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7 Signs You Could Be Allergic to Sex

While rare, human seminal plasma hypersensitivity—an allergy to semen—does exist. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms after sex.

Yes, it’s possible to be allergic to semen

Although rare, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction after sex with a male partner because of a sperm or semen allergy. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, this is more likely to occur to females who have a male partner, and it can be misdiagnosed as vaginitis, a yeast infection, or a sexually transmitted disease. The technical name is seminal plasma hypersensitivity, and it’s actually a reaction to the proteins in seminal plasma, the complex fluid in semen that carries sperm. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor to rule out other possible causes. (There are many surprising reasons why you might experience painful sex.)

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You feel the burn

A semen allergy can show up immediately after your partner ejaculates, and you might have burning, redness, swelling, and blisters in your vagina, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, an ob-gyn in Santa Monica, California, and the author of She-ology. A semen allergy isn’t the only culprit with those types of symptoms though, so talk to your doctor before jumping to conclusions. According to a report in the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, seminal plasma hypersensitivity only affects up to an estimated 40,000 women in the United States. (It’s not clear how often it may affect men with a male partner.) If a semen allergy is suspected, the doctor will need to rule out other allergies, such as reactions to condoms, spermicide, or scented tampons, as well as sexually transmitted infections, before making the diagnosis, says Dr. Ross.

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You’re getting itchy

With an itchy vagina, your first thought would probably be a yeast infection—and that is a good place to start. After all, according to the Office of Women’s Health, an estimated 75 percent of women will get at least one yeast infection in her life, making it far more common than a semen allergy. But if you don’t have that telltale cottage cheese-like discharge and the itching only shows up after sex, ask your doctor about a semen allergy, suggests Peter Rizk, MD, a fertility expert for Premier Fertility Center in Houston, Texas. (Here are 9 tips for preventing yeast infections.)

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This never happened before your current partner

All semen is not created equal. There’s a chance your antibodies are reacting to one particular protein in a new partner’s semen that you’ve never been exposed to in the past, which is why you’re just feeling the symptoms now. “She could be perfectly normal with one person and perfectly uncomfortable with another,” says Dr. Rizk. Unfortunately, that’s also why it can be so tricky to diagnose. Because the reaction is specific to the proteins in your partner’s semen, you likely won’t be able to see an allergist for allergy testing, says Dr. Ross. However, there are treatments. A doctor can desensitize an individual to a partner’s semen by inserting a small amount of seminal fluid into the vagina or by giving the individual allergy shots with the semen proteins. Not every allergist will be equipped for the treatment though, so ask a urologist for recommendations, suggests Dr. Ross.

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You only get symptoms with unprotected sex

If you’re allergic to latex, your symptoms would only show up if your partner is using a condom. With seminal plasma hypersensitivity, just the opposite would happen: You’d only get symptoms if a condom was not keeping semen away from your body. If you are trying to get pregnant with a partner and desensitization treatments don’t work, there are steps you can take. A semen sample can be collected and washed in an infertility laboratory to remove the reaction-causing plasma, followed by an intrauterine insemination, says Dr. Rizk. (Considering options? Check out these 15 things that could be harming your fertility.)

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You’re breaking out in hives

Seminal fluid hypersensitivity might not just stay localized in the spot the semen touched. “It can create hives and swelling, similar to what would happen if you have an allergy to anything else,” says Dr. Ross.

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You’re having trouble breathing

This isn’t the typical quick breathing you do when things are getting hot and heavy. “You would think something is wrong,” says Dr. Rizk. While a severe reaction is potentially life-threatening, Dr. Rizk emphasizes that he’s never heard of a deadly reaction to semen, though the symptoms might get bad enough to make you go to the ER. (Don’t miss these other 20 bizarre things you can be allergic to.)

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Oral sex may be uncomfortable, too

Pain, swelling, redness, and blistering in your mouth after oral sex could be a red flag that you have a semen allergy. “If your body is reacting to the same proteins from the ejaculation, you could have that same allergic reaction [orally, too],” says Dr. Ross. Learn the answer to these other 19 questions you’re too embarrassed to ask your gynecologist.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, on September 25, 2019