A lot of non-medicinal things can help relieve a stuffy nose: a hot drink, spicy food, a trip to the steam room—and, an orgasm?
You read that right. A recent segment on the TV show The Doctors featured a guy who was convinced every time he masturbated, his stuffy nose cleared up.
So is it true? Can clearing up your congestion be just one of the many health benefits of sex? We asked our experts.
And to our surprise, the short answer is yes.
“Sexual activity and arousal beginning with foreplay activates the sympathetic nervous system,” says Michael S. Benninger, M.D., chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “That results in nasal constriction and essentially shrinks the nasal turbinates (blood vessels) and increases nasal airflow and [allows for] easier breathing.”
But how exactly does it work?
Your orgasms are controlled by your automatic nervous system, says Ryan Berglund, M.D., urologist at the Cleveland Clinic. And it has two parts: your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s fight-or-flight responses, and your parasympathetic nervous system, which does routine housekeeping to aid function of your organs.
During different phases of sex, both are at play.
Think about sex in four phases, says Landon W. Trost, M.D., urologist at the Mayo Clinic. These include: excitement (foreplay/pre-erection), plateau (when you’re fully erect and in the act), orgasm (ejaculation), and resolution (the post-orgasm return to ‘normal’).
During the first two phases, your body is ‘gearing up’ for sex—this is your sympathetic nervous system at work.
“This controls the release of the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline),” says Dr. Trost. That causes the blood vessels in your nose to constrict, making you feel less stuffy by reducing inflammation.
Plus, the pleasurable feelings during sex can help you forget about the misery of your blocked-up nose, too.
“The feel-good hormones of serotonin and dopamine are released during sexual arousal and orgasm,” says Dr. Trost. So also may be less miserable and focused on the fact that you have a stuffy nose.
But it doesn’t last forever: During orgasm, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to restore your body to its less-excited state. After ejaculation, there is an immediate decrease in adrenaline, says Dr. Berglund.
And the result? The nose-clearing effects of sex will begin to fade as your adrenaline decreases. You’ll only feel those nasal decongestant effects for about 20 to 60 minutes after you finish, says Dr. Trost.
In fact, you may end up feeling worse after you orgasmed than when you started sex in the first place.
“As the parasympathetic system takes over, you can actually get a rebound congestion that is worse than your steady state, and you may get increased nasal discharge or drainage,” says Dr. Benninger.
So don’t consider sex as your permanent nose-clearing solution. If you are struggling with nasal congestion, you can try some of these remedies, too.
1. Exercise. When you work out, your body is getting that surge of adrenaline, the same mechanism your body uses when having sex, says Dr. Benninger. So you can expect similar nose-clearing benefits, too.
2. Saline irrigation. Use a saline spray or an irrigation tool to help moisten your nasal linings and clear out the thick mucus that may be making you stuffy, says Dr. Benninger.
3. OTC meds. For temporary relief, try oxymetazoline (Afrin) works quickly. It works by shrinking the blood vessels in your nose, reducing congestion, and will last for 12 hours. For longer use, try an intranasal steroid as it can significantly reduce congestion both in allergic and non-allergic nasal conditions—though it takes longer to kick in, says Dr. Benninger. Or try an intranasal antihistamine which may be effective particularly in people with allergies, says Dr. Benninger.
As for what you should skip? Avoid decongesting pills that contain pseudoephedrine, says Dr. Benninger. Not only can they dehydrate you and keep your mucus thick, they can come with side effects like increased heart rate and difficulty sleeping.
By Emily Shiffer