Painful Sex Postpartum: Why It Happens and How to Deal

Frustrated woman sitting on bed

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Your pregnancy is over, and you’re beginning to feel like your old self again. If you're feeling inspired to get back into the sexual groove, you'll be pleased to know you can physically reconnect with your partner (or yourself) once your healthcare provider gives you the green light. However, what happens when sex is more painful than pleasurable?

Hormonal changes and birth-related discomfort can both impact your sexual experience postpartum. If you're not enjoying sex after delivery, you're certainly not alone, but you'll be happy to hear solutions exist that can improve the situation.

Let's explore some common postpartum sexual issues and learn about the steps you can take to help you get back to enjoying intimacy.

When Can You Have Sex Postpartum?

Regardless of whether you delivered your baby vaginally or via C-section, most healthcare providers suggest waiting four to six weeks after having your baby to resume intercourse. This will give your body a chance to heal and minimize the risk of complications.

Within this suggested timeframe, your postpartum bleeding will stop, and tears will heal. It also takes time for your cervix to close. Before you attempt sex, you should check in with your doctor (this usually involves a physical exam). Resuming sex before your provider gives you the go-ahead increases the risk of both pain and infection.

Will Sex Feel the Same?

Pregnancy and delivery cause major changes to your body, so it's normal for sex not to feel the same postpartum as it did before you had your baby. While it may not necessarily be painful, it could feel different.

"Your vaginal tissues and muscles have been stretched, and hormonal changes—especially if you are breastfeeding—have altered blood flow," says Andrea Chisholm, MD, a board-certified obstetrician, and gynecologist. "All of these changes together will often decrease sensation, making sex a bit less pleasurable."

Don't worry—if you're experiencing discomfort, you're not stuck like this. "The good news is this is almost always temporary," Dr. Chisholm adds. "With time, normalization of hormone levels, and some pelvic floor strengthening like Kegel exercises, things will get back to pretty much normal."

Changes You May Notice

Hormonal changes, especially in breastfeeding mothers, can contribute to vaginal dryness. Since lactation causes estrogen levels to drop, it's common for women to find they aren't well-lubricated during sex. An over-the-counter lubricant can help ease this discomfort.

During delivery, women who tore during delivery may also experience pain due to the scar tissue developing during the healing process. This can cause discomfort upon insertion that may continue during intercourse. Some women find they only have pain during deep penetration, which can signify the need for pelvic floor therapy.

"For almost every other musculoskeletal injury, part of the recovery process typically includes some degree of physical therapy," says Dr. Chisolm. "The same is true with pregnancy and childbirth. One could argue that all postpartum women would benefit from some amount of pelvic floor therapy. Still, for certain women who are having pain or painful sex, postpartum can benefit from physical therapy."

How Is Pelvic Floor Therapy Performed?

Pelvic floor therapy works the pelvic floor muscles, tissues, and ligaments that support that region of your body. Women who seek postpartum pelvic floor therapy may notice an increase in arousal and orgasms.

The type of pelvic floor therapy you receive may vary. Your physical therapist will help determine which form of pelvic floor therapy will most effectively treat your symptoms.

Some common methods include:

  • Exercise. Your therapist will teach you how to contract (then relax) your pelvic floor muscles. This movement can help strengthen your muscles, as well as help with flexibility.
  • Massage. For patients struggling with blood circulation or mobility, a physical therapist may massage the area manually to help improve symptoms.
  • Electrical stimulation. Patients can learn to contract their muscles using a low-voltage current to help synchronize their pelvic contractions.
  • Dilators. If you're stressed over penetration, vaginal dilators are tube-shaped devices that can help you relax your muscles to allow for a smoother entry.

Painful Sex After Birth

Rest assured, you don't have to suffer through painful postpartum sex. In addition to working with a professional pelvic floor therapist, there are things you can do on your own such as using a lubricant, perineal massage, and experimentation.

For instance, different sexual positions may offer you more control. If missionary or rear entry feels too intense, try a position like being on top, which allows you to determine penetration depth. As always, talk to a healthcare provider before trying something new.

Ways to ease discomfort:

  • Using lubricant. Being well-lubricated during postpartum sex is vital, especially in alleviating insertion pain. Mothers who are nursing are more likely to experience vaginal dryness, making lubricant highly beneficial.
  • Perineal massage. Massaging the area between your vagina and anus can improve scar tissue mobility. If you find postpartum sex painful around the vaginal opening, perineal massage is a worthwhile option.
  • Experimentation. Pleasurable postpartum sex looks different for every couple. If you're no longer excited about former positions or sexual acts, don't feel obligated to continue with your old routine. Mutual masturbation, oral sex, and massage are intimate ways to connect with your partner without penetration.

A Word From Verywell

The postpartum period can be difficult for many people, and resuming sex with your partner is an exciting escape from the blur of caring for a new baby. While sex is a great way to reconnect with your partner, it's important to make sure you're physically comfortable with the act before making it a part of your routine.

Remember to listen to your healthcare provider's advice about when it's safe to resume intercourse after having your baby. Your body needs time to heal after delivery, and having sex too soon can increase your risk of both pain and infection.

Once you're given the go-ahead, you can safely have intercourse again, but it's wise to listen to your body. Sex should be pleasurable—not painful. Experimenting with different positions and adding lubricant to your routine can be beneficial, but sometimes more significant intervention is required. If something feels not quite right, contact your healthcare provider to find out whether your body needs more time to heal or if you may benefit from physical therapy to improve your sexual experience.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A Partner’s Guide to Pregnancy.

  2. Acele EÖ, Karaçam Z. Sexual problems in women during the first postpartum year and related conditions. J Clin Nurs. 2012;21(7-8):929-37. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03882.x.

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By Renee Plant
Renee Plant is a health and wellness freelance writer with a passion for delivering well-researched, factual content to readers.