Before I had PIV sex for the first time, a friend told me to “expect it to hurt.” Two other friends of mine had pain for several months and thought that was just what women had to go through when they became sexually active. It’s not just young women who get this message: 30 percent of adult women in one study reported pain the last time they had intercourse. Another study found that women defined bad sex as “the potential for extremely negative feelings and the potential for pain,” while men considered it merely “to represent the potential for less satisfying sexual outcomes.”

Too many women have gotten the message that sex entails suffering, if not for their entire sex lives, then at least in the beginning. As a result, too few do anything about painful sex. If they get up the courage to talk to their doctors, they often trivialize the problem. This became evident after a pelvic mesh implant made by Johnson & Johnson caused painful intercourse, and a doctor affiliated with the company wrote in an email that the women using it could just have anal sex instead. 

Introducing: OhNut 

Emily Sauer, the creator of a new wearable device called OhNut, wants women to know sex should be something they enjoy, not something they endure. 

OhNut, which recently launched on Kickstarter, goes around the base of the penis, effectively shortening it to prevent overly deep penetration — a common cause of painful sex. It looks like three silicone donuts stacked on top of one another, though you can also just use one or two of them to customize the depth. You can currently order it by pledging $58 or more on Kickstarter. 

“I've always been a conversation starter,” says Sauer. “But there was one conversation I wasn't having — and I didn't realize how much it was affecting my life. Painful sex, for me, was something that made me feel bad about myself in addition to being a physical discomfort. I was too embarrassed to speak to anyone other than doctors about the challenge, and when those doctors couldn't help me... I couldn't help myself either. So, I surrendered to a new normal, and dealt with this alone.”

We need to talk about it

There are few other products on the market to deal with painful sex, other than plain old lube, but women-led companies are beginning to address this issue. Private Packs, which are soon to launch, go into your underwear to relieve pain (including pain that can arise after sex) using cool and heat therapy. The unique (and encouraging) thing about OhNut is that it makes women’s partners part of the effort to ensure sex is as enjoyable as possible for them. By sparking conversation between couples, as well as a larger cultural conversation, Sauer hopes to combat the shame many people who experience painful sex feel, as well as the trivialization of the issue.

“Once I mustered the courage to start a conversation around painful sex late 2016, I was amazed to find people wanted to talk about painful sex and how it affected their lives,” says Sauer. 

Of course, there are still many other conversations to be had. If there’s an underlying issue behind sex-induced pain besides overly deep penetration, no product is a substitute for dealing with the cause. Pain during sex can indicate a medical issue like endometriosis or a sexual issue like lack of arousal, which we need to talk about as well. 

As we talk more openly about women’s sexual pain, it will also become easier to talk about their sexual pleasure. After all, women should be able to hope for more from sex — and from life — than simply not suffering.