Aunt Vadge: body swollen after sex

Hello Aunt Vadge,

I been having this problem for a year. I was single for ten years, and had no sex with a man, until I finally meet this guy I like. We have sex, and he ejaculates inside of me the first and second time.

Well the next day I bloated up – I thought I was pregnant because days passed, and I was so swollen, breasts, swelling of legs, etc. But I wasn’t pregnant at all. This sounds like a sperm allergic reaction… ’cause til this day my stomach is still bloated. This happened after sex, and it’s the first time this has happened to me. 

Help!
Swollen

_____________

Hi there Swollen,

That is a very curious problem you have encountered there. It does indeed sound like semen allergy, which can present as local symptoms on and in the vagina and labia, but also be present in the entire body. This condition is known as Human Seminal Plasma Hypersensitivity.

Generally allergic reactions come quickly (from immediately to hours later), and then dissipate again so long as the cause is removed. A long-lasting allergic reaction is uncommon when the cause is removed.

Semen allergy is characterised by an allergic reaction occurring after semen comes into contact with vaginal tissues. This occurs most often through sex, but can occur through semen-covered fingers, toys and if you are doing a DYI version of friendly fertilisation, via a turkey baster full of semen.

The allergy appears to stem from prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which is a component of semen.

You already know that you have likely had some sort of reaction to your sex partner’s semen, but the big question now is how to solve the ongoing swelling you have and further to this, see if you can resolve the allergy.

The problem sounds like an immunologic one, which is far out of the scope of vaginas, so in fact you are going to have to get expert help on this. It would be highly unethical of us to even attempt to figure out what is going on with your immune system at this point, without you getting further testing by someone who can see you, talk to you, and examine you, taking blood tests if necessary to see what’s going on. Although this started in your vagina, it may not actually be a vagina problem per se, but an immune system problem.

What to do in the meantime

1. Avoid semen

Do not, under any circumstances, get semen on or in your body. If you are having sex, do so with a condom  until advised further by a professional. (Some types of treatment for this allergy include desensitising you by actually introducing semen into the body to ‘get you used to it’, with some success.) (Male or female condoms will work.)

2. Keep a diary of your symptoms

Write down dates, what your symptoms are and were, and use a scale out of ten to describe each of them. This might look something like,”First sex with semen inside in 10 years, 10 December 2013, reaction started 24-48 hours later, included swelling of legs 5/10, breasts 6/10, rash on chest severity 8/10 (10 being the most rashy/itchy/painful/swollen), low energy 2/10, tired” etc.

Anything that seems to have changed, including feeling better or worse. Keep this diary of symptoms so you can see what has changed, and what has stayed the same, and also what causes improvements, and what exacerbates it. This will be useful and important information for any practitioner  you see. Memory fails, so write it all down now, in excruciating detail, for help in the resolution of this problem. Write it daily, even if nothing changes, write “nothing changed”.

3. Reduce inflammation to temper the allergic response

Immunity is a tricky beast, but it will only ever be helped to normalise by acting to reduce inflammation, even in small ways. You can find information on anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle choices across the internet, but the gist of it is increase your omega-3 fatty acids (eat more oily fish, raw nuts and seeds, and take a good quality fish oil supplement in a high dose – at least 750 EPA and DHA per day), eat a lot of vegetables and salads, lean meats, and wholegrains.

Importantly it also includes staying away from inflammatory foods and drinks: anything fried, fatty, sugary and salty (junk food and fizzy drink/soda). Wheat and dairy can cause problems for many people, so reduce or stop eating these at least temporarily until your problem can be examined in more detail.

This is a big change for many people, but an important part of reducing inflammatory allergic reactions, as well as being generally well and healthy. Even if you are not having an allergic reaction, these important changes to what you put into your body will only benefit you until you can get to the core of the problem. Look online for ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ for recipes and the foods that are the most helpful in reducing inflammation.

Who to see

You need to book an appointment with someone who can examine  you and get an in-depth history from you about not just this allergic  reaction, but others you may have had in the past including to foods, plants and insects, and to look at your diet and lifestyle and see if there is anything that can be adjusted to reverse the response you seem to be having.

You don’t mention where you live, so if you can’t afford to see a doctor, your local sexual health clinic may be able to help you at least initially, and provide you with further resources to point you in the right direction for free or low-cost appointments.

Because the problem has been ongoing for a year or so, it means you are likely not in any danger of keeling over from it, so the choices you have of practitioner widen significantly. A qualified and experienced natural medicine practitioner (a naturopath or herbalist) will be very well-placed to help you with this.

A good practitioner will be able to also advise you further to go to see a doctor to determine further courses of medical action and testing, while also examining you in a full and proper way, asking you about your history and giving you some comprehensive advice regarding your situation.

Because this is an immunologic reaction for which the origin is actually at this point unknown (it might not be semen allergy at all), you need to be tested to see what you are reacting to. A doctor can prescribe you medication that could help to resolve the problem – if they know what it is.

It is completely abnormal for this reaction to have continued without an obvious cause, and indicates a deeper problem. You do need to see someone, the sooner the better. It can be easy to get used to these problems, but just bite the bullet and see someone – make sure this person is good at what they do, has lots of experience, and is qualified.

Check out our article on semen allergy. 

Thanks so much for your email, and we look forward to hearing how you went. Let us know!

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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