Overcome by semen allergy


  • Ask Dr G
  • Sunday, 25 Oct 2015

WE have not seen blue skies or proper sunshine for two months. It is frustrating, to say the least, and of course somewhat worrying how the haze can impact long-term health. For most, the presence of haze is a nuisance resulting in irritation of the throat and upper respiratory track. For others, it may exacerbate asthma or even induce allergies.

John Warner, the American Republican politician and a World War II veteran (perhaps best known as the sixth husband of Elizabeth Taylor) once said; "About 20% of the American population believe themselves to have food allergy and only 5% actually do."

On the other hand, Jeremy Rifkin, the American economic theorist, political advisor and activist stated; "the American public is not aware that there might be potential allergenic and toxic reactions."

So, when it comes to facts and myths of allergens in our environment, are the realists simply outlining the exaggeration of the scaremongers? Or the activists are highlighting the state of affairs to empower the sufferers?

I am not going to talk about the haze anymore, or its association with sex (not that I can find any link - at least not yet!). We are going to unravel the modern medical story of obscure origin. We are going to scrutinise the supporting evidence and scientific basis of an allergy to a human secretion. We are responding to a reader's concerns of a "semen allergy" and emphasise the reality of this medical complaint, which is not an urban myth.

Dear Dr. G,

My name is Kwan. I am twenty-eight years old, and I have a problem.

My wife is twenty-six, and we have been married for two years and trying for a baby with no luck so far.

We have a very healthy sexual relationship and plan for intercourse during my wife's fertile period every month. The strange thing is, my wife complains of pain after intercourse. She said the pain can be quite bad and can go on for a few days. This has obviously caused some concern and strain in our relationship.

I do not remember having such problems when we first met.

Ok, I admit we started having sex two years prior to getting married. But, most of the experiences were with protection. Now, I am puzzled why she began to have such problems without condoms.

I did some research about you and came across a podcast of an interview you did on a local radio station. I understand you interviewed Dr Ken, who is an allergy specialist, talking about semen allergy.

I assumed semen allergy was an urban myth and am intrigued to find out if my wife truly suffers from it. I am worried - and keen - to know how people can develop a reaction to another person's bodily fluid?

How common is this? Can this be cured? Is it life-threatening?

Does that spell the end of possibility of parenthood for us?

Please help. Thank you in advance.

Kwan

Semen allergy is indeed an actual medical condition but is exceedingly rare. Truthfully, I had not come across the phenomenon until my interview with Dr Ken. The reaction is also called seminal plasma hypersensitivity. This is usually caused by the adverse aversion of women to the proteins found in a man's semen, instead of the spermatozoa itself.

Seminal allergy has inconsistent manifestations. It can occur for the first time during initial sexual contact. Some women may have allergic reaction to one partner, but not with others. It is also not uncommon for women to have a spontaneous reaction, despite unprotected intercourse with the same partner for many years.

The allergic reaction to semen should only happen with unprotected intercourse. Women who experience pain and rashes after intercourse can be tested for semen hypersensitivity by an allergy specialist. The diagnostic test is an intra-dermal injection, where small amount of the partner's semen is injected under the skin to verify the reaction of hypersensitivity.

Typical symptoms of the allergy are redness, itchiness, pain and a burning sensation in the vagina about 20 minutes after contact with semen. Such reaction can persist for a few hours or even days after the contact. The reaction can affect other areas of the body that comes into contact with the semen, including the anus, mouth and skin. In more serious cases, some women can develop rashes, hives and swelling in other parts of the body. Serious adversities such as difficulty in breathing or even anaphylactic shock have also been documented in medical literature.

Seminal allergy is frustration and can cause tremendous strain in a relationship. It is particularly infuriating when the couples are attempting to conceive naturally. Thanks to the advancements in Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART), semen can now be depleted of the offending proteins to facilitate pregnancy.

Ironically, the definitive treatment for seminal allergy is to have frequent unprotected intercourse. A New York-based allergy specialist, Dr David Resnick, devised a treatment regime called the "Intra-vaginal seminal graded challenge". In the procedure, an allergist places the partner's semen into the vagina every 20 minutes and gradually increases the concentration until the women cannot tolerate the pure semen. During the treatment, couples are also instructed to enhance the tolerance by having sex in every two days.

John F Kennedy once said: "Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own belief. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others." In the face of uncertainty of sperm allergy, resulting in strain and uncertainty of fertility. Only commitment to love-making can ensure tolerance, and the oppressive semen to be overcome!

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