What if having an orgasm made you terribly ill?
When I started drinking, my friends would say you have to look at a person in the eyes when clicking your glass because, according to popular knowledge, not doing so meant seven years without an orgasm. As many people do, I started drinking before even having sex for the first time, so I thought it was weird to be scared of not having an orgasm. Now this makes me think of the special importance we give both culturally and emotionally to orgasms and what the fear of not having them represents. But what would happen if it happened the other way around? Let me be more clear, what would happen if you had to force yourself not to experience it because it would make you sick?
Yes, you read it right, there’s a very rare disorder called Post-orgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS) that mostly affects men. What is this affliction about? Almost immediately or sometime after climaxing, patients start experiencing a series of symptoms similar to those of the severe flu or influenza. These include confusion, dizziness, severe muscle pain, fatigue, itchy eyes, and fever, among other symptoms that can last between three and seven days. After this, they spontaneously disappear. But do these symptoms relate to sex? Does it happen every time? To start with, POIS occurs only after ejaculation. It’s triggered after sexual intercourse, masturbation, or even night releases, so you can imagine how irksome it can be.
Although every day more men are diagnosed with this syndrome, its origins and causes, as well as a possible cure, are still a mystery. So far, the syndrome has been divided into two types: primary and secondary. The first one refers to those men who presented the symptoms right after having their first ejaculation while the second refers to those who develop it later in life. No matter the type, in both cases the symptoms are basically the same, although they depend on intensity according to each individual.
Now, scientists and doctors have been studying this without a clear idea of what triggers the syndrome. However, there are a couple of theories that are still to be confirmed with time. One of them is related to semen. While some doctors agree that it’s possible that this is an allergic reaction to a determined component of semen, others like Dr. Marcel D. Waldinger (neuropsychiatrist and head of the Outpatient Department of Neurosexology of the Haga Hospital, Netherlands) believe that it’s more related to an autoimmune affliction in which the body produces a set of cytokines (small proteins that regulate the immune system) that react to semen, creating that chain of symptoms.
The other theory has to do with an excessive release of hormones or any other chemical produced by the body at the moment of ejaculation. It's most likely that endorphins, the hormones that produce euphoria and pleasure, are the main cause. Endorphins work as an opioid that inhibits pain and produces those sensations. If the theory is right, patients with this syndrome produce excessive levels of the hormone, so the moment it starts fading away, the organism enters a state similar to heroin withdrawal.
This condition isn't just a medical enigma, but also a psychological one. Since little is known about it, there’s no cure for it, so patients who experience this debilitating affliction not only endure the horrors of physical pain and symptoms, but are also deprived of experiencing a regular and healthy sex life, not to mention the load of insecurities they develop as they believe they won’t be able to sexually satisfy a partner. This not only affects sexual intercourse but sex life in general, because even the possibility of being aroused can trigger ejaculation and the syndrome.
While men are the main target of this condition, there have been a few rare cases of women affected by POIS. In women’s case, it’s believed it’s originated or linked to the tissue in the genital tract and walls. All in all, the mystery surrounding the syndrome is also related to the lack of openness with patients. It’s believed that only one-third of the rare cases appearing are actually spoken, and for that reason, the studies haven’t been made as often as they should have. As with any condition affecting our body, it’s important to seek medical advice, not only to receive treatment, but to have more faithful statistics and studies.
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Images by @danielmarinmedina