Painful sex is common for women of all ages, study says

For women of all ages, painful sex is not only more common than you think — it's also extremely distressing. A new study conducted by researchers in the UK revealed that approximately one in 10 British women from age 16 to 74 are dealing with dyspareunia – A.K.A. painful sex.

The study, which was eventually published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, surveyed 6,669 sexually active women living in Britain. Researchers found that the age group most likely to experience painful sex were women ranging from 55 to 64, but it was also common in women between the ages of 16 and 24. Additionally, this was the one issue related to sexual activity that women found to be the most stressful.

RELATED: 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex You Probably Don't Know

6 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex You Probably Don't Know
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6 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex You Probably Don't Know

1. Women who have sex more often have sharper memories.

A recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the more often women had sex, the better they performed on a word-memorization task. The researchers think sex could stimulate cell growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that stores memories.

2. Sex is good for your blood pressure.

Sexually active women between ages 57 and 85 are less likely to suffer from hypertension, according to a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Plus, according to a survey by Trojan and the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, sex only gets more exciting as you get older.

3. Sex can boost your confidence...

Despite the stereotype that casual sex is degrading for young women, one study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that college students who enjoyed casual sex felt greater self-confidence if they had it often. But if they didn't like it, doing it frequently wasn't beneficial—which just shows it's all about being honest about your desires.

4. ...and so can masturbation.

Another study in Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who masturbated often felt more positively about their bodies. Of all the great health benefits of sex, who knew that feeling yourself could help you with feeling yourself?

5. Sex and masturbation can improve your overall physical fitness.

One study by Adam and Eve found that the more athletes masturbated or had sex, the greater strength, agility, and speed they exhibited. Plus, a meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Physiology found that sex right before a competition typically either has no effect or gives athletes a boost in fitness—contrary to a lot of popular thought about the effects of sex before the big game.

6. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexual pleasure releases feel-good hormones, in case you couldn't tell.

Orgasms trigger endorphins like dopamine and oxytocin, according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, but you don't even need to climax in order to experience these benefits: Sexual arousal alone releases these hormones. These same chemicals can also alleviate cramps—yet another reason not to shy away from sex during your period.

According to the lead author on the study, Kirstin Mitchell, there are many reasons why someone might feel pain during sex, and in this study they're specifically talking about vaginal sex. She explained that there were three likely causes.

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"Some may have an underlying medical condition or infection," Mitchell said. "For some, it may be that they do not feel confident or empowered to communicate to a partner what they like and dislike, and so they end up doing sexual activities that they don't really enjoy — this then means they are not properly aroused and this can make sex painful. Others may feel anxious and tense up, causing sex to be painful, and this can lead to further anxiety in anticipation of pain."

Of course, it's important to note that no one should ever feel pressured into doing anything with their body that they don't want to, and it's important for all partners to obtain enthusiastic consent before engaging in any kind of hook up, even if it's not sex.

But for anyone who experiences painful sex even if they are totally comfortable and enthusiastic, it is crucial to visit a doctor. Mitchell says anyone who feels pain during sex to seek a medical professional in case there is an underlying physical cause for the sensation. The study shows that only a small amount of women with dyspareunia ever receive an official diagnosis, in part due to the stigma attached to painful sex, but also because there is a lack of funding for health issues surrounding sexual function.

It's important for everyone to know that if you are experiencing painful sex, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you or your body, and it also has nothing to do with your ability to connect on an intimate level with others. "Interestingly," Mitchell explains, "we did not see an association between painful sex and happiness with relationships...."

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