Sex with a Cold: Can it Decongest a Stuffy Nose?

Sex with a Cold: Can it Decongest a Stuffy Nose?

Sex: unexpected remedy for a stuffy nose?

A stuffy nose can be a rather annoying symptom of colds and other winter ailments: what if we told you that going to bed could help relieve nasal congestion, but not necessarily to take a nap?

In addition to nasal sprays, decongestant teas, aerosols, and over-the-counter medications, sex appears to offer one surprising benefit, which is to offer temporary relief from nasal congestion. This potential effect of sexual activity deserves critical appraisal. So let’s see for what physiological reason it is plausible that sexual intercourse with orgasm can work as a remedy for stuffy nose: let’s only anticipate that the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system has something to do with it.

A “Nobel Prize” research

There has always been promising scientific research on how to derive additional health benefits from routine behaviors and habits. Who doesn’t want to feel good drinking coffee or eating chocolate ?

The study by some German and British researchers, led by Dr. Olcay Cem Bulut of the Heidelberg University Hospital, published at the beginning of 2021, which earned them the Ig Nobel prize for medicine. The study supports the contention that orgasmic sex can relieve congestion and improve nasal function in a similar way to a decongestant spray (Bulut OC, Oladokun D, ​​Lippert BM, Hohenberger R. Can Sex Improve Nasal Function?—An Exploration of the Link Between Sex and Nasal Function. Ear, Nose & Throat Journal. 2023;102(1):40-45).

What are the Ig Nobels?

The Ig Nobel Prize (where “Ig” stands for IgNoble, i.e. not noble, and plays on the assonance with the much better known Nobels) is a prize awarded to celebrate ten unusual or trivial results in scientific research: it has been organized every year since 1991, from the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) journal.

The Ig Nobels are awarded to “honor achievements that first make you laugh and then make you think,” in a ceremony presented at Harvard University, followed by public lectures by the laureates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

How does it work

Why can having sex (with orgasm) reduce nasal congestion?

The soft tissues of the nose contain many blood vessels, called turbinates. These blood vessels function in a similar way to the erectile and labial tissues in the genitals: They can swell. Swollen tissue in the nose can block the nasal passages, creating congestion and making breathing more difficult.

During arousal, the sympathetic nervous system (the one that triggers the fight or flight response) kicks into action. Just like when you exercise, adrenaline levels rise and blood vessels constrict: Less blood flow to your nose means less inflammation, so your nose opens up and you can breathe easier.

However, this phenomenon can evoke an annoying side effect: as you get relief from the congestion, you may emphasize the rhinorrhea (or runny nose ). This can happen during or after sexual activity.

What connection exists between orgasm and the nose?

The theory of ” reflex nasal neurosis ” was put forward by the German otolaryngologist Wilhelm Fliess, a close friend of Sigmund Freud, in 1897: both believed that neuroses were mainly caused by sexual problems.

Fliess theorized that there were specific “genital points” in the inferior nasal turbinate that affected genital function, then postulated that reflex nasal neurosis was based on the important physiological connection between the nose and the genitals: yet, his theory failed scientific scrutiny and vanished into the darkness.

However, it is known that exercise, as well as hormonal changes can have an effect on nasal airway resistance in the short and long term. Movement causes, for example, an improvement in nasal flow and this benefit persists up to 30 minutes after practicing the activity.

As far as the most recent scientific literature is concerned, there are studies linking an improvement in nasal flow in case of congestion to both sex (understood as intercourse with orgasm) and male ejaculation (i.e. with a focus only on men: Zarrintan S. Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males, Med Hypotheses, 2008 Aug;71(2):308). In summary, the effect of orgasm (also valid for that obtained with masturbation ) is comparable to that of using a nasal spray within 60 minutes. Unfortunately, after this period, the application of the nasal spray is more effective and the effect lasts longer.