By Isadora Baum
You’re getting to the moment of climax and suddenly your head starts pounding. WTF, right? Sure, you’re probably bummed out (there goes your orgasm), but you may also be really confused. You don’t normally associate sex with head pain. It turns out you can actually get a sex headache as arousal starts to build, either right before you’re about to orgasm or during your orgasm. Neither is ideal, of course. “The first is a dull aching in the head or neck, and the second is a severe ache just prior to or during orgasm. Most sex headaches last for a period of minutes, though more severe cases can last for hours or even two to three days,” said Dr. Holly Richmond, licensed marriage and family therapist and AASECT certified sex therapist.
It’s also worth noting that you can get migraines during sex, but this will be more acute pain, as opposed to the harsh pain from a sex headache. The same migraines people often get from sounds, lights, or other triggers can happen during sex, as sex can become one of these triggers. This is rare, but when it does happen, it can be associated with nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to the surrounding environment,” according to Board-Certified Urologic Surgeon Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt.
To be fair, sex headaches are rare and can come and go. “Like migraines, many people experience them in clusters over several months, and then may not have any symptoms for a year or more,” Dr. Richmond said. Another reason you might not have heard of them before is that there’s a lack of research. “The reason it’s hard to do research on this topic is because headaches during or after sex are rare (about one percent of the population has this condition),” Dr. Brahmbhatt added.
Although these sex headaches can occur in both genders, they are more common in males, Dr. Brahmbhatt said, according to the American Migraine Foundation. If the headache is associated with changes in vision, neck stiffness, vomiting, or loss of consciousness, she said, or it lasts a few days, Dr. Richmond added, you’ll want to book it to the ER, just like you would for any other painful migraine.
Why It Happens
“There are several reasons for why sex headaches happen, but almost all the reasons boil down to issues with blood flow, including an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the head,” Dr. Richmond said. This isn’t too worrisome, and there are ways to improve blood flow and prevent the headaches from happening. However, if you have heart problems, and you’re getting these headaches as a potential symptom, you’ll want to be more mindful to get help from a physician. “Sex headaches can also be a symptom of stroke or coronary artery disease,” Dr. Richmond said.
“On the less serious side, these headaches can result from medication use, even birth control pills,” Dr. Richmond said. If you’re taking birth control and you’re getting headaches during sex, it can definitely be linked. “As with migraines, sex headaches can be triggered by hormonal fluctuations, so if a woman is on a pill that delivers differing levels of hormones throughout the month, this may be a trigger,” she said. Hormonal response differs based on the individual, so you’ll want to get tested to see which levels are good for you, but “generally, more estrogen (excessive amounts) is the cause of the headaches, so reducing levels may help,” she said.
If you are experiencing these head pains, try different methods of birth control. “Steady-release birth control options are the safest bet for women who experience sex headaches, such as implants, patches, or an IUD, or to be completely safe from any potential hormonal imbalances, try condoms,” she said. Speak to your ob-gyn about the best options for you.
Also, while it’s fun to get frisky and try new things in bed, if you’re taking it to the extreme, where it’s too rough or too adventurous, you might experience a sex headache, especially if you’re prone to triggering them. Instead, you’ll want to have “less intense sex,” or being more careful when switching between different positions, Dr. Brahmbhatt said.
How to Treat It
Unless you have had stroke or heart complications, you shouldn’t be too alarmed, but you can tell your physician of the symptoms and go on blood pressure medication to help manage the headaches, Dr. Brahmbhatt said.
If you don’t have these heart issues, you can easily improve blood flow and circulation with a few lifestyle adjustments, such as exercising more and eating a healthy diet. “If your body is not used the the strain of sex or any physical activity, it’s probably not a bad idea to slowly ramp your way up to a stronger mind and body,” he said.
Taking ibuprofen before having sex might be able to dull any sensations and prevent those head pangs, he added.
Also, you’ll want to stay hydrated. Being hydrated will improve your circulation and keep your brain and body cells healthy enough to ward off headaches, which can also be more prevalent when in a dehydrated state.
You can also try a series of exercises or practices to do before or during sex that can prevent sex headaches or mitigate the pain. “These may include deep breathing, mindfulness practices, and perhaps taking a more passive role in sexual activity,” Dr. Richmond added.
Good news: “Sex headaches are almost always fixable, so I feel like part of my job is helping my clients to not feel discouraged,” Dr. Richmond said. With a few adjustments, you can get back to riding that “O” out, pain-free.