Intimacy & Migraines

With Valentine’s Day just passed, I wonder how many people with chronic migraines tried desperately to have dates with their spouses or partners. Perhaps plans were made and reservations were set.  But, regardless of high hopes for a special night, you woke up with a migraine and were unable to follow through. Hopefully your partner accepts the fact that this reality is not your fault, but your biology. Whatever the case, on a day that celebrates love, how do we, as chronic migraineurs, achieve a healthy romantic life when we are in severe pain so much of the time?

Asking for it

It is awful to consider that the simple act of having sex, due to exertion, or the wonder of achieving orgasm, can either cause or worsen a migraine. Indeed, if we are prone to migraines triggered by sex, we might feel we are asking for an attack if we pursue sexual activity. Accepting the idea that having an orgasm might trigger a three-day migraine is a hard pill to swallow, no matter how great it feels in the moment.

I’m fascinated by a study of migraineurs that showed only 30% of respondents had experience with sex during a migraine. A very interesting finding. Perhaps the most interesting finding of all because it illustrates that 70% of migraineurs had no experience whatsoever having sex during migraine. The statement, “not tonight dear, I have a headache,” rings true.  Who wants to have sex when they have a migraine?

Close Your Eyes

If you don’t have migraines, imagine this for a moment: You have chronic migraines, and severe pain is a frequent, even daily, part of your life. Now, imagine experiencing a reprieve – a window of time when you are finally feel free of pain and its accompanying symptoms (nausea or sensitivity to light, sounds or exertion). What an amazing moment that is. You never know how long that window of wellness will last before the pain returns. It is easy to imagine being a bit fearful that your actions might trigger its return.  On the other hand, think of all the things you'd be so eager to fit in and enjoy that you'd been unable to do: catching up with work, friends or family. Now, ask yourself: would you immediately choose to risk your wellness by doing something that has in the past triggered or exacerbated migraine pain and caused it to last for days on end?


Some would say, sure! Why not? Chronic migraines can cause major stress and strain in a relationship. Therefore, seize every opportunity of wellness (especially when those opportunities are so few and far between) to physically connect with your loved one to emotionally solidify and strengthen all other aspects of a relationship. Why not jump at the chance? And maybe, just maybe, a migraine won't be triggered.  For some, sex even alleviates migraine pain.

Will you be Mine?

Like with everything in relationships – communication is key.  Make sure your partner knows what works for you and when. Talk about how migraines are impacting your intimacy and overall relationship. The following talking points might give you some guidance- but try to bring them up in the light of day when there are no conflicts afoot and not in the midst of, or right after, sexual intimacy.

  • You and your partner may have to work out a realistic understanding regarding frequency of sexual encounters. The national average of having sex is somewhere between 2 and 8 times a month. That might be laughable to you. Everyone’s different. Whatever works for you, it can feel like a relief to come to an agreement on a realistic average number.  Doing so can mean a break from rejections for your spouse and being released from any pressure to perform for you. 
  • It may be the case that the person with migraines will have to be the key initiator as only s/he will know when the time is right in terms of pain.  This also keeps the spouse/partner from repeatedly encountering rejections when s/he innocently initiates during migraines.
  • There may be times that it'd be best to avoid an orgasm if that triggers a migraine. To that end, explore other ways to be intimate that might not trigger or worsen migraines.
  • Ensure that your partner knows that your lack of availability/ability to be there as frequently or actively as either of you want, is no reflection of your level of desire, adoration and love.
  • Shower your partner with gratitude and appreciation. Whether it be with your words, or thoughtful actions (nothing big- maybe a note some random morning on the fridge saying "I love you"), try to demonstrate how thankful you are to have your partner in your life.

Lastly, many chronic migraineurs learn that date nights are often a recipe for disaster. Expectations get raised and with them stress and migraines arise. Sometimes, the best way to proceed is with spontaneity. If you find you’re feeling good in the moment, go find a restaurant that can seat you right away.  While you might have had to cancel date night on February 14th, you can always have your own special Valentine’s Day on a night that you feel your best.

Do migraines impact your ability to be intimate? How so?  And how do you navigate your way around the challenges it presents?

Cephalalgia. 2013 Apr;33(6):384-9. doi: 10.1177/0333102413476374. Epub 2013 Feb 19.
The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: an observational study.
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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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