So you’ve just had a quickie in the bathroom stall, you pull up your underwear and do the walk of shame when you suddenly get an itch. You could have contracted an STI… or maybe you’re allergic to semen. Either way you’re going to the doctor.
Dr Michael Carroll says doctors often misdiagnose the symptoms because of their similarity with other conditions such as dermatitis and some sexually transmitted diseases.
A lecturer in reproductive science at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Carroll says his unpublished research indicates that up to 12 percent of women may have the condition. He says it appears underdiagnosed, partly because those affected are too embarrassed to see a GP.
Women aged 20 to 30 are thought to be worst affected, displaying reactions immediately, or up to an hour, after sex. Those with the allergy react adversely to all men’s semen.
Australian scientists believe this sensitivity could be a factor in another common and often debilitating condition – endometriosis, which causes painful or heavy periods.
Endometriosis is caused by the endometrial cells lining the womb migrating to the ovaries, the lining of the pelvis behind the uterus and the top of the vagina. It is also linked to infertility, with up to half of infertile women having the condition, says Endometriosis UK, adding that the cause is unknown and has no cure.
It is not only women who can suffer. In rare cases, men can be allergic to their own semen. Symptoms include a flu-like illness, with pain, redness and discomfort affecting the head, eyes, nose, throat and muscles, extreme fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
Research four years ago, by Dutch investigators in The Journal Of Sexual Medicine, identified 45 men with the problem. The symptoms occurred only after ejaculation, indicating the men were protected so long as the fluid remained in their testes.
Doctors are still developing ways to help women. Korean doctors reported in 2011 that they had helped a 33-year-old woman with severe allergic reactions to semen, including breathing trouble, to become pregnant by giving her antihistamine tablets to take one hour before making love.
Doctors at St Mary’s Hospital and the Department of Immunology at Central Manchester University Hospital, meanwhile, reported in the journal Human Fertility in 2013 that women with a high risk of anaphylactic shock from the allergy can be made pregnant by removing their partner’s sperm from the fluid and then implanting it.
Just another reason to practise safe sex.