Sex and Migraines

Though libido may decline with migraines, having sex may improve them

Migraines and other types of headaches can affect sex drive and sexual function (especially during attacks), usually—but not always—decreasing it.

Sexual activity may trigger a headache of any type, including a migraine. However, it has been reported that sex can relieve some migraines, and, less commonly, cluster headaches.

The relationship is complicated and is not the same for everyone. Furthermore, sexual activity may not always affect your headaches in the same way.

It is useful for you and your partner to try to learn how your headaches affect your sex drive and vice versa. At the very least, looking into this can help you both have a clearer understanding of what may be at the root of some intimacy challenges you might be experiencing.

woman with headache while husband is in bed
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Diminished Libido With Migraines

Headaches, including migraines, may decrease libido, especially during a painful episode. Symptoms such as nausea, pain, dizziness, and fatigue typically diminish sex drive, at least temporarily until a headache or a migraine is over.

Generally, headaches do not typically affect sex drive between attacks. But migraines are often preceded by prodromal symptoms, which can include photophobia, irritability, and neck stiffness.

If you have prodromal symptoms, libido may be diminished due to physical discomfort or even due to the anxiety of knowing that a migraine is about to start, and this anticipation can diminish sex drive.

Increased Libido With Migraines

On the other hand, if you have recurrent migraines, you might actually have an increased sex drive relative to people who have other types of headaches.

A 2006 study published in the journal Headache found that people who experience recurrent migraines scored higher on a test called the Sexual Desire Inventory (SDI) than those who suffer from tension headaches. The phenomenon was true for both men and women, suggesting that individuals with recurrent migraines may experience a stronger desire for sex than those with non-migraine headaches.

People who experience chronic migraines tend to have low levels of serotonin, which modulates pain and emotions. Sexual satisfaction generally increases levels of this neurotransmitter, and researchers suggest that a biological need to replenish serotonin may be behind the increased sex drive reported by these migraineurs.

Migraines and Sexual Function

Tension headaches and migraines often lead to sexual dysfunction. Women may experience an inability to achieve orgasm, while men may be unable to have an erection. As with libido, sexual dysfunction generally occurs during painful attacks, not between episodes.

Several of the medications used to prevent migraines may cause sexual dysfunction and decreased sex drive for both men and women, and these effects may occur during and in between migraine episodes. These medications include antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Migraine prevention medications do not produce sexual side effects for everyone. If you experience frequent or severe migraines, it is worth trying preventative medications if you and your partner are willing to wait and see whether you experience sexual side effects.

Relief With Sexual Activity

All this said, sexual activity may relieve the pain of a migraine or cluster headache, especially among males.

The reason for the relief of headache pain with sexual intercourse is not clear. Some scientists have postulated that chemicals released during orgasm diminish pain responses in the body, reducing the pain and discomfort of a migraine.

Stimulation of the vagina during sex might also provide a pain-relieving effect, possibly due to activation of the same nervous system pathways involved in childbirth.

Don't assume that sex will induce a certain effect on your partner's migraines based on something you may have heard or read. Each person may have a different reaction, and it may not even be the same for one individual every time.

A Word From Verywell

More research is needed to understand how headaches and sex are related. Keep in mind that sex drive and sexual satisfaction are impacted by many factors, and it may be the case that more than one are at play. Gaining an understanding of your and your partner's feelings about your sexual relationship, and how any health conditions either of you are managing may affect it, is a great first step to working on any challenges.

Be sure to talk you your healthcare provider if sex causes you to have headaches or migraines, or if you experience sexual dysfunction or decreased libido. There are medical and behavioral approaches that can help you manage these problems.

3 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.
  1. Aydın M, Bitkin A, İrkılata L, Yılmaz A, Moral C, Atilla MK. The effect of migraine and tension-type headaches on female sexual functions: a prospective, cross-sectional, controlled study. Turk J Urol. 2018;44(5):418-422. doi:10.5152/tud.2018.45228

  2. 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

  3. Wootton RJ, Kissoon NR. Patient education: migraines in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate.

Additional Reading

By Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD is a medical writer, editor, and consultant.