Why You Get Headaches After Sex

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
It's next to impossible to pinpoint your state of mind right after an orgasm. Euphoric. Sleepy. Needing an egg sandwich. It's not always a blissful situation, though — about 1% of people get sex headaches, according to a 2014 study. If you're one of the unlucky 1%, figuring out what's triggering your sex headaches might help you prevent them from happening in the first place.
First, don't think too literally about the name "sex" headache — because any type of sexual activity can trigger one. In general, during a sex headache, you might feel pressure on both sides of your head or around your neck, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). These can be regular tension headaches that occur during sex, or they can be a symptom of something more serious, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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Many people experience a dull headache while having sex that gets worse with "mounting sexual excitement," according to the AMF. Or you might have what's considered an orgasmic headache, which is more like a "sudden explosive headache" that hits right at the moment that you reach orgasm. This particular feeling has been dubbed a "thunderclap headache," because it's as shocking and attention-grabbing as the sound of thunder. And for some people who get migraines, sex can be a trigger.
It's important to understand how your sex headaches tend to feel and progress, because if they come on suddenly, that's usually a clear sign that there's an underlying or more serious health issue going on that needs to be addressed, according to the AMF. And if you get headaches and also lose consciousness, vomit, have a stiff neck, or severe pain that lasts more than 24 hours, those are big red flags that you should go see a doctor ASAP. In extreme cases, sex headaches can be associated with a brain aneurysm, bleeding, or a stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic. But the majority of people just get plain ole headaches, which — while kind of a bummer — aren't anything to worry about.
So what exactly is going on in your brain during sex that causes a headache? Doctors aren't exactly sure, but one theory is that sex is similar to physical exertion, which can cause the blood vessels in your skull to dilate and lead to a headache. But like other types of headaches, you really have to consider several different lifestyle factors before you can pinpoint the cause and treat it.
It may have happened just that one time. But if it's a frequent issue, consider seeing a neurologist; they may perform an MRI or CT scan to check out your brain structure and the blood vessels in your head to rule out other complications. If you've had a headache for days or weeks, they might perform a spinal tap.
Assuming that there's nothing more major causing your sex headaches, your doctor may prescribe a beta blocker to prevent them from coming on, according to the Mayo Clinic. Or you might be given a drug in the triptan family, which are typically used to treat migraines, to take an hour before you're going to have sex. That much forethought and planning may seem unromantic, but it's worth it to be able to enjoy sex headache-free.
Some doctors recommend that you stop having sex before you orgasm, or chill out and be more passive, but that's not always necessary, says Rachel Needle, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. "While I would not want you to be in pain, that suggestion is a bit extreme and unrealistic," Dr. Needle says. "There are way too many health benefits to regular sex and orgasm to recommend avoiding it altogether." Instead, Dr. Needle says you should talk to your doctor and consider various treatment options that also would allow you to continue having sex.
Even though it can seem awkward to bring up your orgasms at your check-up, it's super-important to mention these symptoms to your doctor so they can make sure nothing else is wrong. And the sooner you mention it, the sooner you can get back to more fun activities — like having orgasms.
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