The old standby “not tonight, I have a headache” may have it all wrong. A 2013 study by European neurologists suggests sexual activity is an effective treatment for relieving some (or all) of the pain of a headache. Researchers from the University of Münster in Germany asked 1,000 chronic headache and migraine sufferers to fill out a questionnaire related to their sexual activity and their headache experience. The researchers found that more than half of those who had sex during a migraine experienced significant relief from their symptoms afterwards.
Why Sex Works as a Natural Headache Remedy
German researchers theorized that sex might be a good way to get rid of a headache because it triggers the release of feel-good endorphins in the body.
“This is a normal physiological reaction,” says Dr. Stefan Evers, one of the study’s lead authors. In addition to creating feelings of happiness and contentment, one of the other lucky side effects of that natural reaction during sexual activity may be a reduction in the sensitivity to pain. (You get a similar release of endorphins from exercise.)
The caveat? While sex can be beneficial, it’s not a cure-all for headaches. Not every headache sufferer involved in the study reported experiencing the benefits of a post-coital endorphin rush, and a third found it actually worsened their symptoms. Also, the pain-relieving side effects of sex seemed to be more helpful for men who suffered from migraines than it was for women.
People who find their headache pain increases during sex should look for other therapies for pain relief. Other natural options that may help include meditation and abdominal breathing exercises, as well as cognitive behavioural therapy, says Dr. Ana Cartagena, a neurologist and headache specialist at London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont.
“Headache sufferers should also take a preventive approach to migraines,” says Cartagena. “Pay particular attention to maintaining good hydration, obtaining regular sleep, eating regular meals and getting regular exercise.”
Related: How to meditate your headache away