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The Checkup: Yes, Really. One-Third Of Women Have Pain During Sex

A while back we wrote about a national sex survey that found one-third of women experienced pain during sex. There were skeptics back then who thought, nah, that can’t be possible, otherwise we’d be having a nationwide conversation about how to fix such a huge problem. But now, the lead author of that study, Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute, confirms those numbers in a follow-up survey.

The Checkup

We discuss these surprisingly high numbers, and other new findings, in the second episode of our new podcast, The Checkup, which is just out at Slate.com here. (To listen to The Checkup now, click on the arrow above; to download and listen later, press Download; and to get it through iTunes click here.)

The theme of podcast #2: “Matters Below The Waist.” This segment features frank talk about sex problems — and some solutions. We delve into Herbenick’s fascinating research on pain during sex and more (including personal insights from one of our hosts…) and speak with a physical therapist who specializes in various treatment options that can help women deal with this rarely discussed but incredibly widespread problem.

Not to leave men out, we also explore a little-known disorder called Peyronie’s disease, in which the erect penis becomes crooked, sometimes making it difficult to have intercourse. (Yes, this came up during the Bill Clinton impeachment era, and there’s more on that in the podcast.)

Herbenick’s initial survey of sex in America was the largest nationally representative study of sex in the country; her team surveyed 6,000 men and women, ages 14-94, and asked them about their sexual behavior.

Results of the latest survey (which Herbenick says were presented at an International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health annual meeting) are expected to be published in several months.

In the meantime here, lightly edited, is more from my interview last week with Herbenick, also the author of several books, including Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva and Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered-For Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex:

DH: We did another national survey of sex in America. And this time, knowing that we had this stark difference between how women and men experience pain during sex – only 5% of men reported any degree of pain, and most of theirs was mild, too. We did ask a series of follow-up questions. This time, for people who did experience pain, we collected information about how long the pain lasted, where in their body it was located, whether they told their partner, what they did in response to the pain, and we also separated it by vaginal and anal intercourse.

RZ: What else did you find?

So the first thing that was important is the 30% number is still there. And that’s important because it does show that it’s a stable and reliable estimate, which some people in the media had questioned [whether] it could really be that that number of people experienced pain — Continue reading