Can You Be Allergic to Semen?
We love sex, and sex education – that’s why we’re here! To learn more about our bodies and find ways to experience more pleasure, advocate for reproductive health, and understand sexual wellness. Sex isn’t always straightforward. It usually isn’t, at least not at first. There can be so many hiccups and learning curves when you start to have sex, and evolve through your sexual journey, with yourself and with different partners. One hiccup that can arise during or after sex is an itchy and uncomfortable vagina and vulva.
Yes Your Vagina Can Have Allergies
Your vagina can have allergies, just like any other part of you. Its moist and sensitive mucus membrane can make it an ideal place for an allergy to start acting up.
Some of the most common vaginal allergies are to:
- Soaps and skincare products
- Vaginal cleaning products
- Period supplies like tampons and pads
- Condoms, diaphragms, and dental dams
- Laundry soap
- Lube and spermicides
- The material of your clothes, especially underwear
These aren’t the only things your genitals can develop an allergy to. You can probably guess by the title, but an allergy to semen is also totally possible. Whoa!
A Semen Allergy? For Real?
An allergy to sperm or semen is a real, diagnosable condition called seminal plasma hypersensitivity. Just ask your dermatologist! No for real, a dermatologist is one of the people that can help you navigate and *overcum* your unfortunate allergy. Back to basics.
A semen allergy is just what it sounds like. An allergic reaction after exposure to semen or sperm. Allergies occur when the immune system develops antibodies against a specific allergen. In this case, it would be to specific proteins in seminal fluid and/or sperm.
Symptoms of a Semen Allergy
Depending on the severity of the allergy, symptoms may be localized to the area where semen got on you, which is usually around the genitals, or they may be generalized and popping up throughout the body. About 31% of people affected experience only localized symptoms, 28% experience systemic ones, and 39% experienced both localized and systemic symptoms.
These are the most common symptoms of a semen allergy:
- Itching and swelling at points of contact
- Red, itchy welts
- Swelling of the area beneath the skin, especially if it happens rapidly
- Exacerbation of asthma after sex or exposure to semen
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, and throat
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
If you experience any symptoms of anaphylaxis, which is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, you should seek emergency medical attention. Look out for these symptoms:
- Wheezing or coughing
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Confusion and anxiety
- Clammy skin
- Losing consciousness
Researchers have not found a correlation between semen allergies and infertilities, however, it can certainly complicate conception.
What Causes a Semen Allergy?
There aren’t any exact statistics for how common this allergy is. Experts estimate it affects about 8% of women in the United States. Unfortunately, there aren’t statistics that include different genders outside of cis-women. About 40% of women who have a semen allergy will start to show symptoms after their first time having sex – if their partner produces semen.
Although it’s not common, some people don’t start to show symptoms until after the hormonal changes of menopause. Seminal plasma hypersensitivity is more common in people with atopy – a genetic predisposition to allergic diseases like asthma and eczema.
Like other allergies, people can develop a semen allergy after life changes like:
- Reproductive or hormonal changes like pregnancy and menopause
- Gynecological surgery like a hysterectomy, insertion of an IUD, tubal ligation ‘getting your tubes tied’, if your partner reverses a vasectomy
Diagnosing a Semen Allergy
A lot of vaginal allergies and infections can have similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to get to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms. If you’re concerned you might have one, your provider will want to rule out other possibilities like the allergies we listed before.
Another important thing to rule out is another form of vaginal infection like bacterial vaginosis, thrush, or a yeast infection. Other possibilities include sexually transmitted infections like herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, and gonorrhoea.
After ruling out other infections and vaginal issues, your provider will do a vaginal exam, and then do a blood test or skin prick test to determine if there is indeed an allergy. This skin prick test is typically done using semen from your partner.
Treating a Semen Allergy
A semen allergy can be a total pain in the…vagina. Good thing you have some options as far as treatment. Most often people have a semen allergy no matter who they’re having sex with, but sometimes it can be only to certain partners.
Here are your treatment options:
- Avoiding contact with semen by using condoms.
- Taking an antihistamine 30-60 minutes before having sex.
- A desensitization treatment protocol.
- For people with systemic reactions, they can keep an adrenaline autoinjector on hand in case of an anaphylaxis reaction (Epi-pen).
If you think you have a semen allergy, it’s time to contact your healthcare provider. You can still have an enjoyable, thriving sex life, as long as you have the right tools!
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.