Sexual Health

An Intimate Allergy: Reacting to Semen

Medical Reviewer:

Anthony Vavasis, MD

Medically Reviewed On: November 26, 2013

Semen allergy is sometime confused with recurrent yeast infections and sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes simplex virus type 2. Sometimes women have actually been told that they just have dryness and need to lubricate. Many times patients get frustrated because they've been through the gamut, or it hasn’t been acknowledged in a serious manner by their physicians.

Are these women more likely to have other allergies?
“We haven't demonstrated that being allergic to common seasonal and perennial allergens is a risk factor for this disorder,” says Bernstein. “There's been some suggestion that some existing food allergies or a family history of food allergies might be related, but that requires further investigation.”

Is it possible to have an oral reaction?
Yes, it's a possibility. But interestingly, experts haven't seen that very often. Women have reported developing acneiform lesions on their face after contact with semen. “But we've not had many women experience anaphylaxis or have localized vaginal symptoms after oral contact typically” says Bernstein. “It may be that many of these proteins are neutralized by something in the gastrointestinal tract.”

Can men have semen allergy?
It mostly affects women. However, researchers have not treated any men who have sex with men for this allergy. But they could be at risk.

Is there any relationship between semen allergy and infertility?
That's never been demonstrated. “All of the women we have treated have been able to go on and get pregnant,” says Bernstein. Since condoms are used as a treatment, semen allergy can prevent women from having unprotected intercourse naturally. But in vitro fertilization has been successful in these women.

What problems can it cause?
Experts haven't seen any fatality, although it's certainly possible for a woman with a severe allergic reaction. However, this allergy can be very disruptive to interpersonal relationships. “I have seen people who have gone on to find different partners because the allergy was unique to the individual that they were with,” says Bernstein.

How is this allergy diagnosed and treated?
Condoms are obviously the best in terms of avoidance. The couple should don them before they start having intercourse, since there's usually semen leakage during the act. If condom use isn't helpful, then you have to be concerned about whether semen allergy is really the right diagnosis.

“At the University of Cincinnati, we treat semen allergy by desensitizing women to their sexual partner's semen with injections similar to regular allergy shots,” says Bernstein. “We've had over 95 percent success with this treatment, but it's a laborious and costly process and it's hard to get insurance to cover it.”

Also treatments used to treat seasonal allergies, such cromolyn sodium and oral antihistamines, have not been helpful, either.

What advice would have for a couple with this problem?
First of all, it's important to make sure that women don't have any other kind of underlying problems or issues. The man should stay hydrated before and during intercourse because dehydration can cause a concentration of semen and more acidity. If there is a problem, the couple should try using condoms and see if that prevents the symptoms from occurring. “If all those things have been done and they still have a problem,” says Bernstein, “then I think that the couple needs to contact a board-certified allergist who might be able to help them at least get started.”

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