Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Doozy: Ending Painful Sex Via Physical Therapy

This post was hard to write, because it's stuff I ordinarily wouldn't share. I mean, it's about sex. But I think it's important to get the information out there, so GreenDaddy and I both agreed I should post it. I tried not to be overly descriptive, while being exact. But if women’s “private” body parts make you squeamish, click on by.


A few years ago, I was tortured by recurrent vaginal yeast infections. I’d have an infection, take mega-antibiotics so it would go away, and it would. Then, the exact same time each month, I’d get a new infection – which I often discovered the beginnings of when GreenDaddy and I were having sex. Because even the beginning of a yeast infection makes sex very, very painful.

For about three months we lived like this. Three months of me seeing a Gynecologist, who prescribed me a mega-pill that killed an infection for about two weeks. I was also ingesting acidophilus in countless forms: yogurt, little pills, etc. I read and followed many natural courses. Still, every month, on almost the same day, pow!

The fourth month, I told the doctor I was certain it was the birth control I started right before the infections, because the only thing that had been as regular in my life was my period. She’d never read about such a link, and convinced me to switch brands of pills. At month five, the same thing happened. Infection, cure, infection. We switched again. At month six, she said, “See, it’s not the birth control, it’s something else,” and she sent me to a specialist on yeast infections who prescribed sulphur vaginal suppositories.

I wasn’t into that, and gave up the pill, instead. The infections disappeared immediately. Which we assumed would save our sex life. No such luck. Sex continued to be painful in exactly the same way as it was when I had the beginnings of a yeast infection. Like the condoms were made out of the smallest grates on a vegetable grater. Very painful.

GreenDaddy certainly didn’t want to have sex, if every time we had it I felt like fainting from pain. It made him feel terrible, especially because he's rather fond of sex. And I didn't want to have sex, either, but felt terrible. And we were more or less, newly married. I felt broken. I felt like I was somehow cheating him, even though we had had a fantastic sex life -- I knew I didn't have an innate fear of sex -- until the infections started.

So I went to see doctors. “Buy lubricants,” they said. We did. It slightly dulled the pain. "GreenDaddy needs to be better at foreplay," they said.  Nope.  “Some women just always have painful sex,” they started saying then. Doctors, nurses: everybody nodded authoritatively, on occasion consolingly. That was just the truth as they saw it. I read all over the internet about vaginal pain during intercourse. Some people offered surgeries. Others concurred with the doctor: you’re unlucky, and you’re, forgive the pun, just screwed.

I did, thanks to lots of lubrication, manage to get pregnant. It was fairly painful – say a five on that list of one to ten – but I wanted a baby. Then, during most of my pregnancy we didn’t have any sex at all. A couple months after giving birth to BabyG, we had sex. We had hoped that shoving a giant baby human through my vagina might have miraculously fixed something. It didn’t.

On a post-birth visit to Lu, our midwife, GreenDaddy and I asked her for help. At this point I had talked to a dozen different doctors of different ilks about the problem. I had had so many appointments I didn’t even tell GreenDaddy about them all because it was just one disappointment after another. We were both scared. Because it looked like this was just the way it was going to be.

Lu set up an appointment for a physical. Of the many doctors I’d seen, only three others had examined me. Like them, unfortunately, Lu didn’t see any obvious problems…though I found the exam excruciatingly painful, and she could see that.

I was bearing down for her pronouncement: “Some women just have painful sex” when she actually said, “Well, it looks like you have Chronic Pelvic Pain. You’ll have to go see the physical therapists at the Women’s Hospital of Texas.”

Physical therapists for vaginas? Yes. The whole reason I am writing this post is that there is this group of women working as physical therapists, and they specialize on problems with the vagina, and nobody, not doctors, not nurses, almost nobody knows. I'm writing in case somebody thinks they either have to have painful sex forever or no sex, they really ought to go see one of these people. Because it worked for me.

I was terrified the first time I went in. Of course, the baby came with me, because it was the middle of the day. I was led to a room with a massage-like table, where relaxing music was playing. My therapist came in then, and I thought, “How’s this twenty-two year old girl going to do anything?” I lost spirit.

She examined me, which was weird and uncomfortable. After two years of pain that felt specifically like lacerations of some sort, I was pretty certain no massaging of the vagina was going to help. I thought I was incurable. But she didn’t. She said, “I think we’ll schedule eight visits. That should do it. We’ll start the first one today.”

During this and all other visits she massaged the new scar tissue I’d created giving birth, and she massaged parts of my pelvic floor that would spasm whenever something touched them. Basically, my muscles remembered the pain from having sex at the start of yeast infections, and wasn't letting go of the memories.

I won’t lie and say the treatment itself wasn’t as painful as the sex. It was. But after two visits, she said I should go home and have sex with GreenDaddy.

By this point, the thought of sex was extremely unpleasant to me, though. I couldn’t imagine it not hurting: it had been about two years without painfree sex. But I went home and did as she told me…and that pain that had been about an 8 (without lubricant) on her 1-10 scale became a 5. And over the course of the next few visits, the 5 became a three.

On various visits, my therapist talked about other things too: the use of dildos to aid in healing, and various products meant to enhance a woman’s experiences during sex, mostly liquids that stimulate the clitoris to help a woman lubricate herself.

And now, it’s been about six months since I last went, and sex is 98.5% painfree, I'm at a .5 on the pain scale and we don’t need to use the Lubrin even.

So far as I'm concerned, my therapist was a magician. I have never been so grateful to a healthcare provider.

And I think back about all those doctors, a few family practice doctors, but mostly Gynecologists and OBGYNs, who told me there was nothing to do about having pain during intercourse, who didn't hesitate to relegate GreenDaddy and I to a life in which sex was either painful or nonexistant.

And I think of all the women experiencing vaginal pain and believing there is no hope.

And I realized that the reason doctors don't tell women about these therapists is because they don't know.

So I decided to write this post, hoping women in pain, their partners, their healthcare providers...people who need it will find it. And help women experiencing the sort of hell I was to find a solution.

If you want more information: Women's Hospital of Texas or google: chronic pelvic pain physical therapy (your city).

It's worth it.


Anonymous said...

fantastic information. thank you.

Izzy said...

That is absolutely amazing. I'm glad you got some relief. I've heard of women being told that they are imagining the pain or they just hate sex and other such nonsense. It's good to know there is an alternative to just accepting it.

Henitsirk said...

Wow magreen, I am so happy to hear your terrible experience worked out so well.

For a physician to tell you some people just always experience pain, and then not offer any way to alleviate that pain, is to me a violation of their Hippocratic oath.

You guys were very generous in sharing this in the interest of public awareness.

Robin said...

I think it's great that you shared this story. The Western medical practice of prescribing "killer" drugs is often NOT the answer and there are many many people who don't realize that there are other options.

On a different note, have I ever told you how much Lu reminds me of you? xo

Anonymous said...

WOW. I had no idea you experienced this TOO. I have had the exact same pain. No one knows what it is, but it really hurts. I'm going to go check this out. JC

Heather Bigley said...

i know other women who have been told that birth control cannot POSSIBLY be causing yeast infections.

it seems like doctors should listen more and patients should talk to each other. thanks for sharing.

Kelly said...

Birth control pills have also been linked to low sex drive, and it can take years to regain it even after you stop the pills. After everything that I have read about the pill, I will never again take it. For as "green" as I try to be, I can't believe I didn't stop putting synthetic hormones in my body as my very first step!

Dylan said...

Thank you for your honest and courageous sharing of this issue.

I am so glad you found some relief - my parents stopped having sex when I was ten (I recently found out) due to pain that the doctors couldn't help with.

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that the body can hold onto those memories of pain. Our cells carry memories - of physical pain as well as emotional pain - and we see it in infants after traumatic/emotional upsetting pregnancies and births all the time.

Kudos to those PT women in Texas for knowing how to help you!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to educate others!

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Anonymous said...

After a terribly painful first year of married life and an episiotomy (suggested by my first obgyn to relieve the pain during intercourse), I went to a new obgyn who recommended I see a physical therapist at the Women's Hospital in Houston. She was a miracle worker. I could have avoided the surgery, if I would have seen the physical therapist to begin with. I'm so glad you are letting people know there are other options!!

Hopeful said...


I know you wrote this blog entry a few months ago, but I just came across it and wanted to say THANK YOU for having the courage to talk about this "private matter" publicly on your blog.

I have suffered for 10 years with this same problem, but was told a lot of the same things you were.

Finally, about a month ago, I got an appointment with a physical therapist, and after only 3 sessions, it's already helping so much!! I am feeling more positive about this than I have in a long time...and my husband is thrilled!!

I know what you mean about how grateful you feel toward your physical therapist. I am already feeling that way toward mine. There is hope!!

If there is anyone perhaps reading this comment that is suffering with vaginal or vulvar pain, I want to say please DON'T GIVE UP!! This pain is MUCH more common than you might think--it's just not talked about as much, because it's such "private" pain. Check out or by the way, if you live in Chicago, ask your doctor to refer you to the Women's Health program (I think that's what it's called) at Rush University Hospital. The doctors there are wonderful!!

Thank you again, blog writer, for your bravery and honesty--and congratulations on overcoming this problem!!

sistergreen said...

I had a similar experience 15 years ago and went to two different doctors who were not helpful. I knew by reading on my own (this was before I had internet access), that birth control pills make you more susceptible to yeast infections. I think it was something like birth control pills acidify the vagina making it a yeast infections paradise. But neither doctor would confirm this.

Then I came across a name for the pain I was having: Vulvodynia

Believe it or not it was in a Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping I was reading at a laundry mat back in the early '90's. The article said calcium citrate was know to alleviate the pain. Worked for me. If I go to long without taking calcium citrate it flares again. I think consuming vast quantities of refined sugar exacerbates the problem as well.

The calcium citrate was for the pain. I think it somehow neutralized the acid conditions which lead to the painful lesions. Or something like that. Of course I might be thinking that because I know lime which is a kind of calcium-ish rock dust is used to neutralize acidic soils.

Cavy said...

I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I came across your blog while browsing parenting blogs. I found this entry. I, too, am a newlywed who deals with painful intercourse. Doctors and nurses tell me the same things that they told you. I found a therapist in my area that I am going to make an appointment with ASAP. I hope that it helps me as it helped you!

Robin said...

I suffered from vestibulitis for four years; sex was completely impossible, and like you, I tried doctor after doctor, OBGYN after OBGYN, vulvar specialist after specialist... I went through everything they suggested (except for the surgery) and nothing helped. Finally all they could do was prescribe me numbing cream so at least I could have sex, although even the 5% lidocaine gel wasn't enough to make sex bearable.

I finally came across a tiny study, that had 16 women in it, that reported some relief from vestibulitis through the use of acupuncture. I rolled my eyes because I thought acupuncture was quackery, but I was desperate enough to try it. After fifteen treatments, it reduced the pain from an 11 on the 10 scale to a 2. It's been 3 years now since my last acupuncture treatment, and although the pain occasionally goes up to a 3, it has stayed in the 2-3 range. I am enormously grateful.

FWIW, a *lot* of women with vestibulitis have noticed recurrent yeast infections, or a particularly bad one right at the start of the enduring vaginal pain. Nobody knows what the connection is, but there's definitely a connection of some kind.

Veronica said...

Thank you so much for sharing this invaluable information. I am almost crying from the thought of being cured. I'm 24 and intercourse has been painful for 5 years, all the doctors tell me what yours have told you. I know its from the birth control, DO NOT TAKE DEPO-PROVERA EVER!!!

I'm getting into a new relationship and as he's looking at me with hope and happiness, I have this dark cloud... Thinking I could never be happy or make him happy and it's doomed from the start.

Problem is I live no where near Texas... I'm in Edmonton Canada. But it doesn't matter, money is worth nothing compared to this.

Thank you! I am so glad I found this! I know things are going to change now.

MaGreen said...


call the women's hospitals in your region of canada and find out if they have therapists specializing in pelvic pain. google chronic pelvic pain physical therapy canada, or edmonton, or whatever big city is nearest your home,

ma green

Veronica said...

Thanks A LOT I Am Definitely Doing That!

Danny said...

Awesome post...thanks for opening up a "very private" part of your life to others who undoubtedly will be helped. Also just goes to show you that each and every one of us has to be our own "advocates" in terms of our healthcare and NOT just accept what the "experts" pass down. No one can know everything all the time--but we sometimes treat physicians like "gods". My applause to you!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. Chiropractic treatments have helped me. Question for you or anyone. Sex is really uncomfortable after giving birth and it has been 10 months. Lubrication is needed since I still breast feed but the lubrication stings me really badly. Any suggestions on more gentle lubes?

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting for me to read. I, too, have had pain during sex. When I first started having sex, it was so painful it took at least 20 times before we actually "completed" anything. My doctors told me it was just because I was new at it. A year later sex was still painful, and thankfully the doctor referred me to a physical therapist for women. It took 6 months before the pain went away, which was right before I stopped birth control. Even though I did not have a yeast infection on my birth control, I am highly suspicious that the hormones had something to do with the pain.

I also used dilators, for anyone interested.


Amy said...

i know i'm a little late, as i just came across your page. but i just wanted to say THANK YOU for writing this. you have no idea how much you've helped. THANK YOU x 100!

Anonymous said...

oh my god. I am 26 and have had this problem for 3 years! My boyfriend and I have learned to improvise, but have accepted our fate. I can't believe I haven't heard of this! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. It has brought me hope. I am having my first physical therapy session this week.

Jeremy, Emily and Evan Nelson said...

Thank you for drawing attention to this issue! This is exactly what happened to me after the birth of my son - and it has been very frustrating to me and my husband! My PT and OBGYN worked together and I had regular "office visits' with the PT, and my OB also perscribed me something to "dull my nerves" to help with the pain. I am stil nursing, so I haven't taken them yet, and I had to quit the PT appts becuase the clinic billed it as "mental health" and now my insurance won't cover any of it, but I am hopeful that with time I will be back to normal.

Thanks again for your post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I had a similar experience after a 3rd degree tear during labor. Women's Physical Therapy in Chicago area worked miricals for me too. My constant yeast infections stopped after going off bc pills - although I still seem to battle systemic yeast at times.

Angela said...

Wonderful and reassuring! I start the same physical therapy in about a month. I'm really hoping it works for me like it did you because it's been two years for me too and it's starting to take a toll on my and my love's relationship. THANKS!

Serena said...

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

I'm, unfortunately, glad to see I'm not the only person who suffers from this. My GYNO told me it is psycological. My husband and I have been together for 5 years. I started having pain about 1 1/2 years after we were together. I've seen 3 doctors about the pain. I just got a call from my doctor about a physical therapist in the area who thinks she can help me. I feel like you do. My husband and I actually split up for 10 days about 3 years ago because he thought he was causing the pain and he couldn't stand to see me in pain. You've given me hope that the therapy will work for me and we can have a normal sex life again and get pregnant.

Lisa Primack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have always had at least a small amount of pain during intercourse, and have had to use a lot of lubricant to make it feel okay. Then I had a home birth with my baby, nearly pain-free, using hypnobirthing. You can imagine my surprise when two month later I found sex painful. I would have thought that a penis would seem like nothing after a baby. I have been attempting to use the hypnobirthing techniques (visualization, relaxation, etc.) to reteach myself and your story gives me hope. Thanks for having the courage to share. I wish women would share our collective wisdom more with each other!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this info. My husband and I have been suffering from a 'sex free' life for over 2 years now. We're both young and in love and desperate to have painfree sex! My doctor keeps telling me to use more lube, but that doesn't work either. The pain really started after having our 1st baby and having lots of infections during pregnancy and following pregnancy. I've been thinking about surgery, but am very excited to try therapy! I've never heard of it and thank you again for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

I am a newly graduated physical therapy student who took an emphasis in women's health.

And I will say the reason that many doctors do not know about physical therapy for women's health issues is that this is still a very new field and so there are few physical therapists with the proper training in this area. But the physical therapy profession is working on that!!

But I absolutely agree with everything, I have seen so many women have amazing such amazing recovery! The most sad thing to me is what women have been through or will put up with before seeking help!

And yes, the research has shown good results with physical therapy! These specialists also treat incontinance, prolapse (organs becoming "loose" and "falling out"), and fibromyalgia just to name some more!

We can absolutely help, these professionals are very well trained, and I would urge any woman to seek out these services!

this is the national association for physical therapy, just put in your zip code, distance, and select women's health for the expertise, and search. It will bring up clinics that you can contact!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being so brave. I am starting therapy and was just wondering whether this issue was common. Your link was the first one that popped up on google and was extremely helpful. THank you so much. Virtual hugs!

Anonymous said...

I know it has been years since you wrote this article but I just found it and am struck by its relevance and power, and by your generosity in sharing. Blessings to you and to all of the women who commented. I took birth control pills in 1972-73 and I had so many yeast infections from them! No doctor allowed that it was the pills...and they prescribed awful stuff....just kept throwing meds at me --creams, pills, suppositories, on and on. When I stopped the pill, the yeast calmed down but I have retained a propensity for yeast infections and have had to deal with them often. They interfered with lovemaking but in general were not causing pain. Now I am in menopause and I find that the lack of lubrication is quite startling...and that the lubricants themselves can seem to aggravate the yeast imbalance. Does anyone concur on this? I use organic lubricants... I don't like the silicone based ones. But I am wondering about this.
thanks to all of you brave women sharing your stories and reaching for the birthright of pleasure in our bodies.

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Anonymous said...

There are tears in my eyes because I thought there was NO HOPE for me. I have been having PAIN during sex for almost 5 years. I cant even describe the pain, but I know you know. It's terrible. My OB the second time around, told me about therapy so I am came and googled it. Thank you so much for writing this. I am so happy to hear that it worked! There is hope!! :D Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

I have had pain with intercourse for years. It feels like sandpaper. Similar to your cheese grater. They found a cyst on my ovary so I thought having surgery to remove the cyst would cure me. It only made it more painful. Two years later, I thought having a child would help. We were thinking the same as you, maybe pushing a human through my vagina would help. Ended up with a C-section, which only added to the pain level. I have a new doctor now because of my insurance and he told me I should try physical therapy. I am a nurse and I have never heard of this before. So I googled it and found your blog. Thank you. I will make my first appointment today!

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jo said...

You are definitely a dream come true for me! I have been married for 2 years now to a wonderful man, and we have not been able to have enjoyable intercourse, until I read your article. I found a Pelvic Pain PT in my area and it worked miracles! Within the first week of going to her, I was able to use dilators and be more comfortable and relaxed. Within week two I was able to have intercourse with my husband successfully and PAINFREE!!! I definitely owe you a LOT for sharing your pain and success with us, and to my PT.

jo said...

Magreen, if there is any way I can send you a token of my total appreciation for you and your post, PLEASE let me know. If you don't mind sharing your email address with us, I would be most grateful and let you how you have affected our lives in such a positive manner!

Miranda said...

I would like to thank you for sharing your experience. I too have had extremely painful sex for about a year and a half now. After reading online and going to my obgyn last year we thought it was just "thinking it's going to hurt and tensing up so I needed to relax" trying that and various lubricants did not work. Like your's my pain seemed to stem from a yeast infection and just never went away. After each session ending in tears and frustration, from both pain and being upset that I just no longer had any desire for sex I scheduled another appointment with my obgyn. She gave me more estrogen cream and mentioned endometriosis testing and physical therapy. Although I cannot say for sure I doubt the majority of my pain is from endometriosis, I had her schedule me for the physical therapy. I wasn't sure if it would be like most everything else, failure. But coming across your post has given me even more hope.

Den Hamphery said...

Every woman has right to dream of having a baby. Tubal Ligation Reversal allows a woman the ability to conceive naturally without any harm. Although tubal ligation is considered a permanent method of birth control.

corrie said...

I hope you still get emails when you receive comments because I wanted to let you know how incredibly HOPEFUL I feel after reading this post. I have an extremely similar story to yours and have just heard about pelvic physical therapy. Your post gave me the courage to book an appointment. THANK YOU!

Charles Runels said...

There's a new treatment for dyspareunia to cause stem cells to generate new healthy tissue. The procedure is called o-shot which has been very effective with my patients.
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Charles Runels said...

There's a new treatment for dyspareunia to cause stem cells to generate new healthy tissue. The procedure is called o-shot which has been very effective with my patients.
More can be seen at
Hope this helps.
Charles Runels, MD

Charles Runels said...

There's a new treatment for dyspareunia to cause stem cells to generate new healthy tissue. The procedure is called o-shot which has been very effective with my patient.
More can be seen at
Hope this helps.
Charles Runels, MD