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Painful Intercourse Information

Dyspareunia is painful sexual intercourse, due to medical or psychological causes. The term is used almost exclusively in women, although the problem may occur in men. The causes are often reversible, even when long-standing, but self-perpetuating pain is a factor after the original cause has been removed.

Dyspareunia is considered to be primarily a physical, rather than an emotional, problem until proven otherwise. In most instances of dyspareunia, there is an original physical cause. Extreme forms, in which the woman's pelvic floor musculature contracts involuntarily, is termed vaginismus.

According to DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association 1994), the diagnosis of dyspareunia is made when the patient complains of recurrent or persistent genital pain before, during, or after sexual intercourse that is not caused exclusively by lack of lubrication or by vaginismus. Clinically, it is often difficult to separate dyspareunia from vaginismus, since vaginismus may occur secondary to a history of dyspareunia and even mild vaginismus is often accompanied by dyspareunia. It is important to establish whether the dyspareunia is acquired or lifelong and whether it is generalized (complete) or situational. Further inquiry should determine whether the pain is superficial or deep - whether it occurs primarily at the vaginal outlet or vaginal barrel or upon deep thrusting against the cervix. Even when the pain can be reproduced during a physical examination, the possible role of psychological factors in either causing or maintaining the pain must be acknowledged and dealt with in treatment.

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