Does Sex Cause Migraines—or Cure Them?
Have you ever had a migraine right after sex? Or perhaps you've initiated sex to relieve your migraine? You're not alone. While headaches triggered by sexual activity are rare, they can happen. According to a 2013 study by Cephalalgia, sex improved 60 percent of people's migraines but exacerbated 33 percent of the rest.
So, what does that mean? How can sex cure and cause migraines? How do you know which one you're going to experience?
Orgasms aren't blissful for all
Edward Riley, a 37-year-old from Michigan, understands firsthand how orgasms can lead to a migraine. After sex one night at the end of last year, he felt a brutally sharp pain in the back left side of his head. The second time this happened, he experienced nausea, a blood pressure spike, a headache and dizziness for days. For two weeks, he felt this pain every time he was about to orgasm.
"I didn't know what to make of it," he said. "I thought that maybe I was having an aneurysm or a stroke."
Less than a week after his first migraine, Riley visited the doctor. "My doctor ordered an MRI of my brain to check for any possible issues, such as aneurysm or tumors," he said. Thankfully, the test came back clear and he's not experiencing this pain anymore—though the after-effects lingered for a month.
But the question remains: What exactly happened to Riley? While no one knew for sure, Riley and his doctors believed the cause was either a sex headache or his enormous amounts of physical and mental stress. The blood pressure spike he mentioned could be a cause, too.
"Having sex can put pressure on certain points of the body, especially your neck and back. This pressure can trigger a migraine for some people," explained Tatyana Dyachenko, M.Sc., a sex and relationships therapist. "The other reason sex can trigger migraines is that when we have sex, our blood pressure increases, causing the cerebral blood vessels to dilate."
Moreover, folks who are prone to migraines tend to be more at risk. "If a person already suffers from migraines, they are more likely to get one during sex," Dyachenko explained.
'Having sex can put pressure on certain points of the body, especially your neck and back. This pressure can trigger a migraine for some people'
Sex migraines differ from regular ones, however. While sex-induced migraines can result from a blood pressure increase, regular migraines can be caused by hormonal changes, alcohol, stress, sleep changes and more. Treatment may look different as well.
"Most people find that a sex-induced headache goes away on its own after a while, but a migraine may require treatment, depending on the severity," Dyachenko explained. For example, you could be prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for mild to moderate migraines and triptans for moderate to severe migraines.
Hitting the sheets can also be a cure
Isabelle Uren has had the opposite experience as Riley. She said sex helps her migraines, and she's used masturbation as relief for years.
"My first migraine attack happened as a teenager, and I had the full works—visual aura, vomiting, confusion and a headache so bad I thought my brain was going to explode out of my eyeballs," she said.
Uren masturbates proactively to avoid future migraines. "I also use masturbation as part of my self-care routine for many reasons—one being it's fantastic for stress relief, but it can also help prevent stress-induced migraines," she explained.
Dyachenko explained how orgasms can help. "When you have sex, you release endorphins, which are a natural pain reliever that act [in a similar way] to opioids for the brain. Endorphins can provide us with fast pain relief," she said.
Curious about using sex to help your migraines, but not sure how to get into the mood while experiencing blinding pain? Uren has a recommendation.
"It can be hard to feel in the mood to masturbate or have sex, so I find having a sex toy that I know works for me is really helpful," she said. When you feel confident you'll orgasm, you can feel confident your migraine will go away—even if you have to do something you're not totally up for."
A blessing and a curse? Together?
What's especially interesting, however, is sexy time can be both a cure and a cause for migraines in some people. That's the truth for Demeter DeLune, at least.
The major differences are the timing and whether she squirts after.
"I've found if I can bring myself to orgasm early, when symptoms are just starting, then oftentimes, the migraine won't begin at all," she explained. "If I'm too far into the migraine before I do this, it still helps—I may still get the migraine, just not as strong.
"But if I have a G-spot orgasm, with ejaculation, this can actually bring on the migraine faster and cause it to be worse," she added. DeLune not quite sure why but she believes it's a dehydration issue from squirting and not drinking enough water beforehand.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 33 percent of people said dehydration has triggered a migraine before.
How to lessen the pain
If this sounds like you and you'd perhaps like to avoid the crushing pain of post-sex migraines, our sources have some tips.
For Riley, mindful breathing is helpful. "After the first two incidents, I found that if I went slow during sex and breathed deeply through my orgasm, it helped lessen the pain and headache," he said.
'When you have sex, you release endorphins, which are a natural pain reliever that act [in a similar way] to opioids for the brain.'
For DeLune, it's all about hydration. "I've tested this theory and topped up my water levels before we have sex, especially when I know we'll be playing for a while and I'll likely be squirting a lot. No migraine," she said.
Lastly, Dyachenko recommends the usual at-home treatments. "You may find lying down in a dark room helps. Some people find gentle yoga helps to relieve the tension," she said.
Dyachenko also suggested medicines such as ibuprofen and beta blockers. According to a 2017 study in Cephalalgia, taking beta blockers or indomethacin before sex can lessen the chances of a migraine. Examples of beta blockers are Acebutolol, Atenolol and Bisoprolol, and these are all prescription medicines, so you'll need to talk to your doctor about your condition.
So as it turns out, sexual activity can both cure and cause migraines, depending on how your body responds to an orgasm. If sex cures your migraines, great. By all means, get it on. However, if sex-related migraines are a curse you struggle with each time, you can still have sexy fun and pain relief if you incorporate some gentle yoga into your life, hydrate properly, and keep your doctor in the loop so you have access to the appropriate medication.