Sneezy does it: Sex, sneezing, and sneezing fetishes
Woman: (sneezes and moans several times)
Man: “Excuse me, but is everything OK?”
Woman: “Yes, it’s just that I have this condition where every time I sneeze I have an orgasm.”
Man: “Are you taking anything for it?”
Woman: (smiling) “Yes. Pepper.”
Apologies for starting this blog with an old joke but I thought it was a good way to bring up the relationship between sex and sneezing. There are reports in the medical and psychological literature dating back to the 1890s of sexually induced sneezing in both men and women. The phenomenon is characterized by sneezing during sexual arousal and/or orgasm. In such cases, these individuals sneeze as a direct result of sexual thoughts, arousal, intercourse, and/or orgasm. Furthermore, the sneezing may occur at any point during a sexual experience, and most importantly occurs independently of any external nasal stimuli or allergens.
The first verified report of the phenomenon was thought to be in 1898 when John Noland Mackenzie wrote about the phenomenon (“The physiological and pathological relations between the nose and sexual apparatus of man”) in the Journal of Laryngology, Rhinology and Otology. A few years later (1901) reference was also made to the condition in George Gould and Walter Pyle’s Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. I managed to track down the original quote about a man:
“who, when prompted to indulge in sexual intercourse, was immediately prior to the act seized with a fit of sneezing. Even the thought of sexual pleasure with a female was sufficient to provoke this peculiar idiosyncrasy”.
More recently, and based an a paper submitted to the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeffrey Wald, a specialist is asthma and allergies, was quoted in the US newspaper Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (September 6, 1988) about the of case of an American middle aged man who continuously sneezed following sex. He attributed the sneezing to “vasomotor rhinitis”, a condition in which the nasal passages are chronically inflamed (and characterized by hyperactive or imbalanced control of the central nervous system responses).
Even more recently, I read an iteresting paper by Dr. Mahmood Bhutta (Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, UK) and Dr. Harold Maxwell (West Middlesex University Hospital, Middlesex, UK) entitled “Sneezing induced by sexual ideation or orgasm” published in a 2008 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Bhutta and Maxwell’s paper cited a case from 1972, a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association involving a 69-year-old man who suffered severe bouts of sneezing after orgasm or whenever he thought of sex.
In their paper, it was noted that both men and women were using online forums to seek out help or explanations for their experienced phenomenon. These people often felt embarrassed about bringing up the matter with the medical profession, and preferred to seek help and advice anonymously. They also reported on these online data and noted (i) three people who claimed they always sneezed after orgasm, and (ii) 17 people who reported that they sneezed immediately when they thought about sex. They speculated that the link between sex, orgasm and sneezing was most likely caused by a fault in the autonomic nervous system (i.e., the part of the nervous system that is involved with heart rate, blood flow and digestion). They argued that the nerves that control breathing, blood pressure, pupil construction, sneezing and digestion run close to each other in the brain stem. They speculated that light-sensitive sneezing and sex-related sneezing occurred when these signals became “muddled”. Dr. Bhutta told the BBC in an interview:
“[The relationship between orgasm and sneezing] certainly seems odd, but I think this reflex demonstrates evolutionary relics in the wiring of a part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. This is the part beyond our control, and which controls things like our heart rate and the amount of light let in by our pupils. Sometimes the signals in this system get crossed, and I think this may be why some people sneeze when they think about sex”.
Dr. Bhutta also told the BBC that embarrassment or social inhibition may have prevented others from admitting the problem to the medical or psychological community. Another potential explanation may relate the fact that – like genitalia – the nose also has vascular (erectile) tissue, which has the capacity to become engorged during sexual arousal, and triggering a sneeze. Others have noted the ejaculatory-like qualities of the sneeze, and 1980s television ‘sexpert’ Dr. Ruth (Westheimer) observed that “an orgasm is just a reflex, like a sneeze”.
On a related issue, there is also a condition that has been coined “honeymoon rhinitis” in which men and women experience nasal irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose during sex. Spanish medics led by Dr J. Monteseirin published a small article in a 2001 issue of the journal Allergy. They reported a study of 23 allergy sufferers (9 women and 14 men), all of whom had experienced sneezing, rhinorrhea, and nasal obstruction immediately after (but never before or during) sexual intercourse (lasting for approximately 5-15 minutes). The research team also got all 23 participants to climb two flights of stairs on three separate occasions to equate to the energy expenditure during sex but none of them suffered any rhinitis following the task. The exact mechanism by which sex initiates and/or facilitates honeymoon rhinitis is not known. However, the authors speculated that emotional excitement and anxiety may be the trigger factors for post-sex rhinitis rather than exercise.
For most people, sneezing is just a common every day biological act. However, for some, a sneeze appears to be much more and something sexual. If you think sneezing fetishism is rare, just type “sneeze fetish” into Google and see what you get. There are loads of dedicated websites on sexual and sensual aspects of sneezing.
- Sneeze Fetish (“Celebrating the sensual sneeze”)
- Serotica (“Dedicated to fiction combining sneezing and sensuality”)
- Sneezing Fetish Online (“Dedicated to the fetish of the human sneeze”)
- Diary of a sneeze fetishist (“Exploring the origins, development and impact of one woman’s fetish for sneezing”)
Here is one snippet I came across from a male (Greg, from Arlington, Virginia, USA):
“A gentleman with whom I have a mutual interest in companionship told me that he becomes sexually aroused when an attractive man sneezes. He said it makes no difference whether the sneeze is authentic or simulated. (He has never asked me to “fake” one for him; I told you, he’s a gentleman. And no, as fate would have it, my allergies have remained in check during the times we’ve been together, so I’ve not had occasion to observe his reaction firsthand.) My friend tells me that other folks, gay and straight, have this fetish”
Despite the many sites, I know of only one academic paper on sneezing fetishes. This was published over 20 years ago by Dr. Michael King in a 1990 issue of the journal Sexual and Marital Therapy. Dr. King reported the case of a 26-year-old homosexual male who was sexually aroused by observing other people sneeze and who also had an obsessive fear of vomiting in public. He was treated for his fear of vomiting with desensitization techniques, resulting in a rapid improvement in the man’s vomit phobia. Treatment was also attempted for the sneeze fetish through the use of covert sensitization. However, it had little effect on the man’s fetishistic impulses. Following this, he was taught to use thought-stopping techniques to reduce his preoccupation with fetishistic sneezing. I also came across a first person female account in a 2001 issue of The Straight Dope:
“I do know that my first love of sneezing came from the Smurfs. I doubt anyone else ever looked twice at a little blue sneezing midget (aptly named Allergic Smurf). Then, there was that scene in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, the one where Alice is trapped inside White Rabbit’s house and has her nose tickled by smoke. I remember sitting entranced in front of the television set, watching that scene over and over and over again. As I grew older, I kept on watching out for sneezes on television shows. If I happened to see one, I would rush over to where the blank cassettes in our house lay and whip one out for the express purpose of taping the sneezes. [I married a man with] the most adorable stifled sneeze I’ve ever heard [and then divorced because] there was a hell of a lot more to making a relationship work than enjoying a great guy’s sneezing over the weekends”
After the break up of her marriage, this particular woman discovered a sneezing fetish site on the Internet, and fortuitously met a man with “photic sneeze reflex” (also known technically as ‘photoptarmosis’ but more colloquially called “sun sneezing” – comprising uncontrollable sneezing in response to numerous stimuli such as bright light). While sexual aspects associated with sneezing appear to be rare, there is more than anecdotal evidence suggesting that for a minority of people, this is not a subject to be sneezed at.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bhutta, M. F. & Maxwell, H. (2008). Sneezing induced by sexual ideation or orgasm: An under-reported phenomenon. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 101, 587-591.
Foxhall, K. (2010). The Myth of “Seven Sneezes Equals an Orgasm”. February 7. Located at: http://kelly-foxhall.suite101.com/the-myth-of-7-sneezes-equals-an-orgasm-a198861
Gould, G.M. & Pyle, W.L. (1901). Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. London: W.B. Saunders.
King, M.B. (1990). Sneezing as a fetishistic stimulus. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 5, 69-72
Mackenzie, J. N. (1898). The physiological and pathological relations between the nose and sexual apparatus of man. Journal of Laryngology, Rhinology and Otology, 13, 109-123.
Monteseirin, J., Camacho, M.J., Bonilla, I., Sánchez-Hernández, C, Hernández, M. & Conde, J. (2001). Honeymoon rhinitis. Allergy, 56, 353-354.
Posted on April 11, 2012, in Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychiatry, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged Honeymoon rhinitis, Orgasm, Paraphilia, Photoptarmosis, Rhinology, Sex, Sneezing. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.