Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Dyspareunia typically is diagnosed based on your symptoms. Your medical and sexual history and your physical examination will help your doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Distinguishing pain that occurs with touching the genitals or early penetration from pain that occurs with deeper penetration is a clue to the cause of your symptoms. Therefore, your doctor will ask you questions about the exact location, length and timing of your pain. He or she also will ask you:

  • If there was ever a time you had painless intercourse, or if you have always had dyspareunia

  • If you have enough natural lubrication, and if your symptoms improve if you use commercially available lubricants

  • About your sexual history (to help assess your risk for sexually transmitted infections)

  • If you have ever been sexually abused, or had a traumatic injury involving your genitals

In addition:

  • If you are middle-aged, your doctor will ask whether you are experiencing irregular periods, hot flashes or vaginal dryness, symptoms suggesting that you may have atrophic vaginitis.

  • If you are a new mother, your doctor will ask whether you are breastfeeding your baby, because breastfeeding also can lead to vaginal dryness and dyspareunia

During the physical examination, your doctor will check your vaginal wall for signs of dryness, inflammation, infection (especially yeast or herpes infection), genital warts and scarring. Your doctor also will do an internal pelvic examination to look for abnormal pelvic masses, tenderness or signs of endometriosis. He or she also may suggest that you speak with a counselor to determine whether a history of sexual abuse, trauma or anxiety may be contributing to your symptoms.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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