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Is Painful Sex Caused by a Shallow Vagina?

problems with sex photo

Why is Sex Painful? Is My Vagina Shallow? Am I Normal Down There? As OB/GYNs, we are often asked questions that many women are too embarrassed to talk about. But it’s important to understand your anatomy and no question should be avoided because knowledge is power when it comes to your vaginal health.

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Following are answers to some of the thousands of questions we’ve been asked from our patients regarding painful intercourse, oftentimes due to a “shallow” vagina.

So, What is the “Average” Vagina?

Having a shallow vagina can create noticeable problems, especially with intercourse or trying to insert anything into the vagina. Pain and discomfort are never normal, so it’s best to discuss any questions with your OB/GYN.

The average vagina is between 3 and 6 inches deep, or for most people, that’s roughly the length of your hand. But an unusual fact is that the depth of a vagina can change in any 24-hour period. For example, if a woman gets nervous or uptight, the vagina can be more on the smaller side. However, if a woman is sexually aroused, the vaginal canal grows longer. This lengthening allows the uterus and cervix to lift up from the vaginal canal so that penetration will be easier and more comfortable.

The vaginal canal undergoes several changes throughout the many stages of life, from puberty, childbirth, aging, to menopause, so it changes with you. All women are different and unique and this holds true for vaginas as well. It is completely normal for women to have different lengths, shapes and sizes of vaginas. Just like no two women are the same, no two vaginas are just alike.

So, technically, there is no “average” or normal, just a range for what is most common. The only important fact to keep in mind is that if you experience pain or discomfort, see an experienced OB/GYN who can find help you find the source of the pain. If you’re suffering with a shallow vagina, it could be caused by an underlying condition that makes penetration uncomfortable.

What if My Vagina Isn’t Deep Enough?

If vaginal penetration is uncomfortable, you may have a condition called a shallow vagina. It can also be noticeable if you have discomfort or difficulty when inserting a tampon.

Your Vagina may be Shallow or Not Deep Enough if:

  • You feel resistance as you attempt insertion
  • You feel increasing discomfort or pain while a tampon is inserted or during sexual intercourse
  • You feel intense or deep pain with movement
  • You have burning or aching in your vagina

Some Causes of a Shallow Vagina include:

  • Vaginal scarring from prior surgery or childbirth
  • Vaginal tears from childbirth or trauma
  • Infection
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Fibroids
  • An underlying medical condition

If your vagina feels unusually short and is causing discomfort or pain, see an experienced OB/GYN to rule out an underlying medical condition and find the root of the problem. For many, treatment can lessen the degree of discomfort and minimize pain.

Learn more about vaginal health! Download our FREE Vaginal Rejuvenation eBook.

What are Some Medical Conditions that Cause a Shallow Vagina?

Examinations by an OB/GYN are important to help rule out other medical problems. If it’s determined that you have a shallow vagina, your doctor may diagnose you with one of the following conditions:

Vaginismus – Vaginismus is an automatic bodily response where vaginal muscles involuntarily constrict when trying to insert something. This condition is usually treated through a combination of pelvic floor exercises, medical vaginal dilators, and possibly counseling or coaching.

Tilted uterus – The uterus is above the vagina and usually points forward toward the abdomen. But, in approximately 1/3 of all women, the uterus is tilted toward the spine. This is called a tilted or retroverted uterus.

A tilted uterus doesn’t necessarily shorten the length of the vaginal canal, but it may make insertion difficult. Penetration from behind and deep thrusting may be especially uncomfortable. Discuss with your doctor different sexual positions that may work better and not cause discomfort.

In some cases, your doctor can recommend exercises that may help to correct the position of the uterus. In severe cases, and if it is seriously altering your lifestyle, surgery may be discussed. Your doctor will advise treatment options based on your unique case.

Vaginal stenosis – Vaginal stenosis is a condition that causes scar tissue in the vaginal canal. The result is a narrower and shorter opening to the vagina, which may make intercourse more difficult or impossible. Vaginal stenosis is often the result of surgeries, childbirth, sexual trauma, or other injuries which can cause scar tissue in the vaginal canal.

Treatment focuses on keeping the muscles pliable and preventing stiffness. To do this, your doctor may recommend using a vaginal dilator, lubrication, and practicing pelvic floor exercises.

Fibroids – Up to 80% of women have fibroids, and many don’t even realize it. They can be the size of a pea, or as large as a watermelon. Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in and around the uterus. If the fibroid is a significant size, it can possibly bulge into the wall of the vaginal canal and cause pain with intercourse. The fibroid can make the vagina seem shorter if it is blocking part of the vaginal canal.

Pain with intercourse is never a normal symptom, so it should never be ignored. Your OB/GYN will be able to see if fibroids are present during an examination and come up with a treatment plan.

Infection – Vaginal infections are one of the most common problems that affect the female reproductive organs. These infections are not only uncomfortable, but can cause further health problems if left untreated.

There are a wide variety of infections that can affect the female genitalia. Vaginal infections may be caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, or parasites found in the vagina or vulva.

If left untreated, an infection can cause pain and swelling in the vaginal canal, which in turn can make penetration uncomfortable or impossible. Evaluation by an OB/GYN can help determine if an infection is present, and treatment options are available.

Vaginal Dryness – Vaginal dryness can occur for many reasons and can cause painful intercourse. It is common as women age, especially as they are approaching the menopausal years. With menopause, there is a decrease in the production of estrogen, which is a hormone that helps maintain the vagina’s lubrication, elasticity, and thickness.

Vaginal dryness and low estrogen can occur at other times as well. Estrogen levels fall after childbirth, with breastfeeding, or during certain other medical treatments or medications.

Hormone replacement therapy may help. Speak to your doctor to find out if it’s right for you.

MRKH Syndrome – Individuals born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome have an underdeveloped or absent vagina and uterus. They may, however, be born with intact female genitalia and female chromosomes.

Some people with MRKH syndrome may not know about the missing or underdeveloped sex organs until they’re older. Sometimes the first sign may be a lack of menstruation during puberty.

These variations may cause pain or discomfort during penetration. It may make sexual intercourse impossible. Your doctor may recommend dilation techniques to stretch the vaginal canal to a normal length. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to create a vaginal canal.  


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It’s Important to be Evaluated by an OB/GYN

Pain or discomfort with penetration can happen from time to time. However, if the discomfort interferes with your daily life or penetration becomes impossible, make an appointment to see an OB/GYN. A physical exam can rule out any underlying conditions that may make penetration painful or impossible. Once the underlying cause is clear, your OB/GYN will give you a treatment plan to alleviate symptoms.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Our doctors are female health experts. With three double board-certified urogynecologists and a diverse group of board-certified OB/GYNs, help is available. Call us to schedule an appointment at 770.720.7733 or request an appointment online.