- You Asked: Can People Be Allergic to Semen?
- Thank you!
- 1. Having a Semen Allergy Is Legit
- 2. Semen Will Burn If It Gets In Your Eyes
- 3. Spermine Gives Semen That Bleachy Smell
- 4. Semen Is Created In Three Different Parts of the Body
- 5. Semen’s Viscosity Changes Once It’s Ejaculated
- 6. If You Think Semen Tastes Good, You May Have a Zinc Deficiency
- 7. Sperm and Semen Are Not the Same Thing
- 8. Semen Could Help You Live Longer
- What is vaginitis?
- What causes vaginitis?
- What are vaginitis symptoms?
- Why Do I Get Yeast Infections After Sex? Here’s The Reason You’re Itchy & How To Prevent It
- What Is BV?
- How To Save Your Vagina From Post-Sex Itch Storms
- Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Semen
- Can a Sperm Allergy or Semen Allergy Affect Getting Pregnant?
- What is a sperm allergy or semen allergy?
- How can a semen allergy affect fertility?
- More About Fertility Issues
- Semen allergy and pregnancy
- Semen allergy symptoms
- Semen allergy treatments
- Does a sperm allergy cause a skin rash?
- Does a semen allergy go away?
- When to call the doctor about a semen allergy
- Can You be Allergic To Someone’s Semen? We Asked An Expert & Here’s What They Said
- What Are The Symptoms?
- Is It Possible To Be Allergic To All Semen?
- Here’s What You Can Do About It
- Could I Be Allergic to Sperm?
- Woman Has Anaphylactic Reaction to Semen in First Reported Case of Its Kind
You Asked: Can People Be Allergic to Semen?
It sounds like a bawdy joke. But semen allergies are a thing—and may be a much more common thing than most people realize. Up to 40,000 women in the U.S. alone might have a hypersensitivity to one or more of the protein components in human semen, according to a review study from the University of Cincinnati.
A protein made in a man’s prostate gland may be the prime culprit. “However, given the myriad proteins and other biomolecules in semen, there may be more than one allergen responsible,” says Michael Carroll, a senior lecturer in reproductive and clinical science at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.
A guy’s diet may even play a role. Carroll cites one case study in which a woman who was allergic to nuts had a bad reaction to her boyfriend’s semen after he ate a Brazil nut. So it’s possible people who aren’t typically allergic to semen may experience a reaction, depending on what their partner has been eating.
In 2011, Carroll coauthored a study on “hypersensitivity to human semen” (HHS), the medical name for a semen allergy. He says symptoms include itching, redness, burning and swelling in the vagina and vulva area, as well as classic systemic allergy symptoms like hives, breathing problems and eczema. “It’s thought to be a type-1 allergic reaction: the same type of reaction that one gets from pollen or cat dander,” he says.
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Women who experience HHS tend to have symptoms emerge right after unprotected sex or contact with semen. Those symptoms can last more than 24 hours. But in many cases, doctors may misdiagnose the condition as an infection or chronic vaginitis.
How can you tell if you have a semen allergy? The first (and most obvious) predictor is if you have some of the above symptoms after unprotected sex, but not when your partner wears a condom. Carroll says skin prick tests and blood antibody profiles can confirm a semen allergy.
Condom use is an effective solution, although that won’t help couples trying to get pregnant. The good news is that Carroll’s research has shown sperm “washed” of seminal fluid do not cause allergic reactions. Also, having HHS doesn’t seem to harm a woman’s ability to conceive, he says.
If you have a semen allergy and you’re trying to have a baby, your doctor can prescribe prophylactic antihistamines, which you would take 30 to 60 minutes before sex, Carroll says. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help knock down your allergic reaction, too, before it gets going.
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As a lady who has never swallowed (I know, I know, whaaaat?!), the subject of semen has always intrigued me. Honestly, I’m surprised more people don’t want to research this translucent goo we allow into multiple orifices. Sure, sperm helps make babies, but what else do we know about jizz? Let’s get all Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on this gunk and find the secret of the ooze.
1. Having a Semen Allergy Is Legit
It’s pretty rare — only about 40,000 women in the U.S. actually have this allergy — but yep, it can happen. According to the Guide to Getting It On, it’s caused by a reaction to a particular protein in semen. Symptoms include pain, redness, swelling, and itching in a woman’s vagina and where the semen touches her skin (including her mouth). So if your mouth gets itchy after swallowing, you might want to go talk to your doctor. I apologize in advance for that awkward conversation with your ob/gyn.
2. Semen Will Burn If It Gets In Your Eyes
Feels like a no brainer, but just in case you need a refresher: Keep all semen away from your eyes. Not only is that shit sticky, but our handy-dandy friend spermine also makes it burn on contact with your eyes. Because remember, spermine is a chemical, and you learned in eighth grade science class that chemicals should be kept as far away from your eyes as possible. Now, I’m not saying your eyes are doing any swallowing, but they are in close vicinity to your mouth. So it’s just something to be aware of, okay?
3. Spermine Gives Semen That Bleachy Smell
It sounds made up, I know. But it’s real. Spermine, which is produced in the prostate gland, is a member of the polyamine family of chemicals, according to the Guide to Getting It On. Granted, semen are like snowflakes — no two wads are alike — and while each man produces a different smell depending on changes in pH levels within the semen (not to mention how the body reacts), that little chemical is often what makes it smell like you’re about to ingest a bottle of Clorox. You’ve been warned.
4. Semen Is Created In Three Different Parts of the Body
This whole time I always thought the testicles were responsible for creating so much jizz you feel like you’re going to drown if you don’t swallow fast enough. But it turns out that they’re only responsible for making about 5 percent of the semen, whereas the seminal vesicles provide 65 to 80 percent and the prostrate contributes 15 to 30 percent. So really, there are other body parts to blame. But the testicles aren’t totally innocent — they contribute the sprinkles to a man’s sundae: the sperm.
5. Semen’s Viscosity Changes Once It’s Ejaculated
According to the Guide to Getting It On, a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) mixes with the semen, causing it to become watery, which is what allows sperm to swim all up in it. It’s also why you may have to wipe dribble off your face post-swallow. Science, man.
6. If You Think Semen Tastes Good, You May Have a Zinc Deficiency
Zinc has a very distinct — and many would say gross — taste. It’s also present in semen, and according to the Guide to Getting It On, if you consume something that has zinc and it doesn’t taste bad, you may have a zinc deficiency. Granted, you’ll need to talk to an actual expert (AKA a doctor) to get a real diagnosis, but, hey, that’s a pretty creative way to get the ball rolling.
7. Sperm and Semen Are Not the Same Thing
You know how the testicles are responsible for contributing the sperm to the semen? That right there is explains that sperm is just a small part — about 1 percent, to be exact — of the enigma that is semen. The white stuff also contains citric acid, zinc, protein, fructose, acid, magnesium, calcium, acid phosphate…you get the idea. There’s a lot of stuff going on. So much so, it kind of sounds like one of those $6 masks sold at Sephora — but there’s no need for a homemade facial anytime soon. (Unless you’re into that.)
8. Semen Could Help You Live Longer
Seriously! According to a study published in Nature Medicine, spermidine, a chemical found in semen, helped rats’ hearts function better and reduced blood pressure, in turn helping them live longer. Granted, these were rats and not people. But still — the more you know.
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What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is an irritation of your vagina or vulva. It’s super common and usually easy to treat. Almost everyone with a vulva gets vaginitis at some point.
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Think you may have a yeast infection or vaginitis?
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What causes vaginitis?
Vaginitis is when your vulva or vagina becomes inflamed or irritated. This can happen when there’s a change in the normal chemical balance of your vagina, or if you have a reaction to irritating products.
Many things can cause vaginitis — and sometimes there’s more than 1 cause. Things that lead to vaginitis include:
Common vaginal infections like:
vaginal yeast infections
Lack of Estrogen (atrophic vaginitis):
Lack of estrogen can lead to a type of vaginitis called atrophic vaginitis (also known as vaginal atrophy). Atrophic vaginitis is when you have irritation but no abnormal discharge. Things that can cause low estrogen include:
Damage to your ovaries, or having your ovaries removed
Vaginitis isn’t a sexually transmitted infection. But sometimes sexual activity can lead to vaginitis. Your partner’s natural genital chemistry can change the balance of yeast and bacteria in your vagina. In rare cases, you can have an allergic reaction to your partner’s semen. Friction from sex, or certain types of lubricants, condoms, and sex toys may also cause irritation. Read more about vaginitis and sex.
Allergies and Irritants
Allergic reactions or sensitivity to different products, materials, or activities can also cause vaginitis. Things that can lead to irritation include:
vaginal deodorants, washes, and perfumed “feminine hygiene” products
scented panty liners, pads, or tampons
perfumed bath products
scented or colored toilet paper
some chemicals in laundry detergents and fabric softeners
certain types of lubricants (i.e. flavored or with sugars in them)
sex toys made out of certain materials
latex and rubber in sex toys and condoms (if you have a latex allergy)
tight pants, or underwear/pantyhose that don’t have a cotton crotch
wearing wet bathing suits or damp clothing for long periods of time
hot tubs or swimming pools
Everyone’s body is different, so things that lead to irritation in some people don’t cause problems for others. Read more about keeping your vagina healthy.
Some people get vaginitis a lot. If you have vaginitis 4 or more times in a year, it’s called recurrent vaginitis. You can get recurrent vaginitis if you have conditions like diabetes or HIV that make your immune system weak. You can also get recurrent vaginitis if you don’t finish your vaginitis treatment.
What are vaginitis symptoms?
The signs of vaginitis can vary depending on what’s causing it. But vaginitis symptoms usually include:
Your vagina and/or vulva is red, irritated, swollen, or uncomfortable.
Itching, burning, and pain in your vulva or vagina.
Pain or discomfort during sex.
Feeling like you have to pee more often than usual. Peeing may sting if your vulva is really irritated.
Vaginal discharge that isn’t normal for you:
With yeast infections, discharge is usually thick, white, and odorless. You may also have a white coating in and around your vagina.
With bacterial vaginosis, you may have vaginal discharge that’s grayish, foamy, and smells fishy. (But it’s also common for BV to have no symptoms.)
With trich, discharge is often frothy, yellow-green, smells bad, and may have spots of blood in it.
Vaginitis symptoms can be super obvious, or barely noticeable. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. It’s a good idea to pay attention to what your vulva and vaginal discharge normally looks, feels, and smells like, so it’s easier to notice any changes that could be signs of vaginitis or other infections.
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April 10, 2012 — Newlyweds Jeff and Clara, both 35-year-old professionals, fell in love quickly and were convinced they were the “right match” — until they had sex.
“I had this bizarre reaction,” said Clara, who for privacy reasons did not want to use her real name. “I had burning and swelling and redness, which was very unusual. I thought I had contracted an STD .”
Horrified, she made an appointment with the gynecologist for testing and was nervous about having a “tricky conversation” with Jeff.
After several doctors’ visits and hours of research online, the North Carolina couple finally got some answers, but it derailed their sex life and shook their marriage.
Clara had seminal plasma hypersensitivity, an allergic reaction to the proteins in Jeff’s semen. Even using a condom didn’t help, so the couple avoided intimacy.
“It’s really bizarre,” said Jeff. “Neither of us had ever come across anything like that. It was a real problem, because everything else was great. We were madly in love, but it was a real game-changer for a while.”
Her condition affects an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 women in the United States, according to Dr. Jonathan Bernstein, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, who specializes in allergies and immunology and recently treated the couple.
“We feel they are more common,” he said. “Not common like asthma, but more than people realize.”
Some women have been known to sleep with their new husband for the first time and break out in hives. Women can experience abdominal swelling or a local reaction that they describe as “like a needle sticking in to their vagina,” according to Bernstein.
Fertility is never affected. Once the woman is desensitized and can have sex comfortably, the chances of getting pregnant are the same as any other couple.
But women often don’t get an accurate diagnosis because the condition can be confused with yeast and vaginal infections.
Dr. Andrew Goldstein, director of the Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders in Washington, D.C. and New York City, said the condition is so uncommon, he has only treated “about a dozen” cases in the last 10 years.
“What is more common are hypersensitivities to latex or spermicides or even a chemical on your partner,” he said. Lubricants and warm gels can also be allergens, he said.
Goldstein, who did not treat the couple, said men do not typically experience allergies to their wives. But a lingering mystery that still baffles the couple: Jeff has had similar allergic reactions to Clara — but only when she has pain. Taking antihistamines on the advice of his allergist helped.
“His reaction is not typical and he only had it once or twice,” said his doctor, Bernstein “I’m not sure what to make of it.”
Oddly, Clara was also developing yeast infections after sex. She said this and the allergic reaction had never happened before in previous relationships.
“The swelling was worst immediately after sex,” Clara said. “It would take 24 hours to subside and my skin would be irritated as if you’d put a chemical on it that caused it to burn. It was almost raw and took a while to heal.”
The “gold standard” for treating semen allergies is to isolate the proteins in the man and do skin testing on the woman to determine which are to blame. Then, the woman is desensitized to the allergen.
The couple said they knew Bernstein was the top expert in the field, but the cost was daunting, so they put off making an appointment. But that took a toll as the couple started to avoid sex.
“In a normal romantic relationship, you want to feel attractive to your partner and want to do things that make you feel sexy,” Clara said. “I feel like we actually started to define ourselves — minimizing things to avoid sex. Funny, I started thinking I wouldn’t wear sexy underwear. … What seemed like medical problems had bigger effects.”
“It pretty much dramatically reduced our libido,” Jeff said. “We really haven’t had much sex at all for the last 10 months.”
They didn’t share their concerns with anyone.
“When your mom calls up and asks how’s married life? … It’s something we’ve been facing privately,” Clara said.
Jeff said they started feeling “isolated, like total weirdoes,” wondering why this would happen to them. “The intimacy level drops dramatically — all of a sudden instead of living with your new wife or husband, you are more like roommates.”
Finally, Jeff said, they “couldn’t take it anymore,” so they called Bernstein to learn he would take their insurance. They were told to set aside two days for allergy testing.
Just two weeks ago, Clara underwent an intravaginal “graded challenge” using serial dilutions of her husband’s seminal fluid, which were injected via a syringe every 15-20 minutes over the course of two to three hours.
Their homework was to have sex within 12 hours and “see how it went,” Clara said. Her symptoms “resolved substantially,” according to Bernstein, who had her rate the pain.
“It was pretty much fine,” she said. “There was a small amount of swelling, but compared to previous times, it was much less.”
Bernstein told them to have sex again in a couple of day and to continue every few days. Each time went well. “Now,” Clara said, “I am interested in having sex again.”
Some of the couple’s blood tests have still not come back, but the couple is guardedly optimistic. Clara and Jeff say they wanted to share their story to help others.
“It was kind of bizarre to be told, go have sex, especially after pretty much going cold turkey,” Jeff said. “I think psychologically, we are back to a sense of normalcy.”
Just the other morning, Clara made a move she hadn’t done in months — she initiated sex with Jeff.
“This has been a very hopeful experience for us,” Jeff said. “On a number of levels, it’s been restorative. A whole side of our relationship really suffered. Now it’s a whole new world.”
Why Do I Get Yeast Infections After Sex? Here’s The Reason You’re Itchy & How To Prevent It
Many people are familiar with this worst of feelings, that telltale prickle percolating deep in your business you just immediately know will blossom into a full-blown yeast infection by morning. It is, to put it as mildly as possible, hell; that excruciating and unscratchable itch. Some people are lucky and only develop vaginal yeast infections after a long day at the beach, or when they sports too hard in sweaty, skintight spandex. But there exists another camp, a less fortunate camp, of people who seem to always get a goddang yeast infection after they have sex.
Understandably, this leaves a lot of sufferers unspeakably frustrated, because sex and orgasms are good, healthy things many of us want to have on the regular. Nothing kills the mood quite like the specter of itchy yeast hanging over your bed, and I think most of us would love to avoid it if we could. So: Why do some people always get yeast infections after sex?
All vaginas house yeast, a fungus called Candida; the problem arises when something throws the delicate vaginal ecosystems out of whack and Candida starts growing like crazy. Then, you’re (often but not always) left with the characteristic white, cottage cheese-textured discharge; the inflamed, irritated labia; a possible bread factory smell wafting from down below; and that deep, deep itch the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates roughly 75 percent of U.S. women will experience at least once in their lifetime. An unfortunate 40 to 45 percent will have two or more Candida outbreaks, and honestly, that number seems low to me.
Because ask pretty much any vagina-having person you know, and many of them will report intimate familiarity with what they deem to be overenthusiastic yeast. And indeed, there exist a few reasons why a chronically itchy vagina might frequently follow sex.
According to obstetrician and gynecologist Sheila Loanzon, M.D., new sex partners, oral sex, antibiotics, and lube can all cause vaginal irritation, but the angry vaginas many people attribute to an overabundance of yeast may actually be symptomatic of something else.
“It is actually much more common for women to get bacterial vaginosis (BV) infections when they have intercourse instead of yeast infections,” Loanzon tells Bustle. “This is due to the ejaculate or lubricant causing a change in the delicate pH balance of the vagina.”
What Is BV?
Often billed as a sexually transmitted infection, a label that doesn’t quite fit, BV can result any time the vagina’s bacterial balance gets upset and the bad bacteria overgrow the good. Although this is more apt to happen in people who are having sex with a new partner or multiple partners, BV is also linked to douching, and presents with the same key complaint that characterizes candida: A painful and/or burning itch in and around the vagina. What sets BV apart is the strong, fishy odor it gives the vagina. You might also experience a burning sensation when you pee, or notice a thin white or gray vaginal discharge in your underwear.
BV and yeast infections both qualify as vaginitis, or irritation of the vagina and vulva, and it’s possible that both could result from PIV intercourse. “There are some studies that strongly support transmission of bacteria of the male to female during intercourse which lend to an increase of bacteria therefore leading to BV,” says Loanzon.
But it’s also possible to get yeast infections from a partner — because candida can and does live in your mouth and on penises, in addition to making a home in your vagina — and according to Loanzon, people with recurrent yeast infections (four or more in a year) may be contracting their particular yeast strain from their partner. (They may also have diabetes, HIV, or be pregnant.)
So if you’re having sex with one person and finding yourself always on the losing end of a battle with vaginal yeast, it’s possible you and your partner just keep swapping this candida plague back and forth. It’s also possible you (or, heck, even a medical professional) have diagnosed yourself with a yeast infection when what you really have is BV, and so the symptoms are not going away; indeed, they may be continually reawakened by the sexual practices that throw off vaginal pH.
How To Save Your Vagina From Post-Sex Itch Storms
Loanzon recommends switching to condoms, if you suspect PIV sex is the culprit, and water-based lubes — “not fancy designer lubricant brands that cause explosions on the TV commercials,” she says. Often, it will help to identify the vaginitis trigger, whether that’s semen, lube, certain condoms, a particular kind of underwear. If you know what sends your vagina into an itch spiral, it’s easy enough to eliminate those factors from your lifestyle. But your treatment quest shouldn’t end with at-home experiments.
“Women are often misdiagnosing their vaginal infections so it is important to be seen by a health care provider to confirm which infection they have,” Loanzon says. “Notoriously, both women and providers diagnose the wrong infection based on symptoms alone.” She encourages an in-person examination of the affected area using a microscope to determine the cause of vaginitis and, relatedly, the appropriate medication course.
Yeast infections may be treated with a topical or oral anti-fungal; BV, meanwhile, requires antibiotics, either oral or topical. But because these antibiotics wipe out your vaginal bacteria, they may create an environment primed to disrupt your yeast balance, leading to — you guessed it — a yeast infection following close on BV’s tail. You’re going to want to secure medication to cure all your vaginal ailments, trust me.
Regardless, though, you may find that what you thought was a yeast infection flaring up every time you get busy is actually untreated BV (or, actually, an STI called trichomoniasis). You won’t return from your itchy sexual hellscape until you get the correct diagnosis, though, so definitely consult a doctor in person, at your earliest convenience. Your vagina will thank you.
Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Semen
Photo: Getty Images / Julia Simina, Olga Zarytska
And you thought the worst of your problems was whether to spit or swallow: A woman in southeast Spain reportedly had an allergic reaction to her partner’s semen after oral sex-bad enough to send her to the ER.
As outlined in BMJ Case Reports, the 31-year-old woman arrived at the hospital vomiting profusely, had shortness of breath, and was covered in hives. Doctors diagnosed her with a moderate anaphylactic reaction and, since she hadn’t eaten or taken anything out of the ordinary, eventually deduced this was from unprotected oral sex with her partner.
It’s called seminal plasma hypersensitivity and yes, it’s a real thing: “This is very rare, but you can be allergic to your partner’s semen,” says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist/immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network in New York.
Usually (among the rare cases, that is), suffers are actually reacting to a pre-existing allergen-like food or a medication-that’s traveling through the semen, says Dr. Parikh. And that’s what happened here: Because the women had swallowed semen before with no problems and her partner had been taking an antibiotic that contained penicillin, the docs deduced that she was actually allergic to his medication.
But some people are actually hypersensitive to the proteins in semen itself, says Amy Shah, M.D., an allergy immunologist in Phoenix. Specialized offices like Dr. Shah’s can help women who suffer from this allergy and are trying to conceive. The process involves a desensitization procedure wherein very tiny amounts of his semen are injected into her vagina so her body becomes conditioned to the irritant-and won’t freak out when it’s baby-making day (or any day for that matter).
Because yes-an allergic reaction to semen will take place wherever the spunk enters your body, be it mouth or vagina. And it can cause anything from burning and itching to a rash, to full-blown anaphylactic shock, says Dr. Parikh. It typically happens within 30 to 60 minutes of exposure. (Related: Asking for a Friend: What’s Causing My Itchy Vagina?)
But before you go and declare yourself allergic to sex, keep in mind that there could be other more common excuses for your symptoms, like an infection. Semen allergies (also referred to as sperm allergies) are pretty uncommon, but not unheard of. One 2011 study estimated that some 40,000 women in the U.S. could be affected. If you have a reaction every time you have sex without a condom, and never when you have sex with a condom, that’s a sign that a semen allergy might be to blame, says Alyssa Dweck, M.S, M.D., FACOG, coauthor of The Complete A to Z for Your V: A Women’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina. (Err, you should probably take this time to read up on eight scary condom mistakes you could be making.) Dr. Dweck says that most of the women she sees in her office with a semen allergy assume-without ever being tested-that their irritation was caused by a yeast infection. (Now’s the time to read up on the five biggest yeast infection myths.)
When it comes to irritation from semen, you could have a mild sensitivity or a full-blown allergy, says Dr. Dweck. What’s more, women who suffer from semen allergies experience varying degrees of severity in their symptoms. The most serious but rare cases can cause wheezing or difficulty breathing, which is what happened to this woman. More commonly, women will have a local reaction with a rash, hives, redness, or swelling that lasts about an hour after having sex. Taking an antihistamine before sex can help guard against a reaction for women who experience more severe symptoms, but using a condom is the best way to prevent these uncomfortable side effects, says Dr. Dweck.
Other disturbing facts: Semen allergies can develop over time, and just like you can be allergic to walnuts but not peanuts, you can be allergic to one man’s semen and not another’s. “It’s partner-related,” says Dr. Dweck. “So you can have sex with one person and have no trouble, but then have sex with another man whose semen causes some sort of a reaction.”
Bottom line: If you have a severe food or medication allergy, make sure your partner knows and uses barrier protection when your allergen enters their body. Now that’s what we call safe sex.
For more answers to your uncomfortable sex questions, check out Is It Possible for a Guy’s Penis Size to Be Too Big? and The Real Reason You Can’t Orgasm During Sex.
- By By Rachael Schultz and Renee Cherry
Sperm allergy, sometimes called semen allergy or seminal plasma hypersensitivity, is a rare allergic reaction to proteins found in a man’s semen. It mostly affects women.
Some common symptoms of sperm allergy are redness, swelling, pain, itching, and a burning sensation in the vaginal area. Symptoms usually start about 10-30 minutes after contact with semen. They may not be confined to the vaginal area; they can occur in any area that has contact with semen, including the skin and the mouth. Symptoms can last for a few hours or a few days.
For some women, the symptoms are localized – they stay in one main area. But for others, the symptoms can affect their whole body. They may have hives, swelling, trouble breathing, or anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Sperm allergy may be discovered the first time a woman has sex, but sometimes it happens after a woman has had other sexual partners with no allergic reaction. Sperm allergy may also occur with one partner but not another. Or, it may happen suddenly with a longtime partner.
The condition is often misdiagnosed as vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), a yeast infection, or a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) like herpes. One clue for diagnosis is condom use. If sperm allergy is present, the woman should not have any symptoms when she and her partner use a condom. The allergic reaction should only happen during unprotected sex.
Sperm allergy is frustrating for many couples and can be a strain on relationships. It can also complicate matters for couples who wish to conceive, since this usually can’t happen through unprotected intercourse. However, there are ways for a woman to become pregnant even with sperm allergy. The allergy does not affect her fertility and pregnancy can be achieved through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization, after sperm is washed.
Women who suspect they are allergic to sperm should see their gynecologist or an allergist. Intradermal testing, in which a small amount of the partner’s semen is injected under the skin, can confirm whether there is an allergy or not.
Can a Sperm Allergy or Semen Allergy Affect Getting Pregnant?
Post-sex redness, itching, burning or swelling down there can have a lot of different possible causes. One of them you might not have thought of is a sperm allergy.
Though a semen or sperm allergy is rare, experts estimate that up to 40,000 U.S. women may have one — which not only can make sex uncomfortable, it can create a roadblock for couples trying to conceive. Fortunately there are things you can do to feel better and up your chances of getting pregnant.
Here’s a look at what sperm allergies are, how they relate to getting pregnant, and the best treatment options.
What is a sperm allergy or semen allergy?
A sperm allergy or semen allergy is an allergy to proteins found in a man’s semen. Officially called seminal plasma hypersensitivity, it tends to mostly affect women. And it can occur at any time: Some people have an allergic reaction to their partner’s semen the first time they have sex, but it can also happen suddenly with a longtime partner.
Sperm allergies can also show up after a period of not having sex, like after giving birth. And they might strike after sex with one partner but not another.
How can a semen allergy affect fertility?
Sperm allergies aren’t a direct cause of infertility, but they can make it harder to conceive the traditional way. The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives.
In some cases, it’s possible to treat a semen allergy so you and your partner can try to get pregnant by having sex. If that’s not an option, you can also try to conceive via intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization using sperm washing. In this procedure, sperm is separated from the seminal fluid, so the sperm itself doesn’t contain allergy-causing proteins and therefore won’t trigger a reaction.
More About Fertility Issues
Ovulation Endometriosis and Getting Pregnant: What You Need to Know Prepping for Pregnancy Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Fertility and Pregnancy Fertility Tests and Treatments Understanding Male Infertility Ovulation Endometriosis and Getting Pregnant: What You Need to Know Prepping for Pregnancy Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Fertility and Pregnancy Fertility Tests and Treatments Understanding Male Infertility
Semen allergy and pregnancy
A semen allergy can sometimes make conception challenging, but it won’t affect you or your baby once you’re pregnant. And despite what you might have heard, there’s no documented evidence of sperm allergies causing a miscarriage.
Semen allergy symptoms
Women with a sperm allergy will typically start to show symptoms within 30 minutes of being exposed to their partner’s semen. Sometimes the reaction can be immediate and happen within five minutes.
Signs of a semen allergy can include:
Redness, burning, itching or swelling on any part of the body or skin that has come into contact with semen
Hives all over the body, including parts of the skin that haven’t come into contact with semen
Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction marked by swelling, nausea vomiting, trouble breathing and, in severe cases, shock)
Sperm allergy symptoms can clear up within a few hours, though they sometimes stick around for a few days.
The problem can sometimes be confused with vaginitis, a yeast infection, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But there’s often a reliable way to tell the difference: If your symptoms flare up shortly after having sex without a condom, a sperm allergy may be to blame.
Semen allergy treatments
There are a few different ways to manage a semen allergy, including the following:
Avoid contact with your partner’s semen. Just like with any other allergy, the most straightforward method to prevent a reaction is to avoid contact with the substance that triggers your symptoms. That could mean using condoms every time you have sex.
Try desensitizing yourself to your partner’s sperm. You could also opt to undergo an intravaginal graded challenge. The procedure involves having an allergist put diluted amounts of your partner’s semen into your vagina at regular intervals, gradually increasing the proportion of semen until you can tolerate undiluted semen without having a reaction. You’ll then need to have sex regularly — at least two or three times a week — in order to keep your system from becoming more sensitive again.
Take an antihistamine before sex. Oral antihistamines might prevent your symptoms from flaring up. They could have a negative effect on ovulation and make it harder for an embryo to implant, though, so they’re not a good option for couples trying to conceive.
Your doctor can help you figure out the best treatment option based on the severity of your symptoms and your pregnancy goals. Regardless of which treatment option you chose, your doctor might recommend keeping an epinephrine auto-injector on-hand in case you have a life-threatening reaction like anaphylaxis.
Does a sperm allergy cause a skin rash?
Sperm allergies can cause rash-like symptoms, including redness, itching, burning or swelling on your genitals or any other part of the skin that’s come into contact with semen.
It’s also possible for a sperm allergy to cause an all-over reaction on parts of the skin that didn’t come into contact with your partner’s semen.
Does a semen allergy go away?
As with other allergies, it’s unlikely that a semen allergy will clear up on its own. But undergoing a treatment like an intravaginal graded challenge could significantly reduce your sensitivity and allow you to have unprotected sex without triggering your symptoms. You’ll need to have sex frequently and regularly for your body to maintain its ability to tolerate your partner’s sperm.
When to call the doctor about a semen allergy
Call your doctor if you notice any symptoms, even if they’re mild. She or he can determine whether the culprit is a sperm allergy or another problem, like vaginitis, a yeast infection or an STI — and help you figure out the best treatment option.
Sperm allergies can cause uncomfortable symptoms and make it harder to conceive the traditional way. The good news is that there are ways to cope that can make sex more enjoyable — and increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Nov. 13, 2006 – Women allergic to their partner’s semen can be cured by treatments requiring frequent sex, a New York allergist says.
But don’t try it without a doctor’s help. Without proper desensitization, sex can be deadly for some women allergic to semen.
Yes, some women really are allergic to sex, according to a report at this week’s annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in Philadelphia.
These women have powerful allergic responses to their partner’s semen, says David J. Resnick, MD, acting director of the allergy division of New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Such women may suffer genital itching, burning, and swelling. In severe cases, they may break out in hives or even have trouble breathing.
At the conference, Resnick and colleagues report a case of semen allergy in a Puerto Rican woman who responded well to desensitization therapy.
Treatment, Resnick says, comes in two forms.
One is allergy shots containing small doses of the male partner’s semen.
The other is a technique called intravaginal seminal graded challenge. In this treatment, which takes several hours, every 20 minutes a doctor places increasing amounts of the partner’s semen in the woman’s vagina.
Both treatments require that the woman and her husband have sex at least two or three times a week.
“Treatment failure is associated with couples who do not engage in frequent intercourse that re-exposes the patient to the allergen,” Resnick says in a news release.
“Patients not living near their partners can refrigerate or freeze specimens so they can continue frequent exposure,” he says.
Like any immunotherapy, the allergy shots or seminal challenge must be started in a facility equipped to treat hypersensitive patients for any severe anaphylactic shock reactions.
Since such life-threatening reactions are possible any time an allergic person encounters an allergen, Resnick recommends that women with semen allergies keep a self-injectable epinephrine kit on hand.
Though case reports of semen allergy are rare, many may go unrecognized. The typical patient, Resnick says, is a woman in her 20s.
Though 41% of allergic women have symptoms during their first intercourse, symptoms tend to worsen with subsequent exposures unless they undergo desensitization treatment.
Semen allergy, Resnick adds, is not a direct cause of infertility.
Can You be Allergic To Someone’s Semen? We Asked An Expert & Here’s What They Said
Have you noticed a burning, itching, swelling sensation in your genitals after sex? Or maybe on your hands or around your mouth? Your first thought probably goes to STIs, but if your partner has a penis, it’s possible you could have a semen allergy. Yup, you read that right: It’s possible to be allergic to ejaculate. That’s the bad news. The good news is that semen allergies are incredibly rare. As in, 100 reported cases since 1958, rare. (Although new research suggests it may be more common than previously believed so, ya know, do what you will with that information.)
“It’s very rare for a woman to have an allergy to semen,” Dr. Susie Gronski, physical therapist and pelvic rehabilitation practitioner, tells Bustle. “The prevalence of the allergy is unknown and estimates are only guesses at this time. So there’s no need to instill fear in women or men regarding a semen allergy, as it is extremely rare.”
So what exactly are people with semen allergies (also known as seminal plasma hypersensitivity) allergic to, anyway? Dr. Susie says that it’s not totally clear, but the current going theory is that a person — usually a woman — is allergic to either protein fluid produced by the prostate or seminal fluid. The allergy can show up randomly, even after multiple times having sex with the same person. Or, alternatively, it could not be present with one partner, only to pop up with the next.
What Are The Symptoms?
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
The symptoms of a semen allergy are, unfortunately, really similar to the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. Or a yeast infection. Or a number of STIs. They’re also similar to other allergies, but show up on the genitals or — in the case of contact from oral sex or hand jobs — on the mouth and hands, respectively.
“Symptoms of a semen allergy are similar to any allergy that you might have,” Dr. Susie says. “Itching, burning, redness, swelling of the local vulvar tissue. Sometimes, and again very rare cases, symptoms can be systemic.”
So, possible symptoms of a semen allergy include: burning, itching, swelling, hives, and — rarely — anaphylactic shock.
Is It Possible To Be Allergic To All Semen?
Because it’s such a rare condition, the research on semen allergies is pretty thin. However, Dr. Susie says that, based on the research that does exist, an allergy to all semen would be super rare. Also? Hard to prove.
“The body’s immune system can be affected by lifestyle, stress, and even thoughts/beliefs which can trigger a sympathetic fight or flight response in our body, which impacts the nervous system, immune system, musculoskeletal system, reproductive system and so forth,” Dr. Susie says. “So to say that someone is allergic to all semen would be very hard to prove in the research and very hard to isolate due to individual molecular makeup and external variables from both male and female.”
Here’s What You Can Do About It
First of all, you should get tested to see if what you’re suffering from is actually a semen allergy. The test is similar to any other allergy test — a skin prick test should do it. Some doctors might ask that you bring a sample of your partner’s semen, due to the fact that semen allergies can be a reaction to a particular person’s semen.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a semen allergy, the best way to avoid an outbreak is to use a condom during sex. As long as you’re not getting semen to skin contact, you should be OK. Some studies have shown that people with semen allergies can build up a tolerance from repeated exposure, but that’s an experiment you should run with your doctor, not on your own.
“But my favorite way to ease allergic reactions is boost up your immune system,” Dr. Susie says. “Allergies come about because the body isn’t able to fight off change, or from an imbalance that occurs in the body. Diet and lifestyle can be a game changer.”
Final word is: If you have something unusual/painful/smelly going on in your genitals, go to the doctor. Let them run the usual tests for STIs, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections before you get to the semen allergy. But if you’re coming back from test after test with no conclusion, you might be one of the rare ones with this issue.
Could I Be Allergic to Sperm?
Most often, discomfort after intercourse is the result of something else. Since the pH of your boyfriend’s ejaculate is different from the pH of your vaginal flora, the combination can cause your vagina to become irritated and inflamed. While uncomfortable, this situation is not dangerous and will resolve without intervention in a couple of days. You can minimize the risk of pH shifts post intercourse with condom use. Another cause of vaginal discomfort after intercourse is simply friction. Maintaining excellent lubrication during sex or using lubricated condoms can help minimize discomfort. We recommend using an over-the-counter water based lubricant.
A bacterial or yeast infection could also cause vaginal discomfort after sex, but these would likely be accompanied by an odor and/or unusual discharge. Infections need to be treated, so if this is the case, be sure to call your doctor. Lastly, women can have a sensitivity or allergy to the latex in condoms. If this is the case, my recommendation is to see an allergist about a potential latex allergy and switch to lambskin condoms, but talk to your OB/GYN first because these types of condoms do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Woman Has Anaphylactic Reaction to Semen in First Reported Case of Its Kind
Sex is supposed to be fun. Throwing up and breaking out into hives after having sex with your partner is decidedly not fun, but that’s what recently happened to a 31-year-old woman in Spain.
By the time she showed up at the emergency room of the General University Hospital of Alicante, she was vomiting profusely, had shortness of breath, and her entire body was covered in hives.
The doctors diagnosed her with a moderate anaphylactic reaction, and tried to figure out what had caused it.
Their only clue: the patient’s reaction had started after having unprotected sex with her male partner, which involved “oral ejaculation” according to the case report.
Most people may not know this, but one can actually be allergic to semen. Known as seminal plasma hypersensitivity, it’s a rare allergic reaction that mostly affects women. What we call ‘semen’ is actually a pretty complex mixture that includes seminal plasma – the liquid that carries and feeds the little sperm.
This plasma contains various proteins, thought to be the cause of semen allergy. It’s often misdiagnosed and hasn’t been studied that much, so researchers don’t precisely know which of those proteins are sending some people’s immune systems into overdrive.
A person with this type of allergy can have a local reaction wherever they come into contact with semen, including the vagina, skin, and the mouth. But for some people, the reaction can affect their whole body, causing hives and even leading to anaphylaxis.
The thing is, the woman in this case study had no previous history of sensitivity to semen in any other relationships. She also hadn’t eaten anything weird, hadn’t been bitten by any insects, and neither had she taken any drugs or medications.
But her partner had.
In the five days leading up to the incident, the 32-year-old man had been taking ibuprofen and Augmentin, a type of prescription antibiotic medication, to treat his middle ear infection. He’d taken his latest dose 4 hours before the couple had sex.
Augmentin contains a type of penicillin called amoxicillin, a common type of antibiotic. Having ruled out everything else, the doctors now had the most likely culprit on hand.
Drug allergies, especially to certain antibiotics, are actually the most common cause of anaphylaxis in adults. While many people think they have a penicillin allergy when they do not, this woman was actually diagnosed with her allergy as a child – although the doctors explain they’d never seen an instance of the allergy quite like this.
“To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of a possible amoxicillin induced anaphylaxis in a woman after an oral sexual contact with a man who was taking the drug,” the team writes in the case study.
The doctors note that few studies have investigated whether drugs might get concentrated in semen, but they note that it’s theoretically plausible in this case due to the chemical composition of seminal plasma and amoxicillin, which readily dissolves in fats.
Thankfully, the patient was treated with anaphylaxis medication and made a full recovery. Her doctors decided to write up a case report when they realised they might have a unique event on their hands; internet searches revealed that other people with drug allergies have worried about something like this happening, but there was nothing in the medical literature.
Their recommendation is to use condoms if you’re taking any medications to which your partner could be allergic.
“We think that as clinicians it is important to be aware of this phenomenon … to inform and prevent potentially serious reactions in sensitised patients,” they conclude.
The case study was published in BMJ Case Reports.