Updated 16 September 2013

Sex headaches for real

If you have wondered whether your partner is using a headache as an excuse not to have sex, here's the good news: sex headaches can be painfully real.

If you have wondered whether your partner is using a headache as an excuse not to have sex, here's the good news: sex headaches can be painfully real.

And judging by how often this issue comes up in the Sexologist's forum, you're not the only one with this problem.

One user wonders whether there is a specific reason why she often has killing headaches after sex?”

And another one wonders whether she needs to see a doctor: “I've experienced sex headaches several times in the past, should I get this checked out?”

These are some of the questions our readers ask regarding a condition that seems to affect more men than women: orgasmic cephalalgia – the fancy name for a sex headache.

What is a sex headache? The experts agree that sex headaches are serious and not something of which to make fun.

They’re severe and they come on fast and they stop you in your tracks," says Dr David Haas, a professor of neurology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. "They're no fun. They hurt a lot."

“There are two types of these headaches. In the first type, the excitement accompanying intercourse causes muscle contraction in the head and neck, thus leading to head pain," says Dr Elliot Shevel, International Headache Society (IHS) and Health24’s Headache Expert.

“The second type is a vascular headache - a very intense, severe headache, usually occurring just before orgasm. It has been called an "orgasmic headache" or "orgasmic cephalalgia." In some instances, the headache is a response to an increase in blood pressure, causing the blood vessels to dilate.

“This headache is not usually related to the amount of physical exertion involved in intercourse. The pain may be located around or behind the eyes. It usually lasts a few minutes, but can last for hours. The headache is usually made worse by movement. It is generally a "benign" (not dangerous) orgasmic headache and occurs more frequently in men than women and usually, but not exclusively, strikes migraine sufferers,” adds Shevel.

While women can also be affected by sex headaches, previous research has shown that men aged 20 to 24 and 35 to 44 appear to be at highest risk of experiencing severe sex headaches.

The effects of sex headaches
”I had an incredibly severe headache every time just before orgasm, and when I ejaculated I had the same 'almost passing out' feeling - this has made me somewhat afraid,” reported a forum user.

The effects of sex-related headaches go beyond pain, however. Even though most sufferers can be treated successfully, they may develop a lingering fear of sex.

"You're talking about something that's a physiological event that has a lot of psychological impact, too," says Jeanetta Rains, clinical director of the Centre for Sleep Evaluation in Manchester.

How to treat this condition
“It is quite normal for the blood pressure to rise transiently with sex, and for it to return to normal in about five minutes,” advises Dr Shevel.

”Still, it is important to have a thorough medical check-up , including a neurological investigation, to exclude the possibility of brain pathology. Fortunately this is not common, but it must be ruled out before any other treatment is prescribed. Once this has been done, one needs a multidisciplinary approach in order to get to the root of the problem.”

“The good news is that benign sex headaches are usually easy to treat. Some patients report that they can avoid some headache attacks by slowing down their sexual activity and increasing their excitement more gradually. Switching to a less active position or relaxing after sex also often help.”

Sex headaches often disappear when the patient is under less stress in his or her day-to-day life. In some cases, and especially among women, sex headaches may reflect the sufferer’s anxiety about her relationship with her partner. In this case, she and her partner should seek relationship counselling.

(Picture: upset lovers from Shutterstock)




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