Hot and Bothered: Can I be allergic to semen?

Dear Sexpert,

I have had several sexual partners since I became sexually active in high school. I had never experienced discomfort during sex, but recently I noticed that when I have sex with my current boyfriend, wherever my skin comes into contact with his semen, it turns red and becomes irritated. After intercourse, my vagina is red and puffy too, not just my skin. We can’t use condoms because I have a severe latex allergy, but I am on birth control, so we aren’t worried about unplanned pregnancy. Could I be allergic to his semen too?


Dear HotAndBothered,

It is entirely possible that you have an allergy to the specific proteins in your boyfriend’s semen, which is a condition known as human seminal plasma protein hypersensitivity, or SPH. You could either be allergic to the common proteins found in most men’s semen, or be allergic specifically to proteins found in your boyfriend’s semen in particular. Given your previous sexual experience and noted lack of discomfort, it is likely that the latter is the case. Symptoms of SPH include genital discomfort, hives, itching, localized pain, redness, swelling, , and trouble breathing. Typically, people suffering from SPH exhibit symptoms 20 to 30 minutes after intercourse or skin contact; the symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to several days (in more severe cases). The severity of the allergic reaction is dependent on the specific body chemistries of you and your sexual partner.

However, it is entirely possible that you are suffering from something other than SPH. Redness and itchiness in the vaginal area are also symptoms of yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and certain sexually transmitted infections, particularly chlamydia. To be on the safe side, it is best for you to visit Sexual Health and Wellness Services at UHS—they can conduct a number of noninvasive tests to determine whether you are suffering from SPH, or something else easily treated with antibiotics. If you and your boyfriend are not using protection because you are allergic to latex condoms, and you have not used protection in the past with other sexual partners, it is possible that you could have contracted an STI and have only recently begun exhibiting the symptoms.

If it turns out that you do in fact suffer from SPH, there is no “cure,” but there are a couple of treatment options. Since you’re allergic to latex, you should look into latex-free condoms, not only of the male variety but of the female variety as well. A condom will keep your skin and vagina protected during oral and vaginal intercourse, as well as during hand jobs. It is possible to desensitize yourself to your boyfriend’s semen, but you should talk to a healthcare provider to decide if that is the best option for you.

~The Sexpert