Headaches and sex: not a myth

headaches and sex


A recent study, conducted by Loyola University Medical Centre, explains that only 1% of adults report that they have experienced headaches associated with sexual activity but that this problem might be more common than we think.

“Many people who experience headaches during sexual activity are too embarrassed to tell their physicians, and doctors often don’t ask,” said Dr Jose Biller, who has treated dozens of patients for headaches associated with sexual activity. Biller is chair of Loyola’s Department of Neurology, and is certified in Headache Medicine by the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties.

For years comedians have joked about spouses avoiding sex by claiming that they have a headache but, as funny as the joke may be, it is a fact that this a real issue. “Headaches associated with sexual activity can be extremely painful,” Biller says. “They also can be very frustrating, both for the individual and their partner.”

But why are headaches so common in the bedroom? Research reveals that this is because sexual activity can be compared to mild or moderate intensity exercise. In 2004, the International Headache Society classified headaches associated with sex (HAS) as a distinct form of primary headache. Biller said men are three to four times more likely to get HSAs than women.

There are three main types of sex headaches: • A dull ache in the head and neck that begins before orgasm, and gets worse as sexual arousal increases. It is similar to a tension headache.

• An intensely painful headache that begins during orgasm and can last for hours. It’s called a thunderclap headache, because it grabs your attention like a clap of thunder. One patient described this pain as: “All of a sudden, there was a terrific pain in the back of my head. It like someone was hitting me with a hammer.”

• 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. This headache is caused by an internal leak of spinal fluid, which extends down from the skull into the spine. When there’s a leak in the fluid, the brain sags downward when the patient stands, causing pain.

Written by Samantha Parrish