If you’ve experienced pain or discomfort during penetration, you may be concerned your vagina is too small or too tight for sex. The truth is, it’s not. Almost no vagina is too tight for intercourse. Sometimes, however, you have to help prepare a bit more for penetration.

In its unaroused state, the vagina is three to four inches long. That might not seem long enough for some penises or sex toys. But when you’re aroused, your vagina grows longer and wider. It also releases a natural lubricant. If you experience pain or difficulty with penetration, it may be a sign you weren’t adequately aroused, not that you’re too tight.

Additionally, pain during penetration may be a sign of a condition such as infection, injury, or congenital abnormality.

The vagina changes a lot over a person’s lifetime. It’s designed to have sex and birth a baby. Both events change the shape and tightness of the vagina. Understanding these changes can help you know when you might have a problem.

Changes during sex

The vagina is designed to expand and elongate during arousal. When you’re turned on, the upper portion of the vagina lengthens and pushes your cervix and uterus inside the body more. That way, the penis or sex toy doesn’t hit the cervix during penetration and cause discomfort. (Although, stimulating the cervix may sometimes be pleasurable.)

The vagina also releases a natural lubricant so that when penetration occurs, it’s less painful or difficult. If penetration begins too soon and you’re not lubricated, you may experience pain. Adequate foreplay can help ensure you have enough natural lubricant. If that’s still not enough, you can use a store-bought, water-based lubricant.

But these natural processes don’t always mean sex is comfortable. One study found that of women experience pain during vaginal intercourse. If the pain or tightness is persistent, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Changes during childbirth

Your vagina can grow and expand to accommodate the birth of a baby. Even then, it will return to its normal size.

After a vaginal delivery, however, you may feel like your vagina is not quite the same. The truth is, it probably isn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not still tight.

A vagina’s natural shape and elasticity changes over the course of a lifespan, and that means you have to adapt to those changes. This may mean trying new sexual positions or strengthening your pelvic floor muscles to regain strength and tightness.

Several conditions may affect how tight a vagina is. Most of these problems are minor and easily treated. These conditions include:

Insufficient arousal or lubrication

Arousal provides the body with natural lubrication. Try outercourse to get you more aroused. Remember, your clitoris is bigger than you think. But if penetration still feels difficult even after foreplay, use a store-bought lubricant to help.

Infection or disorder

Infections, including sexually transmitted infections, don’t change the shape or tightness of your vagina. However, they can make sex more painful.

Injury or trauma

An injury to your pelvis or your genitals may make sex painful. Wait until you’ve fully healed before engaging in sexual activity.

If you’ve ever been sexually assaulted, any sexual encounter may be difficult without adequate therapy.

Congenital abnormality

Some women are born with hymens that are thick or inflexible. During sex, a penis or sex toy pushing against the hymen may feel painful. Even after the tissue is torn, it may be painful when hit during sex.

Vaginismus

Vaginismus causes involuntary contractions of your pelvic floor muscles. Before penetration, the condition causes the pelvic floor muscles to tighten so much that a penis or sex toy can’t enter. This condition may be caused by anxiety or fear. Some people with this condition also have difficulty using tampons or having a pelvic exam.

Treatment involves a combination of therapies. In addition to sex therapy or talk therapy, your doctor will work with you to use vaginal dilators or trainers. These cone-shaped devices help you gain control of your pelvic floor and learn to release the involuntary muscular reaction you experience before penetration.

Gossip between friends may lead you to believe a vagina can “wear out” or expand too much. However, that’s simply not true.

The vagina does change a lot over the course of your lifetime. Labor and delivery of a baby is one of the most significant events that can change your vagina’s natural tightness. However, it’s important to remember that your vagina will return to its pre-delivery shape. It might feel different, and that’s to be expected. That doesn’t mean it’s not as tight as it once was.

If you’ve recently had a baby, you can help regain muscle strength and tone up the pelvic floor. A more toned pelvic floor won’t change the shape of your vagina, but it can help you control your vagina more and enjoy sex more. (It can also improve your bladder tone, which can prevent urine leaks, a common issue after delivery.)

Kegel exercises are the key to strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. Multiple exercises exist, but the most basic one is still quite effective.

How to do Kegels

The best time to practice this at first is while you’re urinating. That’s because you can tell if you’re squeezing the right muscles more easily. If your urine flow changes, you’re using the right muscles. If it doesn’t, you’re not.

While urinating, clinch your pelvic floor muscles to try to stop the flow of urine. It’s okay if you can’t do it at first. Hold the squeeze for four seconds, then release. Don’t do this every time you pee. Do it only until you learn what muscles to tighten.

If you’d rather not try this while you’re urinating, you can insert one or two fingers into your vagina and squeeze. If you can feel your vagina tighten around your fingers, even just barely, you know you’re using the right muscles.

Perform 5 to 10 of these clenches in a row, and try to do 5 to 10 sets each day.

Like with other exercises, practice and patience pay off. In two to three months, you should be able to feel an improvement. You should also feel greater sensation during sex.

“Looseness” during menopause

Menopause can cause some changes to your vagina, too. As estrogen levels dip, your natural lubricant may not be sufficient for easing penetration. Look to store-bought lubricants to supplement your own.

The vagina’s tissues also grow thinner during this phase of your life. It doesn’t mean your vagina is any looser, but the sensations from penetration may change.

Each vagina is different. That means you can’t rely on someone else’s experience to tell you if your vagina is “normal” or not. You know your own body best, so if something doesn’t feel right during sex, stop. Find a solution that works for you, and try again.

Sex doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, and you shouldn’t endure feeling too tight or inelastic. Many of the conditions that can lead to this feeling are easily treatable. If you’re worried about pain, discomfort, or bleeding during sex, see your doctor. Together, the two of you can find a reason and a solution.