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Coital cephalgia. What is it and do you have it?

Sometimes I love medical jargon.
My phrase for the day: coital cephalgia.
Translation: sexual headache.

Yes, this is an actual diagnosis. It is headaches specifically associated with sexual excitement. Any sort of sexual excitement counts, including masturbation and oral sex.

Two distinct types have been described:

1. Preorgasmic: dull headaches, usually at the back of the head / base of the skull. The severity of the pain increases with sexual excitement. The headache usually lasts about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Orgasmic: sudden “explosive” headaches that occur immediately prior to, or at the moment, of orgasm. Severe throbbing pain follows, usually in the entire head. These headaches can last even longer.

Sexual headaches are rare. Our medical literature show 1% of the population gets them, and men are more commonly affected than women (so I guess this may be more of a gentleman parts blog post).

These kinds of headaches are probably under reported. If I weren’t a doctor and I got headaches with sex, I don’t think I would go see a doctor about it. Also, some doctors (I don’t know any in particular, but it can definitely happen) dismiss problems that sound made up. Yes, saying you get headaches only with sex sounds like an outdated joke on TV.

But they are real! And they can be scary.

The explosive kind of headache should be evaluated further. “Worst headache of my life” can mean a brain bleed or something else very serious. Once your doctor has proved to him/herself, and you, that nothing life threatening is going on, you can start finding a way to prevent and treat these horrible headaches.

The predispositions to these headaches is poorly understood (except having sex, of course). Associations have been made with some medications / substances (birth control pills, cannabis, pseudoephedrine) and some medical problems (sinus problems, glaucoma, low blood sugar, lung problems).

These kinds of headaches often disappear without treatment. If they continue, treatment is usually prescription medication. Some medications can be taken on an as needed basis (for those with low frequency sex, or daily for prophylaxis (for the more randy of you).

Bottom line: If you get these headaches, don’t feel like it’s all in your head (intentional pun. I had to).




Up to Date online. Primary headaches associated with sexual activity.

Redelman, Margaret. “What if the ‘sexual headache’ is not a joke?. BJMP 2010;3(1):304


Sep 28, 2012

Original post published: 

* Content reviewed annually for accuracy 

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