Let’s talk about feelings after sex. And no, not emotions — I’m talking about how your vagina feels. In college, I experienced pain and bleeding nearly every time I had sex. It wasn’t until months later, when I mentioned it to my physician in passing, that I learned this wasn’t normal. Sex is supposed to be fun and awesome and mind-blowing, not a painful exchange of bodily fluids.
So: what’s normal, and what isn’t? Here’s what medical experts had to say about what could be causing any uncomfortable feelings — and what you should do about them.
A burning sensation after sex is common, and there’s a wide range of things that could be causing it, from a lack of lubrication or a vaginal infection to a hormonal imbalance or pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, says Dr. Rachel Gelman, the branch director of Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center.
You could also be having a reaction to the lubricant you’re using. Common ingredients in lube that can be irritating are chemicals like chlorhexidine gluconate (which is used as an antibacterial), propylene glycol (a humectant/preservative), and glycerin (used as a humectant, but can contribute to yeast overgrowth because it’s a byproduct of sugar).
“Burning associated with discharge after sex may be a sign of infection, and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible,” adds Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, an OBGYN in Greenville, Mississippi. “Untreated pelvic infections can cause long term damage to internal female organs.”
Around 9 percent of women will experience bleeding after sex, and it can occur for a variety of reasons. Certain STIs, like HPV and chlamydia, can cause post-sex bleeding, as can conditions like endometriosis. One of the most concerning causes of post-sex bleeding, however, is cervical cancer, but this is rarer than the other causes. (If you have concerns about your health, it’s important to see your doctor.)
Another cause of postcoital bleeding could be vaginal dryness. “When dry skin rubs against dry skin it can cause abrasions or lacerations in the vaginal mucosa,” says Richardson. If you’re experiencing any dryness, try incorporating a lubricant.
Mild bleeding can be monitored, but severe bleeding requires medical attention as soon as possible, Richardson says. If you experience bleeding after sex frequently, you should make an appointment with your OBGYN.
Like postcoital bleeding, post-sex pain can be caused by a variety of things. Some soreness after sex can be normal, especially if the sex was rough. And although pain is subjective, if you’re experiencing extreme discomfort you should see your doctor.
Women have a muscle group called the pelvic floor that surrounds the vagina. And just like any other muscle, they can spasm and cause pain, explains Michael Ingber, MD, a board-certified doctor in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. “During rough sexual relations, these pelvic muscles can become painful, just like after a workout with other muscle groups,” he says.
If you have persistent pain post-sex, talk to your healthcare provider. Ingber says this is a problem that can be treated. “I recommend anyone experiencing pain after intercourse see a medical provider to determine what can be causing the symptoms,” says Gelman. “Adding in a good water-based lubricant may help.” If it doesn’t, there are other options, like medication and pelvic floor physical therapy.
Extra moisture after sex is normal, because of the secretions your vagina releases when you’re aroused, says Richardson. If you’re using lube, this also will create extra moisture. Also, if you have sex without a condom and your male partner ejaculates inside you, you’re going to feel a little more “drippy” after sex, because the semen leaks out of your vagina. Vaginal discharge is also normal, and is part of your vagina’s self-cleaning process.
That said, while extra moisture is normal, severe discharge is not. “Every woman has a different amount of normal discharge,” says Ingber. And typically, healthy, normal discharge is clear to white. “When this becomes foul-smelling, yellow, green, or chunky white, it’s abnormal and you should see your healthcare provider,” he says.
Changes in odor
A change in your vaginal smell after sex can be chalked up to a variety of things — like sweat and whether or not you’re ovulating. Also, fun fact: the pH of semen can actually throw off the pH of your vagina temporarily, causing the smell to change, says Richardson. If you’re concerned about the smell — or just aren’t feeling super fresh — try using a cleansing wipe.
But if the change in smell is also accompanied by severe discharge or any burning, itching, or irritation, you should get checked out by a doctor.
When you’re turned on, blood rushes to the vaginal area, so it’s completely normal that you would have some vulvar swelling after intercourse, says Richardson. Clitoral swelling is also common and totally normal. However, if the swelling is super painful or lasts for a long time, you should check in with your healthcare provider.
Another common feeling after sex: vaginal spasms. “Vaginal spasms after sex are normal and are a result of an intense orgasm,” Richardson says. (Related: can I get a “hell yeah!”?) During sex, your nerves and muscles tense up — and when you orgasm, your body releases that tension in the form of involuntary contractions. Most women typically experience anywhere between 3 and 15 contractions.