Semen Allergies Are A Very Real Thing That Make Sex A Bit More Complicated

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
People can be allergic to all kinds of things: strawberries, peanuts, cats, pollen, dust. But did you know that some people are allergic to semen? Yes, semen allergies — also known as human seminal plasma hypersensitivity — are a real thing and for people who experience them they can be annoying and confusing AF.
Symptoms of a semen allergy are easy to confuse with other things, like some STIs, yeast infections, or even traditional allergic reactions. Common symptoms include things like redness, swelling, pain, itching, and a burning sensation in the vagina that starts somewhere around 10 to 30 minutes after you have contact with the sticky fluid.
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Symptoms aren't always limited to the vagina. They can occur in the mouth or as a rash on the skin, too. They also aren't limited to women; anyone can have a semen allergy, and some people can even be allergic to their own semen.
"It is an immune system reaction as with other allergies. People react to a protein within semen resulting in symptoms such as vaginal redness, itching, burning sensation and sometimes pain," Dr. Rob Hicks, GP and author of Beat Your Allergies, told Broadly last year. "Rarely it can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening severe allergic reaction."
Mechi Estévez Cruz, 28, has an allergy to semen. "[If I get semen in my mouth] it makes my mouth feel super swollen and itchy. My throat feels itchy and then my stomach ends up feeling very unsettled. In my vagina it was worse," they told Refinery 29. "I realised I was allergic because I went to the ER for something and they insisted I had an STI because my vagina was so swollen."
Semen allergies are rare. The most current study, conducted two decades ago found 12% of women had probably semen allergies, but there have been only around 100 confirmed cases in women. The first known case of a semen allergy was reported in 1958. However, it may be more common than we think since it's a relatively unknown condition. It's also possible to be allergic to one partner's semen but not another's, and to develop a semen allergy at any point in your life.
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Rachel K., 35, has a skin allergy to semen. "When semen gets on my skin it starts to burn and turn red," she tells Refinery 29. "The first time it happened I was 17. My boyfriend and I were fooling around and he came on my chest. I thought it would be sexy to rub it around, but it started BURNING. I had to run to the bathroom and wash it off."
So, if you are one of the people affected by a semen allergy, what can you do? The simplest solution is to use a condom. Another option is desensitisation, which is having sex a couple times per week until your body develops a tolerance to a partner's spunk. Desensitisation can also mean having intravaginal injections of increasingly stronger dilutions of a partner's semen.
Estévez Cruz always uses condoms when they're with a partner who produces semen, and blow jobs are off the table. "If a person can't handle that then it's on to the next person," they said. "It's so uncomfortable and painful I'm not trying to experience that for anyone."
What about when someone is trying to get pregnant and a partner's sperm is necessary? If the allergy is severe enough that a person can't tolerate the semen, intrauterine insemination or IVF can be an option. It's totally possible to become pregnant with a semen allergy, it just might be a bit more complicated.
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