Allergic Reactions During Sexual Intercourse

Hives on a woman's stomach
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While relatively rare, allergic reactions are possible during sexual intercourse. Sex allergy is likely underreported due to the private nature of the matter and the reluctance of a person to bring up the issue with their doctor. Allergic reactions to sexual activity could also be difficult to recognize because sex involves heavy breathing, an increased heart rate, and sweating, flushing or tingling of the skin. Therefore, mild allergic reactions during sex may go unnoticed, although more severe allergic reactions, including urticaria/angioedema, asthma symptoms, and anaphylaxis, are difficult to ignore.

Most people would assume that these reactions could be caused by exposure to a latex condom, which probably would be the most common cause. Other causes include allergy to seminal fluid (semen), gustatory rhinitis caused by strong emotions related to sex, and other symptoms related to exercise as a result of sexual activity.

Latex Allergy

Latex allergy, caused by exposure to latex condoms, is probably the most common cause of allergic reactions during sex. Allergic reactions to latex could affect both the male and female coming into exposure with the latex condom. Symptoms of latex allergy could include localized itching, burning, and rash, or could involve more severe symptoms, including urticaria/angioedema, asthma symptoms, and anaphylaxis. Usually, these symptoms occur within seconds to minutes of latex exposure, although contact dermatitis to latex occurs many hours after latex exposure and involves itchy, blistering skin only at the site of latex exposure. Local vaginal irritation can also occur as a result of exposure to lubricants or spermicide contained on the condoms.

The diagnosis of latex allergy can be made through the use of skin testing or blood testing for the presence of IgE antibody against latex. If contact dermatitis to latex is suspected, patch testing is used to make the diagnosis. The treatment of latex allergy mainly is latex avoidance and thus the avoidance of latex condoms. Non-latex condoms, made of lamb intestines, are widely available and are an effective birth control method, but do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Seminal Fluid Allergy

Allergic reactions to seminal fluid (semen) have been reported for decades, although they are extremely rare. Proteins contained within a man’s seminal fluid, rather than to the sperm itself, cause most of these reactions in women. There are reports of women being allergic to only a particular man’s seminal fluid, as well as reports of women being allergic to the seminal fluid of multiple partners. It is also possible that proteins from foods or medications (including NSAIDs and antibiotics), to which the woman is allergic, can be transmitted by the man in the seminal fluid.

Symptoms of seminal fluid allergy generally include localized vaginal itching and burning within 30 minutes of vaginal intercourse, although more severe allergic reactions, including urticaria/angioedema, asthma and anaphylaxis have been reported. The diagnosis involves skin testing the affected woman with her partner’s seminal fluid. Treatment has included avoidance of exposure to the seminal fluid through the use of condoms (latex or non-latex). However, a woman can be desensitized using increasing concentrations of her partner's seminal fluid, administered intravaginally. This treatment may be desired when pregnancy is the desired outcome. The desensitized state in the woman can be maintained through regular sexual intercourse and seminal fluid exposure at least weekly.

Mimickers of Allergic Reactions to Sexual Activity

There are a number of other allergic reactions that, while not specific to the sexual activity, can be experienced during sex. Most of these are related to strong emotions and exercise. Gustatory rhinitis is a form of ​non-allergic rhinitis that causes nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing as a result of the stimulation of parasympathetic nerves or the dilation of blood vessels in the nasal passages. Treatment may include the use of nasal ipratropium bromide sprays one hour before sexual activity. Other reactions during sexual activity include those related to exercise, the treatments of which are specific to the condition being experienced.

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