ALTHOUGH there are many jokes about headaches and sex, the fact of the matter is that there is a link between the two.
Sex headaches (coital cephalgia) are part of a bigger phenomenon called exertional headaches — those caused by exercise. The headaches can be triggered by any type of sexual activity that leads to orgasm — masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, and intercourse.
Sex headaches do not occur with every sex act; in fact some people go for years between episodes. They are usually felt at the base of the skull, but can be experienced all over. The pain can range from mild to exploding and may intensify as sexual excitement increases. In some cases, the headaches appear suddenly during orgasm. Most sex headaches last a few minutes while others may linger for a few hours. They often disappear on their own. They are not usually related to the amount of physical exertion associated with sexual activity.
Dull, achy sex headaches are thought to be caused by tightening of the head and neck muscles during sexual activity. Sex headaches associated with orgasms may occur in response to increased blood pressure that causes the cerebral blood vessels to widen. These headaches can affect anyone but are more common in men and people who are prone to migraines.
Medications including birth control pills and pseudoephedrine, a common decongestant found in over-the-counter cold remedies, have been linked to sex headaches.
How to prevent them? Abstinence works! These headaches can also be prevented by stopping sexual activity before orgasm or slowing down the pace and relaxing neck and jaw muscles during sexual activity. Painkillers, such as ibuprofen, may help ease the pain of a lingering headache.
Sex headaches are relatively uncommon and the majority are nothing to worry about. However, proper diagnosis is important as, in rare instances, there are underlying medical problems such as bleeding in the brain, stroke or tumours. If you have a history of sex headaches, you should consult your doctor.
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician and author of A Patient's Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.