Can an Orgasm Cure My Headache?

Couple under blanket after having sex
PeopleImages.com / Getty Images

We've all heard the old joke: "Not tonight, dear. I have a headache." Surprisingly, for some people, there actually is a correlation between sexual activity and headache relief.

Bad News First

For some people, sexual activity can actually cause headaches. Such headaches may be benign exertional headaches brought on by strenuous activity, including sexual activity. Or they may be sexual, or coital, headaches, a rare type of primary headache that occurs in the skull and neck during sexual activity, including masturbation or female or male orgasm.

Coital headaches may last up to 24 hours and are most common among men.

Although such episodes are usually benign, it is important that they be correctly diagnosed to rule out organic causes that can be very serious, even life-threatening. Tests used to confirm a diagnosis include a CT scan, MRI, or MRA.

Headaches, including migraines, induced by sexual activity may strike prior to, at the time of, or following orgasm. Such attacks have also been documented after masturbation. There are three patterns of occurrence for coital headache:

  • Sudden onset: This pattern applies in 78% of coital headaches, and begins just before, during, or immediately after orgasm. This type of headache is severe, usually throbbing, and may build over minutes or be explosive. The average duration is several hours.
  • Subacute, crescendo headache: This pattern applies in approximately 22% of cases. The onset is much earlier than an orgasm, with intensity increasing until the time of orgasm. Frequently in the back of the head, the pain is dull and aching. Rarely, nausea and vomiting may occur.
  • A postural headache: This is the least common of coital headaches. The pain occurs in the lower back of the head and is greatly increased when the patient stands. This form is more likely to be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

The Brighter Side

Once coital headaches are diagnosed as benign, medications can be taken one to two hours before anticipated sexual activity to help avoid future coital headaches.

If the problem persists, daily preventive medications may be in order. While not extensively studied, indomethacin taken 30 to 60 minutes prior to sex may prevent a headache. Propanolol and possibly even Topamax (topiramate) may be used as a preventive medication, although the scientific data supporting its use is weak. 

The Good News

Research shows that, in some cases, orgasm can actually relieve a headache. In a 2013 study, 60% of migraine sufferers reported that sexual activity improved how they felt during a migraine attack (33% said that sexual activity made their migraine worse). Some study participants reported that they used sexual activity as a "therapeutic tool."

The same study showed that sexual activity can sometimes relieve cluster headaches as well. Just over a third of study participants (37%) reported an improvement of cluster headache attack, while 50% reported worsening.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cutrer FM, Delange J. Cough, exercise, and sex headaches. Neurol Clin. 2014;32(2):433-50. doi:10.1016/j.ncl.2013.11.012

  2. International Headache Society. Primary headache associated with sexual activity.The International Classification of Headache Disorders. 3rd ed. Phoenix, Arizona: IHS, 2018.

  3. Redelman MJ. What if the "sexual headache" is not a joke?. BJMP. 2010;3(1):304.

  4. Arikanoglu A, Uzar E. Primary headaches associated with sexual activity respond to topiramate therapy: a case report. Acta Neurol Belg. 2011;111(3):222-4.

  5. Hambach A, Evers S, Summ O, Husstedt IW, Frese A. The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: an observational study. Cephalalgia. 2013;33(6):384-9. doi:10.1177/0333102413476374