Understanding the Connection Between Sex and Headaches

How Sex May Cause or Ease Your Headaches

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Maybe it was in a sitcom, or a movie, when we first heard the words "Not now, honey -- I have a headache." But in reality, sex and headaches seem to have a love-hate relationship.

For some people, sex can ease the pain of a pounding head. For others, an orgasm can bring on a throbbing headache. Fortunately, we have some answers about the unique relationship between sex and headaches.

When Sex Eases Headaches

For some people, sex can ease the pain associated with a headache, and a few biological mechanisms may be responsible for this. One theory is that sex causes endorphins to be released, which can ease pain. Another theory is that the neurotransmitter serotonin is responsible. When serotonin is released, it may cause a “feel-good sensation” that might reduce the pain of a headache.

A 2001 study published in Headache found that in a group of women who had sex during a migraine, 30 percent felt a reduction in pain, while 17.5 percent became completely headache-free. The theory behind it is not fully understood but some speculate that vaginal stimulation opens a neural pathway that reduces pain -- the same pathway that might contribute to easing pain during childbirth.

When Sex Causes Headaches

While sex may ease headaches for some people, headaches can also be triggered by sexual excitement, especially orgasm -- and men are at an increased risk. About two-thirds of people with sex headaches feel a dull ache on both sides of the head, whereas one-third experience it on one side of the head. Pain typically intensifies with sexual excitement and orgasm.

Some people experience a more intense, sudden headache that occurs during an orgasm. This type of headache is usually more throbbing in nature and may be a response to increased blood pressure and heart rate. Still, for some, headaches build up during sex due to increased muscle tension, and are then eased with orgasm.


Typically sex headaches are not a cause for concern, but other more serious medical conditions need to be ruled out first. So, if it's the first time you have experienced a headache associated with sexual activity or you have never seen a doctor for it, you should seek medical attention.

Rarely, a headache during sex can be caused by bleeding into the brain, known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is a medical emergency. This is often described as a “thunderclap” headache, or like the worst headache you have ever had. Thunderclap headaches can also be accompanied by neurological symptoms like a change in vision, confusion, and motor difficulties. Other serious medical causes that may mimic a headache associated with sexual activity includes arterial dissection and reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS).

In addition, if you are experiencing sex headaches on a regular basis and it’s negatively impacting your quality of life, it’s important to seek a doctor’s attention. There are some strategies to help prevent these headaches from occurring that your doctor may suggest.


Sex headaches can be prevented with medication. This may include a daily dose of beta blockers, which are typically used to treat high blood pressure and prevent migraines. Preventative treatment with an anti-inflammatory like indomethacin before intercourse may also prevent headaches. Some doctors advise that patients who have migraines triggered by sex take a triptan prior to sexual stimulation. Taking a more passive role in sex or reducing the amount of stimulation may also help to ease sex headaches.


A healthy sex life is important so if you suffer from regular sex headaches, it's a good idea to work with your healthcare practitioner. You may also consider keeping a headache diary to help identify headache triggers and determine which headache therapies are helpful in relieving your pain. You can also seek the advice of your doctor regarding any lifestyle changes that could help ease your headaches.

It's also important to communicate with your partner, as this will help reduce stress and tension in the relationship. You may be able to come up with a way to be intimate without causing headaches.

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View Article Sources
  • Evans RW, Couch R. Orgasm and migraine. Headache. 2001 May;41(5):512-4.
  • Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. "The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 3rd Edition (beta version)". Cephalalgia 2013;33(9):629-808.
  • Nappi RE, Terreno E, Tassorelli C, Sances G, Allena M, Guaschino E, Antonaci F, Albani F, Polatti F.Sexual function and distress in women treated for primary headaches in a tertiary university center. J Sex Med. 2012 Mar;9(3):761-9. 2012 Feb 9.