An orgasm headache is intense and it starts suddenly, just before or during an orgasm. These headaches are usually harmless, and a person can often treat them with over-the-counter pain medications.
However, headaches during sex can sometimes signal a more serious condition.
In this article, we describe what orgasm headaches are, what they feel like, and what causes them. We also explore risk factors, prevention, treatment, and when to see a doctor.
What is it?
An orgasm headache is a primary headache that some people get during sexual activity. A primary headache is a condition itself, not a symptom of another health issue.
A person may experience an orgasm headache just before or during sexual climax. These headaches can happen during masturbation or partnered sex.
Orgasm headaches are one of two types of primary sex headache. The other type is a sexual benign headache, which doctors also call a pre-orgasm headache.
What do they feel like?
People typically experience orgasm headaches just before or during an orgasm.
The pain may feel:
- like a clap of thunder
An orgasm headache may be most painful behind or around the eye area.
Around 75 percent of people who experience these headaches report feeling pain on both sides of their head. Moving around may make the pain worse.
A common feature of primary sex headaches is intense pain for 5–15 minutes that gradually eases.
The pain occurs abruptly, and after it diminishes, a person may feel a throbbing in their head, which can sometimes last for several hours or even days.
Unlike migraine headaches, orgasm headaches do not usually occur with nausea or sensitivity to light or sound.
In contrast, a sexual benign headache feels like a dull background headache. This type of pain builds slowly, rather than starting suddenly, and it may feel similar to a tension headache.
Some people experience both pre-orgasm and orgasm headaches.
Doctors do not know what causes orgasm headaches, but they may be a type of vascular headache. These result from blood vessels swelling in the brain.
When a person has an orgasm, their blood pressure increases rapidly. This surge in pressure causes blood vessels in the head to dilate quickly, which can trigger sudden, intense headaches in some people.
A sexual benign headache, on the other hand, results from increased muscle tension. As a person becomes sexually excited, muscles in their neck and head can contract, which may trigger a tension headache.
Anyone can experience orgasm headaches. However, a 2010 review reports that males are four times more likely to experience primary sex headaches than females.
According to a case report from 2013, the average age of onset for these headaches is between 40 and 49 years.
People with a history of migraine headaches, exertional headaches, or cough headaches may be more likely to get orgasm headaches.
Prevention and treatment
Orgasm headaches often go away on their own. Some people experience an orgasm headache only once, while others experience them repeatedly over a period of weeks or months.
According to the International Headache Society, studies indicate that up to 40 percent of people with these headaches experience them for over a year.
If a person gets sex headaches, they should speak to a doctor about how best to manage them.
Treatment options for orgasm headaches can include over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen and indomethacin, and prescription medications, such as triptans and beta-blockers.
A small study from 2007 found that people who took indomethacin or beta-blockers before sex were less likely to experience sex headaches.
Headaches during sex can sometimes result from another condition. In this case, they are secondary headaches. Treating the underlying issue can help reduce or prevent these headaches.
When to see a doctor
People who experience headaches during sex should speak to a doctor, who can help determine if they are primary or secondary headaches. Primary sex headaches are not usually a cause for concern.
However, not all headaches during sexual activity are primary headaches.
Serious conditions that can cause headaches during sex include:
- coronary artery disease
- a brain aneurysm
- a brain hemorrhage
- a stroke
- arteriovenous malformation
Secondary sex headaches with a serious cause are likely to occur alongside other symptoms, such as:
- a stiff neck
- loss of consciousness
People who experience these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
An orgasm headache is a type of primary headache that occurs during sexual activity.
Orgasm headaches may result from a rapid expansion of blood vessels in the brain. This occurs when a person’s blood pressure rises before and during orgasms.
Headaches during sex are generally harmless and tend to go away by themselves. Some people only ever have one orgasm headache, but others can experience them repeatedly over a number of months.
Anyone who gets headaches during sex should speak to a doctor for an evaluation. Treatment options for orgasm headaches include over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription drugs, such as triptans and beta-blockers.
Medically reviewed by Nancy Hammond, M.D.
Written by Lana Burgess