The survey of nearly 7,000 sexually active women aged 16 to 74, in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, suggests this medical problem – called dyspareunia – is common and affects women of all ages. Women in their late 50s and early 60s are most likely to be affected, followed by women aged 16-24. Doctors say there are treatments that can help if women seek advice. But many still find the subject embarrassing and taboo, the survey results show. Painful sex was strongly linked to other sexual problems, including vaginal dryness, feeling anxious during sex, and lack of enjoyment of sex. Some women said they avoided intercourse because they were so afraid of the pain. Of those who reported painful sex (7.5%), a quarter had experienced symptoms frequently or every time they had intercourse in the last six months or more. Around a third of these women said they were dissatisfied with their sex life, compared with one tenth of the women who didn’t report painful sex. Lead researcher, Dr Kirstin Mitchell, said there could be a whole range of reasons for dyspareunia. “In younger women, it might be that they are starting out in their sexual lives and they are going along with things that their partner wants but they are not particularly aroused by. “Or they might be feeling tense because they are new to sex and they are not feeling 100% comfortable with their partner.” Painful sex might be caused by other health problems, such as sexually transmitted infections, which should be diagnosed and treated. Women around the age of the menopause can find sex painful because of vaginal dryness. Karen (not her real name) is 62 and from Greater London. She said her problems began around the age of 40. “I felt that my sex drive dipped quite considerably, arousal seemed to take longer, and, despite an understanding husband, I started to dread him making approaches. “It’s like any muscle group I guess, the less you use it the worse it gets.” Karen tried using lubricant but still encountered problems. “It became like a vicious cycle. You worry and get tense and that only makes it worse.” Karen developed another complication called vaginismus – involuntary tightening of the muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted.