Sex Question Friday: Can A Man Be Allergic To His Own Semen?

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Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. A few weeks ago, I answered a question from a reader about whether it is possible for a woman to be allergic to a man’s semen, which led someone to send in this follow-up question:

Can a man be allergic to his own semen?

This may be hard for some of you to believe, but yes, it is possible for a man to be allergic to his own semen! In medical terms, this is known as postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) [1], and it usually involves experiencing flu-like symptoms shortly after each ejaculation (symptoms can set in anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours afterward and they can last for up to a week). Scientists have confirmed that this is not an allergy to sex or to a partner’s body fluids—it is indeed an allergy to one’s own semen. When men with POIS masturbate or have sex without ejaculating, they do not experience any symptoms at all.

We have no sense of the overall prevalence of POIS among men, but it is thought to be quite rare. I have seen two or three case reports on this emerge over the last decade or so, as well as one larger study that had a sample of 45 men. The larger study revealed some interesting findings [1]. For one thing, about half of the men reported that they remembered having POIS symptoms since the time of their very first ejaculation; the other half seemed to develop the allergy later in life. In addition, most of these guys reported having other types of allergies as well.

On average, symptoms begin to set in 64 minutes after ejaculating and they get worse for two days before they begin to resolve. The most common symptoms involve concentration difficulties, fatigue, feeling feverish, being quickly irritated, and having headaches.

Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what causes POIS—we just know that some component of the semen is triggering a serious immune response in these guys.

So what can men with POIS do? Perhaps not surprisingly, many of them limit their sexual activity (or they time it for weeks when they can be incapacitated), while some remain abstinent. However, abstinence is not truly a cure because nocturnal emissions can still occur, which trigger the same set of symptoms. Fortunately, medical treatment is possible. In fact, a recent study found that immunotherapy is highly effective and can reduce POIS symptom complaints by 60-90% [2]. This treatment involves injecting small doses of a man’s own semen under his skin on a regular basis in an attempt to make his body less sensitive to it (this is the same basic approach doctor’s use when treating allergies to trees, molds, pets, and so forth).

Thus, men can indeed be allergic to their own semen, but it appears that effective treatments are available that don’t necessitate giving up one’s sex life.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Waldinger, M. D., Meinardi, M. M., Zwinderman, A. H., & Schweitzer, D. H. (2011). Postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) in 45 Dutch Caucasian males: Clinical characteristics and evidence for an immunogenic pathogenesis (part 1). The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(4), 1164-1170.

[2] Waldinger, M. D., Meinardi, M. M., & Schweitzer, D. H. (2011). Hyposensitization therapy with autologous semen in two Dutch Caucasian males: beneficial effects in postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS; Part 2). The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(4), 1171-1176.

Image Source: 123RF.com

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