Pain experienced during vaginal and anal intercourse with other-sex partners: findings from a nationally representative probability study in the United States

J Sex Med. 2015 Apr;12(4):1040-51. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12841. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Introduction: Recent U.S. nationally representative data indicate that about 30% of women and 5% of men reported pain occurring during their most recent sexual event; however, little is known about the severity, duration, or context of such pain, or its prevalence during vaginal vs. anal intercourse.

Aims: To document the prevalence and characteristics of pain during vaginal and anal intercourse among U.S. women and men (ages 18+) at their most recent other-sex sexual event, including the self-reported severity, duration, and location of their pain; how participants addressed their pain; and partner communication related to the pain.

Methods: Data from a subsample of 1,738 women and men in the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health Behavior, a nationally representative probability survey of Americans ages 18+ collected via the Internet, were analyzed.

Main outcome measures: Participants responded to items about their background characteristics; whether they had vaginal or anal intercourse during their most recent sexual experience; the severity, duration, and location of any pain experienced during said sexual event; and whether they responded to or communicated about the pain.

Results: About 30% of women and 7% of men reported pain during vaginal intercourse events, and most of the reports of pain were mild and of short duration. About 72% of women and 15% of men reported pain during anal intercourse events, with more of these events including moderate or severe pain (for the women) and of mixed duration. Large proportions of Americans do not tell their partner when sex hurts.

Conclusion: Pain is a relatively common, and often not discussed, aspect of both vaginal and anal intercourse events occurring between women and men. Individual and clinical implications are discussed.

Keywords: Anodyspareunia; Dyspareunia; Painful Intercourse; Sexual Function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anal Canal*
  • Coitus*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexuality
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Vagina*
  • Young Adult