Like any other allergy, sex allergies occur when something in the environment causes the immune system to respond abnormally, but those causes are more difficult to pinpoint in many cases.
Allergic reactions during sex are hard to recognise because some of the symptoms such as heavy breathing, increased heart rate and sweating are seen as normal sex side effects.
However, if ignored or left untreated, some sex allergies can get worse over time and have a lasting impact on your sex life.
According to Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist and host of the YouTube series 'Sexplanations', sex allergies can cause the following symptoms:
- Vaginal burning
- Chest tightness
- Loss of consciousness
Because these symptoms could be caused by a variety of different things, we've compiled a list of specific indicators that a sex allergy could be at fault.
SEVEN SIGNS YOU MAY HAVE A SEX ALLERGY
1. You start experiencing allergy symptoms after sleeping with someone new
If you're experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time with a new partner, they may be caused by that person's semen, known as seminal plasma hypersensitivity (SPH).
"Basically a protein in the fluid triggers an allergic reaction, usually pain and burning," Doe said in a video for Sexplanations.
Other side effects include hives, swelling, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness and diarrhoea.
SPH is considered to be rare, affecting an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 women in the US.
For those who think they might suffer from SPH, Doe recommends seeing a doctor as soon as possible and using a condom to avoid contact with the semen.
"Allergies to semen are usually progressive, so the symptoms get worse the more the person is exposed to the allergen," she said.
2. You feel sick after an orgasm
In very rare cases a man can have a bad reaction to his own semen, known as post orgasmic illness syndrome (POIS).
POIS is defined by flu-like symptoms directly after ejaculation, including runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes, sore muscles and throat, headache, exhaustion, feverishness, cognitive impairment, and difficulty speaking.
"Researchers who've studied POIS aren't all in agreement but many of them believe that those afflicted are allergic to their own semen," Doe said.
According to a 2017 study by Tulane University there have only been 50 documented cases of POIS since the condition was defined in 2002.
"Currently there is no known treatment for POIS, partly due to the rarity of the disease," study author Hoang Minh Tue Nguyen told Men's Health.
3. You experience burning or itching after using a condom
About three million people in the US are allergic to latex, according to the American Latex Allergy Association.
Latex is a natural substance obtained from rubber trees that is used to make a wide variety of items - including many sex products.
"You see latex in condoms, gloves and dams. It's also used in some sex toys and clothing so as you can imagine, having an allergy to latex can be quite troublesome," Doe said.
The most common signs that a person could be allergic to latex are vaginal irritation, burning and itching, according to Dr Jonathan Schaffir, an OB-GYN at Ohio State University.
"The biggest tip-off that a woman has a latex allergy is in the timing," Dr Schaffir told Self. "If she consistently has a reaction following sex with latex condoms—usually within a day and lasting one to four days—and the symptoms are not present otherwise or after sex without the latex condom, then an allergy should be suspected."
Allergic reactions to latex usually go away within a few days and shouldn't flare back up if a person stops using latex condoms.
Doe added: 'Fortunately there are so many options so many workarounds for latex allergies.'
She also warned that the latex itself isn't always the problem in latex products.
Some people are allergic to casein - a protein in the milk used to make latex smooth - or the the dry dusting powder that makes condoms less sticky.
The allergic reaction could also be caused by parabens that are used to inhibit bacterial growth but also have questionable health effects, according to Doe.
"As you probably know there aren't regulations for sex products like there are for food. Packaging doesn't have to disclose what's in your condom," she said.
Most condoms have some kind of lubricant on them, so allergy symptoms may be caused by the lube instead of the condom itself.
4. You feel discomfort after trying a new lube
There are a variety of different lubricants available - but like with condoms, the packaging doesn't always indicate what the ingredients are.
"Lubes that advertised flavors, cooling or heating sensations and numbing can have any number of additives your system may not like," Doe said.
Possible irritants include pain reducers benzocaine and lidocaine, arousal booster L Arginine, preservative nitrousamines or sperm-killer nonoxyl-9.
Glycerin in lubricants can also cause an allergic reaction or a yeast infection, which can cause similar symptoms.
The simplest way to figure out if lube is causing your symptoms is by ceasing use and seeing if the symptoms go away.
5. Your symptoms arise after switching birth control methods
According to Dr Kirtly Parker Jones, an OB-GYN at University of Utah, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to your birth control - but it's not a result of the hormone.
"Birth control hormones are very much like your own hormones and it's unlikely that you're going to be allergic to it," she told The Scope.
However, she said that some women are allergic to other ingredients in birth control methods.
Common examples include the adhesive in the Ortho Evra patching, the binding or dyes in birth control pills, liquid in the birth control shot, ethylene-vinyl acetate in the NuvaRing and the barium sulfate in Nexplanon implants.
Doe recommends paying attention to known side effects of birth control methods when you start using one so you know what to look out for.
6. You started noticing irritation after changing your pre-sex routine
Doe said that sometimes an allergic reaction that occurs after sex may not have actually been caused by the sex itself but by something else from that day such as something you ate or a medication you took.
"A good starting place for your own investigation is logging what happens: What are your symptoms and what happened that is the same or different than the days without an allergic reaction," she said.
"Maybe that you're not allergic to sex, but that the meal you ate before a sex date or the meds you take before bed and sex are messing with your immune system.
"Maybe the pre-sex shower involves the soap that your body reacts to or the massage oil that you use to get in the mood actually irritates your skin."
7. You experience pain or a rash after a traumatic event
In some cases pain or discomfort during intercourse is a physiological response to something psychological, known as 'genital armoring'.
"For example, abuse in the relationship shame around sexuality or the lack of trust in one's partner might correspond with an inflammation or a rash like any other allergy," Doe said.
"The immune system is doing its best to signal something is wrong."