Can a Woman Be Allergic to Semen?

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A semen allergy, also known as seminal plasma hypersensitivity (SPH), is a rare condition that is caused by a mild or severe allergic reaction to the protein of a man's semen.

Research has discovered that semen allergies are more common in women than men, affecting up to 40,000 females in the United States. This is likely because most diagnostic case studies have focused on women. More research is needed to understand how the condition impacts sexual partnerships between males.

While extremely rare, a man can be allergic to his own semen. This newly named condition is called post-orgasmic illness syndrome.

Read on to better understand the causes, symptoms, and solutions of a semen allergy.

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Symptoms

Sometimes women experience symptoms with one partner and not another. This is because of the unique mixture of proteins, fluids, and other components of a man's semen.

A semen allergy can cause local reactions minutes or hours after exposure. Most women will see symptoms of contact dermatitis (a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with an allergen) inside the vaginal canal, externally on the labia, or around the anus. Symptoms of a semen allergy include:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Angioedema (swelling of the face, arms, or legs)
  • Redness

Complications That Need Medical Attention

A semen allergy can also cause systemic (body-wide) reactions. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that may occur with a semen allergy. Symptoms can appear within minutes after exposure to semen and can be life-threatening. Here's what to look out for:

  • A swollen tongue or throat
  • Wheezing and trouble breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • A skin rash
  • Nausea and vomiting

Causes

To understand the cause of a semen allergy, it's important to note the difference between semen and sperm.

Sperm are reproductive cells containing genetic information used to fertilize an egg. Semen is a composition of seminal fluid from reproductive organs and millions of sperm.

It is widely believed that the major allergen involved in a semen allergy is the proteins produced by the prostate, but other proteins are likely involved. Therefore, it is not a man's sperm that is the allergen.

Other studies found that medications or food allergens can accumulate in the semen and trigger symptoms in sexual partners with existing sensitization.

Diagnosis

The easiest way to diagnose SPH at home is to see if symptoms are prevented with the use of a condom during intercourse.

Getting an accurate diagnosis can be challenging because semen allergies are rare. Women are often misdiagnosed with:

If you suspect you have a semen allergy, bring it up with your healthcare provider. Ask for a skin or blood allergy test. To do this, your healthcare provider will expose your skin to the suspected allergen, in this case, your partner's semen, and closely observe for signs of an allergic reaction.

Treatment

Once you and your partner have a diagnosis, you can use one or more of the following treatments to continue a fulfilling sex life free from allergic reactions.

Condoms

First and foremost, condoms can be used during intercourse to prevent skin-to-semen contact. This is the easiest and least invasive treatment method. If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, there are other methods available (see below).

Desensitization

Desensitization, also referred to as immunotherapy, is a treatment used to expose the immune system to an allergen in an effort to create a tolerance to it. In most cases, immunotherapy can take from three to five years, but the changes can last many years.

Antihistamine

Consider a topical antihistamine cream if you're experiencing a local allergic reaction. One study recommends Gastrocrom (cromolyn) vaginal cream, which can be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription allergy medication before intercourse may also help to reduce symptoms in severe cases.

It's important to make a treatment plan with your partner and medical provider that prioritizes the health and well-being of both partners.

Pregnancy and Semen Allergy

The good news is that SPH has not been shown to directly impact fertility. The sperm (and semen) are still healthy.

Instead, the challenge lies in having unprotected sex without experiencing symptoms. But today, there are options.

In mild cases, immunotherapy or medication can help eliminate the discomfort of an allergic reaction. People with more severe cases can look into intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Your partner's sperm will be washed free of the allergen (protein) and used for insemination. 

In either case, talking to your healthcare provider will help you understand the risks, expenses, and results of all options.

Summary

Semen allergy, or seminal plasma hypersensitivity, is an under-researched condition that causes a mild or severe allergic reaction to a specific protein in a man's semen. Both men and women can be allergic to semen, and experience a range of symptoms from a localized rash to anaphylaxis. Prevention includes the use of condoms, and the use of antihistamines or immunotherapy can be used for treatment.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a semen allergy, remember that your partner's sperm is not dirty or "bad" and you are not to blame for the way your body reacts to it. Any condition stemming from sexual intimacy is a chance to assess how you and your partner handle challenges together. A semen allergy is not necessarily a sign that you and your partner don't belong together. Instead, consider it an opportunity to discover other forms of intimacy that can keep you safe and bring you closer together.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can being allergic to sperm cause yeast infections?

    An allergy to semen is rare but can cause internal and external irritation that looks similar to a yeast infection. Yeast infections can also be brought on by many factors including your partner’s natural genital chemistry (naturally occurring bacteria and fluids) or allergies to products, toys, or fabrics.

  • Can a woman be allergic to one man’s sperm but not another?

    It is possible for a woman to be allergic to one man's semen but not another's. Semen includes mature sperm, fluids from various glands and organs, as well as sugars, proteins, and even some vitamins and minerals. That said, it varies from male to male based on his genetics, lifestyle, and overall health.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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