“I have a headache.” We have all been there. Our lives often seem so over-scheduled with working, carpools, kids activities, running to the grocery store, prepping dinner, and then realizing we barely have enough energy to greet our significant other with a smile. It’s hard to imagine that we could manage to muster up some romance amid this scenario.
We owe it to ourselves to understand if it’s really a headache we’re fighting or there is another reason to not partake in an evening of romance with our loved one. How disabling can a headache really be?
The science behind the excuse
Severe migraine attacks are classified by the World Health Organization as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active psychosis. The actual attack of migraine can be brought on by many factors. Stress, lack of sleep, allergic foods, travel, and weather changes are some of the most common causes. Mostly women, unfortunately, suffer the burden. It is unfair but true that women are three times more likely than men to have migraine after puberty. 
Many women believe that their head pain is often dramatically affected by the fluctuation in their hormones. Results of a 2014 study conducted by Head and Neck Research center in Norway, 1 out of every 5 female migraneurs in their early 30s experience migraines in greater than half of their menstrual cycles. (2) These migraines are often quite disabling and more severe. These attacks are often refractory to abortive medications than those that are non-menstrually related. (3) We may make light of this condition with the cliché used above, but the fact is that migraine is a serious disorder that requires medical attention.
When women prefer to defer sex due to a headache, it’s important to determine that their headaches are not induced by the sexual activity itself. Nevertheless, in this scenario, men are more likely to complain, and can be prone to a condition known as orgasmic headache.  These headaches are more common in men than women, are sudden onset, and occur at the point of orgasm. Generally, these attacks are innocent, but it imperative that anyone who experiences these types of headaches have a thorough evaluation by their physician to exclude any worrisome causes of this type of pain, such as an aneurysm. 
Physiologically speaking, the act of having sex actually increases the stress hormones — cortisol, norepinephrine and dopamine. Thus, sex can actually help some individuals in the midst of a migraine. Some may develop a migraine and some can be relieved of one. That is truly an odd mixed message!
Getting back to the subject of romance, our bodies produce hormones and neurotransmitters that are needed to enhance the desire for sex. Hormones such as oxytocin and progesterone help us feel loved and calm. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine give us the motivation, enthusiasm and pleasure of a sexual experience.
Unfortunately, with our overstressed and driven lives, we deplete these hormones and neurotransmitters, which allows us to manifest pain. In addition, we can lose the motivation and desire to have sex altogether. If we can get that loving feeling back via these hormones and neurotransmitters during the sexual act, we may find relief in our migraine.
Revive the romance, improve the migraine condition
Here are some steps you can follow to reduce your headaches and improve your romantic life, and help those headaches at the same time. There is no question that improving the disability of migraine will improve one’s well-being and lead to an increase in the pleasure centers that lead to a desire to have sex in the first place.
1) Reduce your stress with yoga. Yoga has one of the most restorative effects on your mind and body. Start with one restorative or hatha yoga class per week and simply observe how your mind and body transform. If you can add more, please do as it will only lead to more benefits down the road.
Keep in mind that intense yoga or yoga done in heated rooms may overtax your hormones and neurotransmitters and actually deplete you. I recommend calm and restorative yoga to rebalance your hormones and settle your mind so you can better handle stress with calm. Yoga can also help with your flexibility, and that can help with your sex life because, well… you know!
2) Schedule 10 minutes daily to quiet your mind. Ideally, this is best done in the morning before you start your day. You don’t have time, you say? Just set your alarm 10 minutes earlier and try this for a week. Start with a positive thought every morning. Once you get out of bed, sit in a soothing spot in your room, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and visualize a beautiful day unfolding with your goals being met. Imagine peace and harmony, and feel grateful for what you have. I have yet to find anyone who has done this not report back feeling more energized and focused after one week. It really works and it’s unbelievably simple.
3) Bring balance into your life. Look at the week ahead, preferably on Sunday evenings, and organize your days more efficiently. Consider buying a monthly calendar and listing your tasks for each day. Yes, write these down on paper, not into your iPhone. Set up carpools and do not feel afraid to ask others to help with driving. Decide on your dinner menus and possibly even your work outfits in advance.
While it may seem to take a lot of time to do this, it actually can be done in as little as 30-60 minutes. The benefits are priceless. You will wake each day with a vision of what needs to be accomplished and which child needs to be where. You will feel more even and calm during the day. I often add calming supplements to help stay on task and balance the adrenals during this time.
Follow the three steps above for a week, and then try a month if you can. I promise you will start to feel vibrant, happy, and yes, romantic! You will feel that enthusiastic, playful self return you may have once had, even if you have a busy career or home life.
Migraine is a serious neurological condition, and those who suffer are not complaining of “just a headache.” Migraineurs want to partake in the enjoyment of life and living. I believe that everyone has the power and ability to bring balance and pain freedom into their lives. Start with a few simple principles and add more when you are ready. The goal is to seek happiness and harmony in ourselves, so we can give that happiness and joy to others around us.
- Lipton RB, Stewart SW. Epidemiology and comorbidity of migraine. In: Goadsby PJ, Silberstein SD. Headache. Boston, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann; 1997; 75-96.
- Frese A, Rahmann A, Gregor N, Biehl K, Husstedt I-W, Evers S. Headache associated with sexual activity: prognosis and treatment options. Cephalalgia. 2007;27:1265-1270.
- Kjersti G V, MacGregor, EA, Lundqvist, C, Russel, M. Prevalence of menstrual migraine: A population based study. Cephalalgia. 2014: 34: 280-288
- MacGregor EA, Hackshaw A. Prevalence of migraine on each day of the natural menstrual cycle. Neurology. Jul 27 2004;63(2):351-353.