If you’ve ever had a headache after sex, you might question (reluctantly) whether the orgasm is to blame.
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For some people, there actually is a link. Headaches — sometimes severe migraines — can happen during sex, at orgasm or right after sex. The headaches can range from mild and temporary to explosively painful and long-lasting.
“Sexual headaches are not uncommon, though many people are hesitant to talk about them,” says neurologist Nestor Galvez-Jimenez, MD.
He explains why headaches during sex may happen, what to do if an orgasm headache is bothering you and when to see a care provider.
Why sex headaches happen
Sex-induced headaches are medically known as “headaches associated with sexual activity (HAS).” They’re a type of exertion headache, which can happen with sudden or intense physical activity (think running, lifting weights or even sneezing). They can happen to anyone, though they appear to be more common in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). A sex headache may be a one-time thing or happen repeatedly.
“We don’t have many statistics about how widespread sexual headaches are,” says Dr. Galvez-Jimenez. “People are often embarrassed to say their headache is associated with sex. But we see these more often than you might think, both in our practice and in the emergency room.”
Headaches related to sexual activity can happen during sex with a partner or during masturbation. Sex headaches can be:
- Mild or very severe.
- On the top of your head, one side of your head, behind your eyes or through your whole head.
- Sharp, throbbing or dull.
- Similar to migraine headaches.
- Thunderclap headaches (very sudden and extremely painful).
Whether your headache is mild or painful, it can last anywhere from minutes to hours.
Neurologists know that many people get headaches during sex, but they don’t have much info on the exact physiological cause.
“Here’s what we think happens: During sex, your heart rate and blood pressure can increase quite a lot,” explains Dr. Galvez-Jimenez. “Blood vessels in your brain dilate or open up. The muscles in your head, neck and shoulders tighten.”
All of these reactions can add up to headaches that, for some people, are very sudden and severe.
Dr. Galvez-Jimenez adds that the most severe sex headaches seem to happen in people with chronic migraines or a history of migraines. People with migraines also seem to get more sex headaches than people who don’t get migraines.
Are sex headaches dangerous?
“The headache itself usually isn’t dangerous, though the pain can be extreme,” says Dr. Galvez-Jimenez.
But if you have a severe sex headache, get checked out immediately, he advises. In rare cases, the headache may be due to a brain aneurysm that has ruptured or broken open. An aneurysm forms when a weakness in your blood vessel causes a bulge. When blood pressure increases during sex, the force can be enough to make the bulge rupture. Stroke is another rare but very serious cause of sex headache pain.
“Especially the first time you get a severe sexual headache, you need to see your provider right away or go to the emergency room to rule out serious causes,” he states.
How to stop sex headaches
Researchers haven’t fully studied the treatments for sex headaches. Dr. Galvez-Jimenez says if your provider confirms there’s no serious cause of your sex headache, such as an aneurysm, you can treat it with an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®).
If you have medication for migraines, you can use that, too. He advises taking headache medicine as soon as possible after the headache starts. The longer you wait, the less the meds may help.
If the headache is bad and doesn’t go away, or it gets worse, it’s time for a trip to the ER.
How to prevent sex headaches
If possible, it’s better to prevent sex headaches than treat them once they’ve already started, Dr. Galvez-Jimenez advises.
Of course, it’s not always realistic to plan for sex. And scheduling sex can take some of the fun out of it. But if you know you get sex headaches, try to prevent them by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever (or migraine medication, if you have it) about 30 minutes before sexual activity.
Do orgasms help headaches?
You know that sex can cause headaches. But can sex also be the cure for a throbbing noggin?
“It usually won’t help with migraines. But an orgasm can sometimes help with stress or tension headaches,” notes Dr. Galvez-Jimenez.
The release can relieve stress and muscle tension enough to make the headache go away.
“But sex is not something we would suggest as a headache treatment,” he says.
If you get a severe headache for any reason, Dr. Galvez-Jimenez advises getting medical attention right away. And once providers have ruled out serious causes, have some medicine at the ready so you can keep headache pain away from the bedroom.