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7 Signs You Could Be Allergic to Sex

While it's relatively rare, affecting approximately 40,000 women, human seminal plasma hypersensitivity—an allergy to semen—does exist. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms after sex.

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Yes, it’s possible to be allergic to semen

Although it’s rare, it is 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 for females who have a male partner, and at times it can be misdiagnosed as vaginitis, a yeast infection, or a sexually transmitted disease. According to a report in the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, this condition 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.)

The medical term for this allergy is seminal plasma hypersensitivity. It’s actually a reaction to the proteins in seminal plasma, the complex fluid in semen that carries sperm. Sherry A. Ross, MD, an ob-gyn in Santa Monica, California, and the author of She-ology, says that if a semen allergy is suspected, a doctor may order testing to rule out other allergies, such as reactions to condoms, spermicide, or scented tampons, before making the diagnosis

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor to rule out other possible causes.

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You feel the burn

Dr. Ross says a semen allergy can show up immediately after your partner ejaculates, and you might have burning, redness, swelling, and blisters in your vagina. However a semen allergy isn’t the only culprit with those types of symptoms, so talk to your doctor before you surmise your own conclusions.

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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  discharge—and your 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, TX.

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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.

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You’re breaking out in hives

Seminal fluid hypersensitivity might not 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.

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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.

Keep reading:

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

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.