Can an Orgasm Cure My Headache?

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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 have a duration of 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 70 percent 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 25 percent 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.

A Brighter Side to the Bad News

Once coital headaches are diagnosed as benign, medications can be taken one to two hours before anticipated sexual activity to hopefully 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 conducted by Randolph W. Evans, M.D. and James R. Couch, M.D., Ph.D., shows that, in some cases, orgasm can actually relieve a migraine.  Of study participants, 47.4 percent felt complete relief, 49.1 percent had no relief and, for 5.3 percent, orgasm made their migraine worse.

In comparing the benefit of an orgasm to that of migraine abortive medications, orgasm is significantly less effective but, when it is effective, the onset of relief is swift.

The authors of the study write that the "issue of suppression of headache by orgasm does bring up the possibility of suppression of one multi-faceted, presumably neural origin syndrome (Migraine) by another neural event (perception of sexual orgasm). Perhaps there are other situations in which an indigenous neural process might be used to suppress Migraine."

Although this study did not include men, researchers report that there is anecdotal information suggesting that relief with sexual orgasm may occur in men, including men suffering cluster headaches.

As the results of this study are, for the most part, inconclusive, you'll have to make of this information what you will.

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Article Sources

  • Arikanoglu A, Uzar E. Primary headaches associated with sexual activity respond to topiramate therapy: a case report. Acta Neurol Belg. 2011 Sep;111(3):222-4.
  • Evans, Randolph W. & Couch, R. (2001). "Orgasm and Migraine." Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 111 (6), 512-514.
  • Saper, Joel R., Silberstein, Stephen, Gordon, C. David, Hamel, Robert L., Swidan, Sahar. Headache Management: A Practical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment of Head, Neck, and Facial Pain, Second Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999, 241-242