Emotions & Experiences

Pain is more than just messages being sent to the brain from sensitive areas of the body. It is the result of a complex interaction between the brain, the body, emotions and experiences.

Sexual Arousal and Desire

The sexual response cycle describes how your emotions might influence your sexual motivation, arousal and desire. A pattern of negative experiences, such as painful sex, can affect sexual motivation, arousal and desire1. View the diagrams below to learn about the sexual response cycle and how a pattern of painful experiences affect the cycle.

Sexual Response Cycle

Sexual Response Cycle

Motivation can be used to describe what pushes you to do something.

You might be motivated to have sex for pleasure, intimacy and emotional support. You might also be motivated to strengthen your relationship or fulfill your partner’s needs. However, sex isn’t always a pleasurable experience.

Sexual motivation can change over time based on your experiences. If you experience a pattern of painful sex, you might choose to have sex for other reasons or avoid sex altogether.

Most people without sexual difficulties that are in long term relationships are sexually neutral. This means that they are not turned on nor turned off but they might be interested in having sex if the opportunity arises.

If you are experiencing pattern of pain with sex, you might be more turned off. You might avoid or even dread sex. To engage in sex, your motivations must outweigh your reasons to avoid it.

Sexual stimulation can be anything physical, visual, or auditory that make you feel

Thoughts, emotions or life stressors can disrupt the way your brain processes sexual stimulation.

When you are focused on sexual stimulation, arousal can take place. Arousal can be both physical and psychological. For example, you might notice vaginal lubrication or feel excited for sex.

However, thoughts, emotions and/or life stressors can interfere with your interest in sex and lower your arousal.

When you are sexually aroused, your desire to engage in sex kicks in.

However, your thoughts, feelings and/or other life stressors might disrupt your
desire for sex.

A satisfying sexual experience can enhance intimacy with your partner and might increase your interest in sex.

Satisfaction can come in many different forms and it doesn’t have to include an orgasm.

Sometimes, sex is not satisfying. If you have endometriosis, it might even be painful. This can reduce your desire for sex or might lead you to avoid or fear future sexual encounters.

There are times when you might have a spontaneous desire for sex. This means you don’t need stimulation to achieve arousal.

The Anticipation of Pain Cycle

Painful sex can affect your thoughts, emotions and experiences which in turn can make your pain better or worse. Thoughts are an input into a pain experience. The anticipation of pain cycle describes how this can contribute to pain during sex1.
The Anticipation of Pain Cycle
If your sexual experiences are painful, this can reinforce negative thoughts and feelings about sex. A pattern of painful experiences might reduce your desire for sex or lead you to avoid it entirely1. There are psychological approaches that can help with low arousal and desire.
  1. Basson, R. (2002). Rethinking low sexual desire in women. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 109(4), 357-363. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2002.01002.x