This will no doubt come as one of your more bizarre queries, but why not a little levity in this world of woe? For sixteen years, after every orgasm, whether self-caused or by a lover, whether I was happy or sad, and in 30 different countries, I sneeze, often violently and repeatedly. Have you ever heard of such a phenomenon before? I am a 36-year-old female journalist, straight, with no known allergies. Is it simply a relaxation of tension or am I allergic to sex? It's not particularly annoying to myself or others, but it intrigues me. It doesn't matter if the sex is oral or more conventional, the man bald or hairy, the location a beach, an all-satin bed, or a forest. I await your answer with bated … achoo!
Illustration by Slug Signorino
Orgasms in 30 different countries, huh? I’m impressed, sweetie — some of this column’s hapless correspondents have a tough time getting it on in one. But we can compare notes later. As far as postcoital sneezing goes, you have to realize that in sex, “idiosyncratic reactions are myriad,” as one researcher puts it. Having scoured the literature (and in addition having polled the Straight Dope production department, whose sexual eccentricities are legendary), I have compiled the following partial inventory of unusual physiological reactions to sex:
(1) Sensation of excessive warmth or cold following orgasm, often accompanied by sweat. Frequently perspiration is localized in the hands and feet. Masters and Johnson say that roughly one-third of both men and women have a sweat reaction on occasion.
(2) Sexual flush, a measleslike red rash that starts in the stomach area and spreads to the chest and (in women) the breasts, and in extreme cases can cover virtually the entire body. Sexual flush usually begins in the latter stages of foreplay and recedes after orgasm. Seventy five percent of women are said to experience sex flush at least some of the time; the figure for men is smaller. Said to be associated with intensity of the sexual experience.
(3) Itching and/or tingling following orgasm.
(4) Increased appetite for food, drink, or a good smoke. Very common.
(5) Uncontrollable laughing, talking, crying, or frenzied movement at the point of orgasm. Can be very disconcerting for one’s partner, believe me.
(6) Urge to urinate or defecate during or after orgasm. Some women, in fact, emit a clear fluid that, depending on whom you ask, is either urine or an analog to male ejaculate.
(7) Sneezing fits.
(8) Headaches. I got this from Dear Abby. Supposedly this occurs in some men due to accelerated heart rate and increased blood pressure during orgasm. Happily, not a common problem.
(9) Miscellaneous other weird reactions. One of my interviewees says sex makes his hemorrhoids worse; another says it gives him cramps. We got a real fun bunch around here.
Exactly what causes all these things is not clear. In general, however, they probably result from one or both of the two generalized physiological reactions that occur during sex: vasocongestion, i.e., heavy blood flow into various organs (not just the obvious ones), and myotonia, or increased muscle tension. As long ago as 1875 it was known that sex sometimes causes “engorgement of the erectile tissue of the turbinates,” i.e., nasal swelling and congestion, often accompanied by sneezing. The sneezing may be caused by some mechanical irritation of the nasal passages triggered by orgasm, or (and I quote) “it can also be initiated by stimuli from the higher cerebral centers such as the psychosexual images which are commonly associated with copulation.” Very romantic.
If you ever want to stop the sneezing, some doctors recommend administering a nasal anesthetic before getting into the sack. I have a somewhat boring prescription here calling for 1 percent tetracaine and 2 percent ephedrine sulphate, but I note that in ages past they used to use cocaine. No fooling. Give it a whizz and let me know what happens. If that fails, one remedy in the Journal of the American Medical Association requires “cauterization of the Fliess nasogenital areas,” which sounds pretty horrible. I’d say you’re smart just to leave things alone.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.