As your sexual arousal ramps up on the trippy journey to orgasm, pleasure is probably the only thing on your mind. Unfortunately, for some people, pain interrupts the party. At least one percent of adults experience coital cephalalgia, or “sex headaches,” aka head pain that occurs before, during, or after orgasm. Here’s what you need to know about this condition, which is basically the unpleasant epitome of a buzzkill.
Mayo Clinic spotlights two kinds of sex headaches. The first is “a dull ache in the head and neck that intensifies as sexual excitement increases,” and the second is “a sudden, severe, throbbing headache that occurs just before or at the moment of orgasm.”
Loyola Medicine adds a third to the mix, saying this condition can also manifest as “a headache that occurs after sex and can range from mild to extremely painful. The headache gets worse when the patient stands and lessens when the person lies back down,” according to José Biller M.D., a neurologist who is chair of the Department of Neurology with the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and certified in Headache Medicine by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties.
Sex headaches can occur in clusters or out of the blue. Some people have to deal with them often, and for others, they only happen once a lifetime, according to Mayo Clinic. No matter which kind of sex headache someone experiences, it sounds like the opposite of fun. Luckily, even though they’re painful, they’re usually not dangerous.
“The vast majority of headaches associated with sexual activity are benign,” Ehsan Ali, M.D., tells SELF. “But in a small percentage of cases, these headaches can be due to a serious underlying condition, such as a hemorrhage, brain aneurysm, stroke, cervical artery dissection or subdural hematoma,” says the Loyola Medicine primer on the topic. Even though “abrupt-onset and slow-to-build sex headaches can be primary headache disorders not associated with any underlying condition…sex headaches associated with loss of consciousness, vomiting, stiff neck, other neurological symptoms and severe pain lasting more than 24 hours are more likely to be due to an underlying cause,” says Mayo Clinic.
Men are three to four times more likely to experience this painful phenomenon, possibly because men may exert themselves more during sex. Low blood sugar may also help lay the foundation for a sex headache, Carolyn Dean, M.D., author of The Magnesium Miracle and The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, tells SELF. So can a magnesium deficiency, which is linked to headaches in general. Having a history of migraines is also risk factor for sex headaches.
If you or someone you love (having sex with) is dealing with sex headaches, it might help to chow down on magnesium-rich foods like almonds and cashews, dark leafy greens, avocado, and whole grains. “Lifestyle modifications may also help, like [lowering] blood pressure and drinking less alcohol,” says Ali.
But no matter what, anyone who gets sex headaches should make a visit to the doctor. Even though they are often benign, it’s good to make sure there’s not a serious underlying cause. “There are treatments a person can take as needed before engaging in sexual activity or on a daily basis,” says Ali. “I know might people get embarrassed by it, but they shouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor—we hear anything and everything.”