We’re all familiar with the line, “Not tonight, honey … I have a headache.” Headaches can have a huge effect on sufferers’ sex lives — and it’s no laughing matter. From migraines to other types of head pain, being aware of how these conditions affect intimacy is essential for maintaining good relationships.

In this blog, we’re exploring the connection between sex, relationships and migraine, and sharing advice for communicating about your migraine attacks with your partner.

Do headaches occur during or after sex?

Unfortunately, we can confirm that sex can be a trigger for headaches. There are two types of such headaches: primary sex headaches and migraines. To ensure proper treatment, these two types should be distinguished, so let us explain further.

Type 1: Primary sex headaches

Primary sex headaches cause a dull, building ache during sexual activity or can strike as a sudden, severe headache right before orgasm. These headaches are fairly short in duration but can last up to a few hours post-intercourse. The various types of primary sex headaches were previously referred to as “pre-orgasmic headache” and “orgasmic headache.”

These headaches, now known as “primary” headaches, have no underlying cause. The exact reason for them is still unknown, but experts believe that these headaches might be linked to tense muscles and swollen blood vessels in the brain during orgasm.

Type 2: Migraine headaches triggered by sex

Physical activities that require some degree of effort, such as exercise or sex, can lead to a migraine for those who are prone to them due to the increased blood flow to the brain these activities cause. Studies show that migraine sufferers are more likely to report being triggered by sex than non-sufferers, which may be attributed to their brains already being more likely to experience headache pain.

What are the key distinctions between the two?

When trying to tell the difference between a sex headache and a migraine triggered by sex, it’s important to pay attention to the individual symptoms. A primary sex headache is characterized by a sudden explosion of pain on both sides of the head, while migraine headaches typically start gradually, remain on one side of the head, and come with other common symptoms such as nausea or sensitivity to light or sound.

It’s worth noting that primary sex headaches are less common than migraines, affecting only 1 to 1.6 percent of the population. Also, most migraine sufferers are women, while most who have primary sex headaches are men.

When is it necessary to seek medical advice regarding sex headaches?

It is important to note that those who experience a severe and sudden headache during or after sex and do not have a prior history of headaches should seek medical attention, as it could be a sign of a serious medical condition such as an aneurysm or brain hemorrhage. Once this has been ruled out, we can explore how migraine headaches can affect relationships.

Can sexual activity provide relief from migraine headaches?

Research indicates that sexual activity may lessen the severity of migraines for some people — in one study, 60 percent of migraine sufferers reported a reduction in their pain when engaging in sex.

Having sex can assist with headache relief, according to doctors. Possible explanations are that endorphins released during the act may provide natural pain relief, and it can also act as a distraction from your pain.

It’s understandable if physical affection during migraines isn’t your thing, but don’t pass up the therapeutic benefits of sex. The relief it can bring is instantaneous, unlike many medications.

What impact does migraine have on your libido?

When you suffer from migraines, sex might not be a priority. Furthermore, prodromal symptoms — hours or days of warning signs — can cause a great deal of anxiety and make it difficult to become aroused.

Migraine treatments such as antidepressants may result in a decrease in libido, but not all patients experience this side effect.

A 2006 study published in the scientific journal Headache showed that migraine sufferers actually had 20 percent higher levels of sexual desire than those with non-migraine headaches.

Migraine sufferers are theorized to have a higher libido as a result of needing to restore their low serotonin levels through intimate encounters.

What kind of impact does migraine have on relationships?

For migraine sufferers, it can be incredibly challenging to effectively communicate the severity of their attacks with a partner, which can often lead to relationship issues.

Research has shown that migraine attacks can negatively affect romantic relationships. A survey of more than 1,000 migraine sufferers found that 30 percent who experienced up to three attacks per month reported damage to their relationships, while 40 percent of those with four to 15 monthly attacks said the same. Almost 10 percent of chronic migraine sufferers reported a breakup due to their condition. Therefore, the more frequent your migraines are, the more likely they are to have an impact on romance as well as other areas in life.

Despite the effect of migraine, the majority of participants in the study reported being content with their relationship; even those with frequent headaches were not less likely than any other participants to express satisfaction with their partner.

What strategies can I use to manage migraine and maintain healthy relationships?

A relationship therapist would likely tell you that honest communication is essential. Express your migraine pain to your partner, even if you think they may not grasp how it’s more than a headache. They might not fully understand, but they should recognize that you’re struggling and do what they can to support you.

Even though they can be hard to cope with, migraine attacks don’t last forever, and you can use the time when you’re not in pain to spend quality time with your partner. That way, it won’t feel as bad when you have to isolate yourself during a headache bout.