New study sheds lights on a rare condition that causes illness after orgasm

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published March 17, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Post-Orgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS) is a rare disease that can occur in men after ejaculating.

  • While exact presentations of the illness vary, it can produce up to a week of flu-like symptoms and impact a person’s mental health and sexual confidence.

  • There is no cure for POIS, but doctors can work with patients to address symptoms through medicinal treatments and lifestyle alterations.

Can orgasm make you sick? For some people, yes. A new study published last week highlights a rare condition that does just that.

Post-orgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) is a rare disease that can surface after orgasm. It is more common in people with penises (who ejaculate when orgasming) than in people with vaginas.[]

There is no treatment for the condition, and the exact causes are unknown. But those who develop it can experience various symptoms—including distress in their romantic and sexual relationships. 

What is POIS?

POIS is characterized by a range of flu-like symptoms that develop minutes to hours after the person has ejaculated and can persist for a few days to a week after. Early-onset symptoms include sensations like feverishness, fatigue, and burning eyes, and delayed-onset symptoms like burning eyes or cognitive disturbances like mood changes and trouble concentrating. Symptoms vary person-to-person but are generally consistent within one person if they develop the condition more than once.[] 

The condition is rare but may not be as rare as current reports say. Due to a lack of diagnostic testing for the disease, some cases of POIS may be underreported.[] According to the Journal of Rare Diseases Research & Treatment, there are about 50 cases of POIS in various literature. The exact number of occurrences is unknown.[] 

Martina Ambardjieva, MD, urology resident and in-house medical expert for sexual health website Bedbible, estimates that her urological examination office sees two to three patients, usually male, with the condition per year. 

“As far as I can tell, there are more people that need medical attention. Patients are often misdiagnosed and given the wrong treatment by other medical specialties,” says Ambardjieva. “Additionally, many people affected by POIS do not seek medical assistance. So POIS is likely under-reported and under-diagnosed.”

POIS’ impact on sexual function and desire

In addition to the physical and mental symptoms of the disease, POIS can lower a person’s desire to participate in intercourse—or masturbation—and could take a toll on their sex life with a partner if they are in a relationship that prioritizes sexual intimacy. Some symptoms could also impact their ability to achieve an erection, mimicking erectile dysfunction.

“Patients with POIS may experience a range of symptoms that are similar to those associated with erectile dysfunction, such as reduced sexual desire and difficulty achieving an erection,” says Ambardjieva.

She adds that current scientific evidence does not connect POIS to erectile dysfunction, but it is possible that the condition could overlap in some people.

What causes POIS?

While the exact cause of POIS is unknown, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggest it is most likely an auto-immune disease. Some research suggests it is triggered by specific cytokines that can be released in reaction to a man’s seminal fluid. []

Researchers have proposed different theories about whether the reaction comes from seminal fluid bound to sperm versus prostatic tissue. The latter indicates that females could also develop the condition, although on even rarer occasions, according to NIH. Other theories exist, too.[]

“Some experts believe the condition may be caused by an allergic reaction to one’s own semen or sexual secretions,” says Ambardjieva. “Others think it might be related to changes in hormones during sexual activity or even an immune response triggered by stress or anxiety related to sex.”

POIS diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose POIS, you may need to rule out other conditions and diseases and administer an intradermal skin pick, which can test for autologous semen.[]

Treating POIS can include addressing physical and mental symptoms of the disease, albeit recognizing that there is no cure. This can consist of both medicinal and lifestyle interventions.

Medications can include antihistamines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or antidepressants. Lifestyle measures can include avoiding orgasming or refraining from intercourse altogether. Some people may also want to undergo therapy to address the mental health impacts of their conditions, says Ambardjieva.

Regardless of the line of treatment they end up pursuing, “it’s important for people who suspect they have POIS to consult with a healthcare professional before self-diagnosing or attempting any treatments on their own,” she adds.

Physicians working with patients who experience these symptoms should assist them with a treatment plan or direct them to a knowledgeable provider, such as a urologist, to reduce the chances they are self-managing the condition. 

What this means for you

Post-orgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) is a rare condition that can occur after orgasm. If you have a patient who reports developing persistent flu-like symptoms after sex, talk to them about the duration of their symptoms and their history of other diseases, and consider administering a skin-prick test for POIS.

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