By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /


I remember hearing someone hypothesize that
they were allergic to their partner’s penis. And then over the years since then I’ve heard
more stories of irritation and swelling related to sex. It’s made me wonder: is it possible for someone
to be allergic to someone? To having sex with them? [WHIP CRACKING, COUGH] An allergy is quote “a damaging immune response
by the body to a substance, especially pollen, fur, a particular food, or dust, to which
it has become hypersensitive.” Essentially something environmental causes
the immune system to respond abnormally with any number of these symptoms: a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, a rash,
hives, ear problems, swelling, dizziness, trouble breathing, and/or digestive issues
like throwing up and diarrhea. Do some people experience this with sex? Yes. One possible explanation is an allergy to
semen. There’s a condition called post-orgasmic
illness syndrome or post-ejaculatory syndrome where people feel tired, weak, feverish, and
irritable, they have trouble concentrating and struggle with head congestion, promptly after
ejaculating semen. Researchers who’ve studied POIS aren’t
all in agreement, but many of them believe the cause is semen, those afflicted are allergic
to their own semen. We do know it’s possible to have an allergy
to someone else’s semen. It’s called seminal plasma hypersensitivity. Basically a protein in the fluid triggers
an allergic reaction — usually pain and burning. Seminalplasmaallergy.org also lists “hives,
soft tissue swelling, chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, diarrhea, dizziness,
and loss of consciousness.” They have a screening questionnaire to determine
if you’re hypersensitive to seminal plasma. I want to stress the risk of not managing
the problem. Allergies to semen are usually progressive
so the symptoms get worse the more the person is exposed to the allergen. On the upside, condoms and/or withdrawal can
separate people from the fluid so they can have the pleasure of intercourse without the
outbreak of hives. It is manageable. On the downside, getting pregnant through
sex or coming on a person’s body are a lot trickier. Another sex-related allergen is latex. Latex is a milky substance collected from
trees to make the natural rubber materials you see in condoms, gloves, and dams. It’s also used in some sex toys and clothing,
so as you can imagine having an allergy to latex can be quite troublesome. Fortunately there are non-latex condoms: LifeStyles
SKYN, Trojan Supra, Durex Avanti Bare, Durex RealFeel, and Naturalamb. There are also non-latex gloves and dams,
and lots of non-latex suits and toys. So many options! So many workarounds for latex allergies. But is it the latex you’re allergic to? Latex isn’t always the culprit in latex
products. Some people have reactions to the casein — a
protein in milk used to make latex smooth, the dry-dusting powder that makes them less
sticky, and the parabens which inhibit bacteria growth but also have questionable health effects. As you probably know, there aren’t regulations
for sex products like there are for food. Packaging doesn’t have to disclose what’s
in your condom. Some companies go ahead and tell us anyway
though, emphasizing that they don’t put these potential troublemakers in or on their
products. A lot of these involve the lubricants on the
condoms, which you might not realize are in the lubes you use, too. Lubes that advertise flavors, cooling or heating
sensations, and numbing can have any number of additives your system may not like: Benzocaine and Lidocaine to reduce pain,
and L-Arginine to boost arousal, nitrosamines, a preservative, and nonoxynol-9 to kill sperm. Glycerin is another culprit – it can cause
an allergic reaction like many of these, but also has the potential convert to sugar and
instigate a yeast infection with similar symptoms to an allergy. Seeking the care of a medical provider, specifically
an allergist, can help to determine whether the problem is because the substance is harmful
or your body is sensitive. Online research can also provide a lot of
insight as long as you make sure to get the information from credible sources. This is how many people learn they have allergies
to their birth control. They search the method they’re using and
the symptoms they’re experiencing to find that they’re allergic to: Adhesive in the Ortho Evra patch, binding
agent in pills, dyes in pills, liquid in the depo shot, nonoxynol-9 in spermicides, ethylene-vinyl
acetate in the NuvaRing, and the barium sulphate in Nexplanon implants. A good starting place for your own investigation
is logging what happens. What are your symptoms and what happened that
is the same or different than days without an allergic reaction? It may be that you’re not allergic to sex
but that the meal you ate before a sex date or the meds you take before bed (and sex)
are messing with your immune system. Maybe the pre-sex shower involves a soap that
your body reacts to, or the massage oil you use to get in the mood actually irritates
your skin. Truly being allergic to sex? To my knowledge there isn’t a known allergy
to intercourse — but there’s something very close called dyspareunia or genital armoring. Basically something psychological precipitates
a physiological response. For example abuse in the relationship, shame
around sexuality, or the lack of trust in one’s partner might correspond with inflammation
or a rash. Like any other allergy, the immune system
is doing its best to signal — something is wrong! The body may be spot on though, looking out for
you, creating those puffy red welts to get your attention. Stay curious. I think bodies are incredibly powerful and
intuitive. I’m not a medical doctor or an allergist
though, so if you suspect your system is responding to your environment in a damaging way, please
seek professional care. My intention is to give people sexual health
information so they can make informed decisions. If you’d like to support future episodes of Sexplanations,
please go to patreon.com/sexplanations.


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