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Sex headaches

Sex headaches are brought on by sexual activity — especially an orgasm. You may notice a dull ache in your head and neck that builds up as sexual excitement increases. Or, more commonly, you may experience a sudden, severe headache just before or during orgasm.

Most sex headaches are nothing to worry about. But some can be a sign of something serious, such as problems with the blood vessels that feed your brain.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

There are two types of sex headaches. The most common variety:

  • Gives no warning and occurs within a few seconds of an orgasm
  • Is often described as throbbing or stabbing

The other variety of sex headache:

  • Often begins as a dull ache on both sides of the head
  • May cause tightening of the neck and jaw muscles
  • Builds gradually over a matter of minutes before an orgasm
  • Intensifies as sexual excitement increases

Most sex headaches last at least several minutes. Others may linger for a few hours. Many people who have sex headaches will experience them in clusters over a few months and then go for a year or more without having any sex headaches.

When to see a doctor

Sex headaches aren't usually a cause for concern. But consult your doctor right away if you experience a headache during sexual activity — especially if it begins abruptly or it's your first headache of this type.

Any type of sexual activity that leads to orgasm — including masturbation, anal sex, oral sex and intercourse — can trigger sex headaches.

Abrupt-onset and slow-to-build sex headaches can be primary headache disorders not associated with any underlying condition. Sex headaches that come on suddenly are more likely to be associated with:

  • A widening or bubble in the wall of an artery inside your head (intracranial aneurysm)
  • An abnormal connection between arteries and veins in the brain (arteriovenous malformation) that bleeds into the spinal fluid-filled space in and around the brain
  • Bleeding into the wall of an artery leading to the brain (dissection)
  • Stroke
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Use of some medications, such as birth control pills
  • Inflammation from certain infections

Sex headaches associated with loss of consciousness, vomiting, stiff neck, other neurologic symptoms and severe pain lasting more than 24 hours are more likely to be due to an underlying cause.

Sex headaches can affect anyone. But risk factors for these headaches include:

  • Being a man
  • Being prone to migraine headaches

Sometimes sex headaches can be prevented by stopping sexual activity before orgasm. Taking a more passive role during sex also may help.

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