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Do Orgasms Help Migraine Episodes?

Real Talk

December 30, 2023

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Photography by Vera Lair/Stocksy United

Photography by Vera Lair/Stocksy United

by Clara Siegmund

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Medically Reviewed by:

Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH

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by Clara Siegmund

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Medically Reviewed by:

Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH

•••••

•••••

Sex and orgasms can actually help relieve migraine symptoms. Read on to see what that means and whether sometimes the opposite might be true.

When you feel a migraine episode coming on, your first instinct may not be to get hot and heavy with yourself or a partner.

But it turns out sex and orgasms may actually help relieve migraine symptoms. It may sound out there, but it’s true! For some people, sex and orgasms may work as a special kind of migraine home remedy.

However, it’s not always quite so straightforward. For other people, sex may actually trigger migraine.

Here’s a look at whether and how orgasms can help during a migraine episode – and when they might not be able to help.

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Can orgasms help during a migraine episode?

The short answer is yes! For many people, orgasms may help relieve symptoms during a migraine episode.

Yes, you read that right. Both anecdotal and scientific evidence support orgasmic symptom relief.

This 2013 study had people with migraine and cluster headaches report on their experience with sexual activity during a headache attack. Here’s what the study found:

  • 60% of the participants with migraine reported an improvement in symptoms during sex
  • Of that group, 70% reported moderate to complete migraine symptom relief

The researchers concluded that the percentage of people who reported at least moderate symptom relief during sex is as high as percentages reported in studies testing migraine medication for moderate symptom relief.

As for the timing of symptom improvement, participants had varying answers. Some people reported improvement at the beginning of sexual activity, some exactly when they orgasmed, and others within 30 minutes of orgasm. The most commonly reported moment when symptoms began to improve was almost immediately after orgasm.

Here’s another piece of key information: How the orgasm happened didn’t make a difference.

The study reports that migraine improvement didn’t depend on the type of sex (whether masturbation or with a partner), the phase of the migraine episode, or the position during sex.

In other words: The majority of study participants with migraine experienced significant symptom relief through sex, at different moments around orgasm, regardless of the type of sex.

So, what does that mean for you? Well, no matter how or when you do it, any type of sex and orgasm may help relieve your migraine symptoms. Plus, that improvement may come just by being turned on, regardless of whether you finish.

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How can orgasms help migraine?

Research into how exactly orgasms can help migraine is ongoing, but the medical community has a few theories.

One theory is related to pain regulation and endorphins. These chemicals produced by the brain act like opioids, naturally blocking the perception of pain. Pain relief from endorphins has even been found to be stronger than pain relief from morphine.

One way to release endorphins: sex and orgasms. Meaning when you get it on, the endorphins your body produces may help suppress migraine pain and offer overall pain relief.

Other research indicates a possible connection with neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that carry signals between cells in your body. According to the Association of Migraine Disorders, levels of certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, may be lower during migraine attacks.

What’s one activity that can boost neurotransmitter levels? You guessed it: sex.

More specifically, sex and orgasms trigger the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. By boosting these neurotransmitter levels, sex and orgasms may also help relieve migraine symptoms.

How to have sex during a migraine episode

Maybe the idea of having sex during a migraine episode feels like a lot. That’s fine!

But if you’re still curious about whether orgasms can help, consider trying some calmer or more relaxed methods to get yourself to the finish line – something where you don’t have to move much, for example.

Try turning off the lights and taking things slow. Solo or partnered sex, hands or toys, whatever makes you feel good and feels comfortable with your symptoms.

And remember, just starting out and getting turned on may do the trick, too. You may find that your migraine symptoms begin to improve as soon as you start getting aroused, meaning you may be able to keep symptoms at bay without much activity.

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, as they say. Although here, it’s really both – the journey and the destination may help ease your migraine symptoms.

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What about when orgasms don’t help migraine?

For some people, the opposite can be true. Sex and orgasms can actually trigger headache attacks or worsen migraine symptoms.

A 2007 study, for example, asked people with migraine to evaluate their triggers, and 5.2% of participants reported sex to be a trigger.

Clinically speaking, sex-induced headaches are called “headaches associated with sexual activity.” More simply, they can also be called “sex headaches.”

For people who experience sex headaches, pain begins during sexual activity – any kind of sexual activity – either as the person becomes more excited or during orgasm. The headache is characterized by intense pain for 5 to 15 minutes, which then gradually lessens. Pain can be dull, throbbing, or stabbing. Nausea and sensitivity to light or sound rarely occur.

If the headache starts prior to orgasm, it gets steadily worse with arousal. If the headache starts with orgasm, it comes on suddenly with intense pain and tends to last longer. The headache can last from a minute to 24 hours. Headaches with more mild intensity may even last up to 72 hours.

Sex headaches can occur for the first time or continuously at any age. They’re more common in men, and people with migraine are at higher risk. Sex headaches may occur only once or in clusters over an isolated period of a few weeks or months, often going away without treatment. They may also occur in more chronic episodes.

Treatment for this type of headache includes taking regular migraine medication at least one hour before sex or the more drastic option of taking a break from sex. Having a more passive role during sex may help as well, as physical activity can also be a migraine trigger.

In most cases, sex headaches are not a cause for concern. However, you should call a doctor right away if you also:

  • lose consciousness
  • vomit
  • experience other neurological symptoms
  • have severe pain for longer than 24 hours

In general, it’s a good idea to keep your doctor informed about changes in your migraine or headache symptoms. With that in mind, you may want to consider consulting your doctor if you experience a sex headache for the very first time or if your headache pain comes on suddenly and intensely during orgasm.

The takeaway

As surprising as it may seem, orgasms may be able to reduce migraine symptoms for many people. For others, though, sex may trigger migraine episodes. (Or maybe sex during a migraine episode seems unappealing.)

Whether orgasms help your migraine symptoms or make them worse, either experience is typical for people with migraine. And in the case of worsening migraine, most instances are not cause for concern.

The only way to know whether orgasms work migraine relief magic for you is to try.

At worst, you’ll probably realize pretty quickly that sex for migraine relief is not for you. But at best, you’ll have a new low risk, high-reward strategy in your toolkit to help you better navigate migraine symptoms.

Medically reviewed on December 30, 2023

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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