Are you sexually allergic to your partner?
You've searched forever but you think that you've finally found the man of your dreams. He's funny, smart, sexy as hell and thinks you're amazing. You couldn't have found anyone more perfectly matched ... and then you have sex.
It feels great until you start to swell up, a rash breaks out, and you feel as if your lady parts are on fire. It turns out you're sexually allergic to Mr. Right. Yes, you can have a sexual allergy to someone.
In a piece on XOJane, author Leonie Blackwell writes, "Every time we [she and her husband] had sex, there was immediate pain and a burning sensation. The area would become red and swell up, then over the next week the skin cells would shed and fall off. I would be left in agony and the pain lingered for days."
We've all heard about common sex-related allergies that women can get on occasion. These allergies are fairly mild skin rashes brought on by the body's sensitivity to a foreign substance like a douche, spermicidal jelly, vaginal creams, and even latex condoms. The resulting rash can be annoying and even put a couple's sexual activity on hold for a week or so, but these kinds of allergies don't tend to be that serious and generally clear up pretty quickly.
However, Human Seminal Plasma Hypersensitivity, or sperm allergy, is a rare allergic reaction to the proteins found in a man's semen. Sperm allergies affect up to 40,000 women in the United States alone.
A sperm allergy may be discovered the first time a woman has sex, but sometimes it happens after a woman has had other sexual partners and had no allergic reaction. A sperm allergy may happen with one partner but not another, or it may happen with a longtime partner.
Women who have an allergy to sperm aren't necessarily allergic to the sperm of every man, it's just one particular protein in one specific man's semen that they react to. The woman's symptoms may be minor or severe, and they are difficult to recognize because some of them — like heavy breathing and sweating — are regular things that happen while the body is engaged in sex.
Although not as frequently as women, men can also get sex allergies, even to their own seminal fluid and/or sperm. In his autobiography, Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson wrote, "Kristen and I had a bizarre sexual allergy to each other. Whenever we made love, a painful rash spread across me which would take about three weeks to heal."
Be on the lookout for these symptoms of a sex allergy:
- Vaginal burning
- Chest tightness
- Loss of consciousness
- Complete circulatory collapse
There's been no conclusive evidence on what the triggers are, but when the plasma enters the affected woman's vagina, her antibodies (a person's natural defense system) somehow bind to the tissue of the vaginal walls, creating an allergic reaction within the body. It's as if the body's defense system mistakes the seminal protein as an invading foreign body.
Once the woman starts generating antibodies against the plasma, the allergy, in many instances, advances in three stages. Like an allergic reaction to penicillin, the sperm allergy gets worse each time the woman is exposed to it.
The allergic reaction is hard to predict in how fast and/or how much worse it gets with repeated contact during sexual activity. It can take several months to get critical, or lie dormant for some time and then strike again.
After being tested, Blackwell spoke to her gynecologist and was shocked by his diagnosis. "'You're definitely allergic to him' he said. 'But there is isn't anything we can do to help. There isn't a cure. You'll just have to live with it.'"
That was in 1988, and luckily there have been some advances in the treatment of sex allergies. For some patients, the use of condoms can be the answer — unless they have an additional allergy to Latex, in which case condoms must be avoided.
Sex allergies can be extremely frustrating for couples and can put a great deal of strain on their relationship. Plus, it adds an extra level of tension for couples who wish to conceive, as conceiving can't happen through unprotected intercourse.
Another treatment is desensitization: when the patient undergoes allergy testing to isolate the problem protein, then has a series of injections (timed about 15 to 20 minutes apart over a two- to three-hour period) of their partner's purified seminal proteins.
After the injections, the couple has to have sex within 12 hours or the desensitization won't work. In fact, the couple must have intercourse a few times a week from that point going forward or the effects will wear. The more sex, the better the results. It's not often that you must have a lot of sex on doctor's orders.
Branson and his wife weren't able to solve their sex allergy problem, even with their own unorthodox treatment. "We went to a number of doctors but we never resolved the problem," he said. "I even had a circumcision to try to stop the reaction."