We don't need experts to tell us that there are more benefits besides pleasure when it comes to sex. (But should you need scientific proof, there's plenty of it, like how it can boost your immune system, help lower stress and risk for depression, improves sleep and can even lower our perception of pain.) However, there's one topic that's not often discussed, despite the fact that it's common among women: Cramps after sex.
New York-based, board-certified gynecologist Shyama Mathews, MD, tells MyDomaine that most women have experienced this type of pain after sex at some point in their lives. "For most women, [it] may feel similar to menstrual cramps," she says.
In fact, a recent British study found that nearly one in 10 women experience some type of pain (also known as Dyspareunia in scientific circles) during or after sex. The findings also revealed that women of all ages are affected and that other types of pain were associated with vaginal dryness, anxiety, lack of enjoyment, and other issues. Researchers point out that there are other factors besides physical causes that can contribute to painful sex, including emotional and psychological issues.
So what's behind the discomfort? Keep reading to learn about the most common causes of cramping after sex, how to alleviate the pain, and when it's time to seek medical help.
Common Causes of Cramps During Sex
"One reason is that semen contains prostaglandins that cause uterine contractions, [but that's] only applicable if no barrier protection [like a condom] is used," Mathews explains. "Another common reason is mechanical stimulation of the cervix and lower portion of the uterus, [which] triggers the same type of contractions."
Another possible cause is a pelvic floor muscle spasm, which is when the muscles around the vagina spasm or cramp, she adds. "Other times the cramps or pain will radiate to the back or down the legs. This may indicate other conditions, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis."
Raquel Dardik, MD, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, explains that irritation of the bladder, ovaries, or uterus as a result of friction during sex could potentially explain why women have lower abdominal pain after sex.
How to Avoid Cramps After Sex
In short: Switch things up in the bedroom. Mathews recommends trying positions or angles during sex that may put less pressure on your cervix. Taking ibuprofen, which "can block prostaglandins and reduce the cramping," can also alleviate any pain during or after sex.
In addition, uterine cramps can also be treated by placing a heating pad on the abdomen. "Some women with severe pain related to pelvic floor muscle spasm may benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy with a trained specialist," Mathews adds.
Emptying your bladder before sex may also help reduce cramps.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
"If the pain is severe, radiates, or is accompanied by bleeding, see your doctor," says Mathews. "A gynecologist trained in evaluating pelvic pain can diagnose pelvic floor muscle spasm, uterine abnormalities, or endometriosis as potential causes."
In addition to checking in with your primary care physician, experts also recommend being upfront with your partner if you're experiencing any pain during or after sex.
Mitchell KR, Geary R, GrahamCA, et al. Painful sex (dyspareunia) in women: prevalence and associated factors in a British population probability survey. BJOG. 2017. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.14518