Acupuncture. Massage. Meditation. Look at any list of stress relievers for migraine sufferers and these solo activities are going to be on it. But getting rid of a headache doesn’t always have to be such an isolating experience. For many migraineurs, the solution to finding pain relief and maintaining a solid connection with your partner is sex.
For many years, small studies suggested that sexual intimacy might relieve head pain, but a large-scale study in 2013 by the University of Munster in Germany showed a much clearer picture. Of 800 migraine patients and 200 patients with cluster headaches, one-third of the respondents said they had intercourse during an episode.
For the migraineurs who engaged in sexual activity, 60 percent said the encounter gave them some relief, thought most reported moderate to total pain relief, and some even said they used sex specifically as a form of migraine treatment. On the flip side, one-third said their migraine symptoms increased as a result of sexual activity.
The data for cluster headache patients skewed in a different direction. Almost 40 percent said they had sex during a headache, most of them reporting moderate to complete relief. However, 50 percent said sexual activity made their symptoms worse.
The German researchers suggested that sexual intercourse releases endorphins that act as natural painkillers, even going so far to say that any kind of sexual activity—self pleasure or climaxing with a partner—may alleviate head pain for some. However, a 2014 study in the journal Headache attributed the relief to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has been called the body’s “happiness molecule.”
An article on EverydayHealth.com notes that since physical activity causes migraines for some people, it’s probably the exercise-like aspect of sex that can lead to head pain. The article also specified the three types of headaches that usually occur during sexual intimacy: an explosive headache (which is often sparked by an orgasm), a tension headache (which will likely dissipate after 20 minutes), and a positional headache (which changes with the position of the head—the most rare of the three).
Like all common migraine triggers—certain foods, alcohol, strong smells, and stress—there is only one way to find out if sex will work for or against your migraine pain: sex education in your own bedroom.