No matter what your more experienced best friend tells you, sex is complicated. Just as there are a wide variety of positions in which people can enjoy a romp in the sack, there are also a range of sensations they can experience if or when they orgasm. Among them, according to a study published last month in Sexual Medicine Reviews, are sneezing, crying, foot pain, and even flu-like symptoms.
Researchers in the Maryland/DC area call these different, seemingly unusual physical or psychological symptoms "the peri-orgasm," and reviewed past studies to better understand these rare phenomena. After distinguishing a definition for a "usual or normal orgasm," they identified a list of symptoms they'd heard about throughout the course of their careers to input into a literature search; coupled with "orgasm" and "post-coital," terms included "weird," "altered state of consciousness," "cataplexy," "hallucination," and more.
It's unclear how many people experience these peri-orgasmic responses. One study highlighted in the review found that in a small sample of 47 women, 50 to 75 percent reported an expanded sexual response, specifically in that they had the experience of unreality, the perception of seeing different colored flashing lights or felt like they'd left their body. A larger portion of the sample (76 to 100 percent) reported the urge to cry after an orgasm.
Other cases in the report highlighted focal bodily sensations, such as face or foot pain. One study reported on "a 55-year-old woman who developed spontaneous orgasmic sensations in the left foot after a stay in the intensive care unit complicated by hyperpathia and dysesthesias of the left foot. When she experienced a vaginal and clitoral orgasm, it would be 'immediately followed by the same orgasmic sensation in her left foot.'"
There were also numerous examples of orgasm-associated headache in the literature: According to their research, the review's authors found that a sexual headache could last up to three hours. Other studies shed light on Post-Orgasm Illness Syndrome, "a postejaculatory syndrome in men consisting of severe fatigue, intense warmth, and a transient flu-like state." In addition, the authors found evidence of an association between sneezing and sex dated back to the 1900s, and there were a few cases where an orgasm even induced seizures, thanks to lesions in parts of the brain associated with pleasure.
What researchers didn't find in their review, despite anecdotal reports they'd heard, was evidence that documented drooling, nausea, queefing, and swearing as responses associated with orgasms. They also didn't find any medical literature to support laughter and itching as post-coital responses.
James Simon is a clinical professor at George Washington University and one of the authors on the review. He says this is the first compilation of these rare cases that he's aware of. "So now," he tells Broadly, "having many of them listed in one place with appropriate references, a medical professional faced with a patient who has one of the phenomenon can just look it up, and hopefully reassure the patient (and/or partner) that she is not alone, or crazy or imagining these experiences. Doing so might also help to formulate a treatment should that be needed. As with most rare phenomena, knowledge is power."
Megan Stubbs, a sexologist and relationship expert, agrees. "I think any time we can shine a light on what the human body does or can do is a benefit to us. It's like in the Middle Ages, we didn't know what was going on. We thought, 'Oh no, hysteria! Her uterus is wandering all over the place.' Through research, science and education, we get to learn more about what our bodies are doing and what that means."
"As far as this orgasm research goes," she continues, "this is great because it can help normalize certain behaviors, reactions or things people are experiencing without having them be fearful about what their body is doing. Some people may cry when they orgasm, or the sneezing thing. Instead of them being like, 'What's happening, what's wrong?' they're like, 'Oh that's just normal, that's one thing that can happen.'"