Allergy to sex – a question and an answer

From a regular MSNBC column


Can a woman be allergic to a man’s sperm to the point it causes an itchy, uncomfortable feeling for the woman?


Yes, she can. The condition is called seminal plasma hypersensitivity because the allergic reaction is really to the soup carrying the sperm, not the sperm themselves. Between 20,000 to 40,000 women in the U.S. may experience the allergy, according to Dr. Jonathan Bernstein of the University of Cincinnati. The causes are still under study so it's not known if some women who develop the allergy will be allergic to all men or if, sometimes, something has changed in the semen of a woman's partner to create it.

The typical patient is a woman having her first intercourse, but it can also develop in a woman who has been having sex with the same man for a long time, said Dr. David Resnick, director of allergy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. It can occur after a period of abstinence, such as when a couple resumes having sex following pregnancy and childbirth. As long as the couple is having sex, the woman is desensitized to the semen. But she can lose that during the abstinent period and have a reaction once the fun resumes.

Because seminal plasma hypersensitivity is uncommon, it’s sometimes mistaken for other vaginal conditions and even STDs. It also can have some serious consequences. Patients desiring children have had to use an assisted reproduction technique that washes the sperm out of the fluid. The woman is then artificially inseminated.

Treatments vary from using condoms all the time to desensitisation, which can include a series of exposures to the offending semen starting with tiny amounts and working up. Bernstein has begun using a one-day series of injections containing isolated proteins from the man’s semen. More good news: The treatment can include instructions to have intercourse at least every 48 hours to maintain the resistance. There are worse therapies.

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First published in September 2009

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