Why You Sometimes Get Splitting Headaches After Sex
Don’t worry, you’re probably not dying.
Photo by Guille Faingold via Stocksy
What if, every time you had sex, you felt an intense pain in your head, sort of like the pain I'm experiencing now post-Glastonbury festival or the rising nausea you feel every time Ivanka Trump releases a faux-feminist book or discusses policy matters with assembled world leaders? Wouldn't you just settle for some mediocre finger-banging rather that run the twisted pleasure-pain gauntlet of feeling your brain was going to shatter and explode like a busted light bulb every time you reached orgasm?
For many people, this struggle is real. In the UK, the Sun newspaper reports that 38-year-old Lucinda Allen was left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after having a stroke after orgasming during sex with her husband. After being rushed to hospital, Allen was put into an induced coma and had emergency brain surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain. Tests subsequently revealed she'd survived a series of strokes.
"No one talks about post-orgasm head-pain," she told the Sun. "But because of what's happened to me, I am now on a mission to raise awareness of how this pain can be a warning sign of impending brain hemorrhage."
Whilst having a post-orgasm stroke is mercifully extremely rare, so-called headaches associated with sexual activity (HSAs) are believed to affect around 1 percent of people (though the true figure may be much higher as many people don't report them to doctors). And even if you don't suffer any lasting damage, they can still be extremely frightening and distressing.
"We were mucking around and when I reached orgasm the headache hit. It was instantaneous," HSA sufferer Tania Escobar told the Daily Mail. "'I wanted to die. It just hurt so bad, having a baby was less painful."
Watch: How to Get Over Your Ex
According to the National Headache Foundation, orgasms can cause two kinds of headaches: The first type is relatively benign and is usually caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck leading to head pain. The second type—a vascular headache—is more troublesome. Described as a "very intense, severe headache," it usually happens just before orgasm and is known medically as orgasmic cephalalgia. Usually, the headache is in response to increased blood pressure in the brain, and the epicenter of the pain is located around or behind the eyes. Movement exacerbates the problem, and it may last for hours. Even more frighteningly, HSAs can also indicate a brain hemorrhage, stroke, or tumor.
"One of the most common reasons is what we call an acute migraine," explains Dr. Fayyaz Ahmed, a neurologist and trustee of the British Migraine Trust. "But if this is the first time this happens to you, we can't rule out a brain hemorrhage occurring."
If you experience a HAS for the first time, Dr. Ahmed warns, it's important you see a medical practitioner immediately. "We'll need to investigate what caused it, by doing brain imaging in an MRI scanner," he goes on.
But if you've experienced HRAs repeatedly, you're probably going to be okay. "You can't have a brain bleed many times in a few weeks," he goes on, "so if you've had a HRA a couple of times recently, it's just an acute migraine, or orgasmic migraine."
I ask Dr. Ahmed what's causing this orgasm-crushing lightning bolt of pain. "We think it's probably related to a sudden peak of the autonomic system in the brain. You have a peak of sympathetic stimulation from orgasm in your brain, and then you come to an orgasm, and all the sympathetic stimulation from the orgasm causes a sudden withdrawal of chemicals. This can cause a headache."
The solution, other than to avoid sexual pleasure entirely, is relatively mundane: take a painkiller before you plan to have sex. Or, ask your doctors to prescribe beta-blockers, which should prevent the worst of it. Thankfully, HRAs are more common in men than women—this one's for you, boys.