all, and you're just not sufficiently aroused and lubricated before you start.

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Unfortunately, a little discomfort during sex isn't that uncommon. A recent study found that 30% of women reported pain the last time they had vaginal sex. Maybe you're not completely turned on before penetration, you're feeling anxious, or there's not enough wetness. All of these things that can affect how relaxed and comfortable you are during sex, and they get easier with more experience (and with an awesome, understanding partner).

It's great that you mentioned using lots of lube, but you might want to try switching to another kind if it's still not working out for you. That's because entry pain during sex (like you described) is most often the result of not being wet enough, says Dweck. Silicone lubes tend to last longer than water-based ones, so that might help.

So, keep in mind that a little discomfort might just be something that works itself out as you figure out what feels good and what doesn't. That said, persistent pain that keeps coming back is definitely something to be checked out, because there can be a lot of causes — and a lot of solutions. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Painful sex could be the result of an infection or other medical issue.

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The first thing you'll want to do is head to your gynecologist and let them know the kind of pain you're experiencing, says Dweck. Try not to be embarrassed or shy — they've seen and heard it all. First they'll help you rule out different infections, like a yeast infection, sexually transmitted infection, or bacterial vaginosis. All of these can cause pain during penetration, and they're easy to treat, says Castellanos.

They can also do a pelvic exam to see if there's anything else that may be hurting you. For instance, it could be that your uterus is tilted in a way that makes some positions uncomfortable (but that would usually be a deeper kind of pain and would be alleviated by switching positions), says Dweck. Pain during sex can also be associated with endometriosis, a fibroid or cyst, or scar tissue build-up from an untreated infection. The more specific you are when explaining the pain to your doctor, the easier it will be for them to pinpoint the problem.

One more thing: If you're experiencing persistent burning, stinging, and irritation around the vulva and your doctor cannot find a cause, they may diagnose you with vulvodynia, which is a disorder of unknown vulvar discomfort.

Or that "too tight" feeling might actually be vaginismis, a condition marked by involuntary contractions of your pelvic floor muscles.

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"If a woman experiences it as 'too tight,' she is probably experiencing some tightening of the pelvic floor muscles in response to anxiety, or she may have anxiety about the stretching of the skin around the opening," says Castellanos. This does not mean it's all in your head. It's called vaginismus and it's a very painful condition where your pelvic floor muscles tighten so much that it feels like nothing can go in.

There is a possibility that this type of response may be associated with anxiety or trauma, which may be the case if you experienced nonconsensual sex in the past. "The muscles get so tight for various reasons, but it's usually something psychological that causes you to have this involuntary response. It's basically like the vagina is closed off," says Dweck.

This is definitely something to bring up with your doctor if you think it might be a possibility. The treatment for vaginismus typically involves the use of vaginal dilators (you'll start with something very small and gradually work up to something larger), and relaxation exercises that teach you to control and relax these muscles, says Castellanos. This might also be done in conjunction with some kind of therapy or sex therapy to address any anxieties or experiences that may be contributing to this response.

The bottom line: Sex should feel good — not painful.

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Talking to your gynecologist can help you figure out the problem so you can treat it. And even if it's something a bit more complicated, there are still ways around this. For instance, sex doesn't need to involve penetration. As you mentioned, you prefer external stimulation anyway. So while you're figuring everything out, don't stress as much about what you don't find comfortable and instead hone in on the activities that do feel good — like manual clitoral stimulation or oral sex.

Do you have a question you want answered by our sex experts? Email us at sexQs@buzzfeed.com.

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