Life in the bedroom isn’t always glamorous. As a female, there are times it can become unenjoyable or just utterly painful. When it becomes painful, it can be hard to find a solution. As a woman diagnosed with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, I have struggled for over two years with painful intercourse.
I know just how hard it can be to find relief. However, my experience has brought me in contact with two useful tools that help to reduce painful intercourse in the bedroom: a dilator set and pelvic wand.
Before the discussion can begin, it is important to bring attention to just how common painful intercourse is. One study conducted by BJOG, an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, sampled over 6,000 sexually-active women in Britain.
Surprisingly, 7.5% of the women sampled reported painful intercourse. One quarter of the women who experienced painful intercourse had even experienced symptoms very often for over six months. Unfortunately, the results of the study are not so surprising as according to the journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Medicine, between 7% and 58% of women report problems with dyspareunia (painful intercourse).
So What Causes Painful Intercourse?
Well, there are a variety of reasons painful intercourse can occur including but not limited to pre-existing conditions, hormonal disorders, and psychological factors such as sexual trauma or anxiety.
Dilator sets and a pelvic wand can provide the most help in terms of pre-existing conditions in the form of pelvic disorders or dysfunction. However, the jury is not out yet on just how much relief it can provide in the other two categories. For now, we’ll focus on the more manageable category of pelvic disorders or dysfunction.
The pelvic floor is the main contributor in pelvic disorders and pelvic pain. To briefly explain, the pelvic floor is similar to a hammock in the manner that it holds many important elements in place.
Some of your bodies most important organs are supported by this region including the uterus, bladder, and intestines. Katie Weingartz, PT, DPT, a licensed pelvic floor physical therapist, explains that the pelvic floor has four main functions pertaining to the categories of the splinter, sexual, support, and lymphatic.
The importance of these areas can not be overlooked as each one plays an essential function in a woman’s life. The splinter controls her bowels, the sexual gives her pain-free intercourse the support holds everything together, and the lymphatic regulates blood flow throughout the region. Imagine any one of these areas going away, and it’s no wonder how a woman’s life can be turned upside down from it.
When the pelvic floor becomes over-stressed and tenses up or if it becomes weak and can no longer provide proper support, a dilator set can help.
Each dilator in the set comes in the shape of a tube with a slightly-pointed end and gradually increases in size as the user feels comfortable. Currently, there are many different options to choose from on the market. What it really comes down to though is a choice between a more plastic-based or silicone-based set.
Personally, I believe this to be a matter of preference. Either set provides the same function. Usually, the plastic sets are more affordable than the silicone ones so if price is an important factor, it might be best to opt for the plastic set. However, if you can spare the extra money, I’ve heard the silicone sets are more comfortable to use.
When I bought my first set, I was a college student and opted for a plastic set from Hope & Her . It has served me just fine for the two years I’ve had it.
How to Use a Dilator Set:
- To use a dilator set, it’s important that you first purchase a water-based lubricant to lubricate the dilators. These lubricants have the least chance for irritation and provide the smoothest experience for insertion. It’s also easier to clean.
- Once you have the lubricant, apply enough on the dilator to coat the tool. Start small. It’s totally okay to start with the smallest dilator.
- Lay down on your back on your bed or anywhere else comfortable enough to fully relax during your dilator use. Make sure your feet are flat on the surface with your knees bent. Rest the dilator at your vaginal opening.
- Take a deep breath and gently insert the pointed end of the dilator into the vaginal canal as you would a tampon. Stop when you feel any discomfort or pain. Do not force yourself to go any further than what you are comfortable with.
- Once you are at a comfortable point of insertion, practice deep diaphragmatic breathing. You may exercise the area by gently twisting the dilator in a circle or inserting it in and out a few times. You may also try performing a few kegel exercises to help strengthen the area, but if you feel that your pelvic floor is too tense during dilator use, I would avoid doing this.
- After 5 to 10 minutes, carefully take the dilator out. Make sure to clean it using fragrance-free gentle soap or a cleaner that won't irritate your lady bits.
When it comes to moving up on dilator sets, it’s important to remember that it all goes by YOUR pace. Move up in size whenever you feel fully comfortable with the one you’re currently using. If you’re unsure if you’re ready, you can try a few minutes using the current size and a few minutes using the new size. There’s also not a set amount of times you need to use your set per week.
After experimenting with the dilator set, you’ll get to know your body and how many times a week you feel it is needed. The ultimate goal is to finish the set and move on to using the set as little as possible. However, there is never any shame in going back to the set in the case of flare-ups.
Moving on to the second tool, the pelvic wand is used for tight or over-stressed pelvic floors. Sparing you a lot of scientific jargon, the pelvic wand works by targeting certain tight trigger points in the pelvic floor. The wand can again be plastic or silicone based. I personally use Intimate Rose’s silicone pelvic wand .
While each wand can vary slightly in shape, most are in a curved-u shape with one thin end and one rounded-out thicker end. Some wands also have extra features such as vibration and temperature control. While these extra features can prove to be helpful, they are not necessarily needed for trigger point release. A regular pelvic wand can work just fine.
How to Use a Pelvic Wand:
- To use the pelvic wand, first decide which end you wish to use for the session. The curved thinner end is more helpful for targeting and releasing deeper trigger points while the thicker end is more helpful for targeting trigger points near the entrance of the vagina.
- After applying a coating of water based lubricant on the end you wish to use, lay in the same position as described when using the dilator tool.
- Gently insert the tool after a deep breath. Gently move the wand around in a circle until you find a tender spot. Upon making contact with a tender spot, gently press into it. Intimate Rose recommends using “the same firmness you would use to check a tomato for ripeness”. Maintain the pressure and slowly move your knees left or right until you find a position where there is no pain.
- Hold the position and pressure for two minutes to allow full release of the tender point. Repeat this process for each tender point you encounter.
- As stated with the dilators, repeat the process throughout the week as you feel comfortable.
You are Not Alone
Painful intercourse shouldn’t be a normal part of life in the bedroom. It’s significantly important to discuss this issue and to seek relief for the women who experience it. While a dilator set and pelvic wand can provide relief, they are not a cure-all. If you experience pain with intercourse often, the best option will always be to reach out for medical help.
Your primary care doctor can put you in contact with a specialist or a pelvic floor physical therapist, both great tools at finding relief. Remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that relief can be found. As someone who has been on this journey for two years, I promise you it will get better!
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Mitchell, K., et al. (2017). Painful sex (dyspareunia) in women: prevalence and associated factors in a British population probability survey. BJOG. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.14518
Arora, V., Mukhopadhyay, S., & Morris, E. (2020). Painful sex (dyspareunia): A difficult symptom in gynecological practice. Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine, 30(9), 269-275. doi:https://doi-org.libproxy.library.unt.edu/10.1016/j.ogrm.2020.06.001
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2021). How to Use a Vaginal Dilator.
Sisson, K. (2019). What You Need to Know About Postpartum Pelvic Floor Wellness.