Sex Ed, Sex Tips

Orgasms Trigger Migraine Headaches in Some, But Cure Them in Others

September 19, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller


We’ve long known that there’s a link between sex and headaches. In fact, we can trace this all the way back to Hippocrates, who is thought to be the first to point out a connection between “immoderate venery” and headaches (if, like me, you aren’t familiar with the term “venery,” I’ll save you the trouble of Googling it—it refers to “the practice or pursuit of sexual pleasure”) [1]. However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that physicians really began formally documenting this in medical case reports [2].

Since then, many cases have been recorded in the medical literature detailing two different types of headaches caused by sex. The first type increases with sexual excitement—it starts as a dull ache in the head and neck that builds during sexual activity. The second type is often described as the “explosive” kind that hits right around the time of orgasm—it’s very sudden and severe.

Interestingly, in researching sex headaches for my latest column over at TONIC, I discovered that sexual activity and orgasm aren’t just headache triggers for some—they also represent a cure for others.

In a 2013 paper published in the journal Cephalagia, researchers surveyed hundreds of patients from a headache clinic about their experiences with sex and headaches [3]. Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that people who are prone to migraines tend to avoid sexual activity when they already have headaches (i.e.,. they’re not really in the mood); however, about one-third of them reported experience with sex during a migraine attack.

Of these individuals, about two-thirds of them said that sex improved their headache symptoms moderately or completely—the remainder said their symptoms worsened. The researchers noted that “some patients, in particular male migraine patients, even used sexual activity as a therapeutic tool.” In other words, for those who find that sex provides migraine relief, they may intentionally seek out sexual activity in order to alleviate their symptoms.

What this tells us is that the connection between sex and headaches is more complex than previously thought. Sex—and orgasm—are both a potential cause of headaches, as well as a potential solution to them, with different people experiencing different effects. We don’t yet fully understand why this variability exists, but clearly there’s something different going on in the brains of people who develop sex headaches versus those who find that sex provides headache relief (e.g., maybe relief is linked to greater release of endorphins).

To learn more about how sex and orgasm are related to health—beyond headaches—check out my full column over at TONIC.

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[1] Adams, F.  (1848). The Genuine Works of Hippocrates (p. 94). Sydenham Society: London.

[2] Lance, J. W. (1976). Headaches related to sexual activity. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry39(12), 1226-1230.

[3] Hambach, A., Evers, S., Summ, O., Husstedt, I. W., & Frese, A. (2013). The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: An observational study. Cephalalgia33(6), 384-389.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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