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A recognized expert in her field, Dr. Zoldbrod's work featured recently by the American Psychological Association

and featured on That Relationship Show Podcast

Boston Sex Therapist on Painful Sex: How to Ask for Sex to Stop “Right in the Middle”
Posted on August 28, 2014 by Aline Zoldbrod

(Adapted from her book Sex Talk (New Harbinger, 2002) with Lauren Dockett)

Painful sex is a much more common phenomenon than most people understand. It is not shown in sex scenes in movies or on TV. Perhaps it is because the media does not show sexual pain as being normal, but people respond to having sexual pain as if it is shameful. It most certainly is not!

Men and women both have difficulty being honest about asking for sex to stop when it hurts.

Penises hurt if they are pulled too hard, and they can be permanently injured if they are bent at uncomfortable angles. One patient of mine was so frustrated at the way his wife was handling his penis that he said, “Knock it off, this is not like picking rutabagas in the garden.”

Women who are aroused mentally but not able to become aroused physically often lack lubrication, so that the friction of intercourse becomes painful. And the “tenting” of the vagina, which occurs during intense arousal, may not happen, so that a thrusting penis may hit a cervix.

It is important to be honest whenever you are feeling uncomfortable sexually. Ideally, I’d like you to be able to tell your partner the moment any significant discomfort occurs. But for now, if you have held secrets about past painful episodes with your partner, this is the time to “fess up.”

Sometimes it helps to write down some notes when you are about to have a difficult conversation. In my practice as a Boston sex therapy consultant for two decades now, I usually recommend the following introductory exercise for you and your partner to get you ready to talk about painful experiences you have had being sexual with each other in the past.

Person A: Write here any past episodes in which you found sexual activity painful


Person B: Write here any past episodes in which you found sexual activity painful.


Share your fears and the reasons you didn’t talk about your physical discomfort before.

How would you like the other person to change their behavior so that they do not hurt you?


Take responsibility for your own actions or lack of action. What could you have done to make sure the pain did not occur? _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If the reason for the pain was any pattern that you could assume would be repeated, plan ahead to address it. For instance, if a woman has a pattern of becoming dry during intercourse, it would be important to always keep a tube of lubricant nearby.

Exercise: Red Light /Green Light

Even when talking about pain, it’s fun to use humor. It is important that you keep talking until you feel it is safe to ask the other person to stop the moment you feel any physical discomfort. For example, if you need lubricant, and it is right next to you, if you are too shy to ask for the action to stop, the sex remains painful.

If you are shy, it might even be fun to make a game out of it. Remember the “red light/green light” game from childhood? Agree that if either of you is feeling pain, you can get the action to stop by yelling, “red light”. Of course, when the problem is solved, you can yell “green light” and get it on again.

Having pain during sex is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something to talk about with your partner. Hopefully, these strategies will help you have more fun and pleasure in bed. If you need professional guidance, do not hesitate to contact an experienced sex therapist in Boston.

Aline Zoldbrod Ph.D. is a Boston based sex therapist and psychologist and the author of the award winning book SexSmart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It (1998). You can find out more at

A recognized expert in her field, Dr. Zoldbrod's work featured recently by the American Psychological Association

and featured on That Relationship Show Podcast

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about dr zoldbrod

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod is a licensed psychologist and Boston sex therapy practitioner, seasoned sex therapist, teacher and trainer in sexuality, and author of multiple books on sexuality.

Practicing sex therapy in the Boston, MA area, Dr. Z is thoughtful and creative in her approach to help her clients gain confidence and overcome issues.

Dr. Z is a repeat author, including the award-winning book Sex Smart. Dr. Z has been featured or quoted in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times,, Los Angeles Times,, Boston Globe, Ladies Home, and in many other publications.


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