Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Tuteur is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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FEBRUARY 7, 2009 6:21PM

Cosmo warns that an orgasm can kill!

Rate: 13 Flag


 I’ll admit it right up front. I fell for it.

I was standing in line at the drugstore when I noticed the cover of the March issue of Cosmo. The bottom right hand corner declared, “An Orgasm Almost Killed Her.” I’m a gynecologist, and I couldn’t think of what the mechanism might be for an orgasm to be fatal, but they included the subtitle “We Are Not Kidding” so it must be true. Medicine is constantly changing, and perhaps Cosmo might be the first to provide this important new information.

The article detailed the story of a young woman who had a stroke immediately following intercourse. Is it accurate to say that orgasm caused the stroke? It could have, but it is far from clear that there was a direct link between the orgasm and the stroke.

When the young woman who developed symptoms of a stroke shortly after sexual intercourse, her boyfriend rushed her to the hospital. Doctors found that a blood clot had blocked off part of her brain, causing the stroke symptoms. A review of her medical history revealed that she was at particular risk for blood clots because she was on the birth control pill. The Pill increases the risk of blood clots developing in the legs, and anyone who has other risk factors for blood clots should not take the Pill.

This patient had no contraindications to taking the Pill, and had she been like most other people, the blood clot in her leg should not have posed a threat of stroke. Unbeknownst to her, however, the young woman also had a small hole in her heart.

Everyone is born with a hole in the heart, called the foramen ovale (oval opening). The hole is there because the fetal circulation, when oxygen comes in through the umbilical cord instead of the lungs, is very different from the circulation after birth. In the first few moments after birth, the foramen ovale is supposed to be closed off by a flap of tissue. In this woman’s case, the flap did not cover the hole completely.

Because of this small hole within her heart, the blood clot that broke free of her leg vein traveled up to the heart, where it should have stopped, and crossed over to the other side of her heart and began the journey to her head. It lodged there, cutting off the circulation to a small part of her brain and causing the symptoms.

So the Pill caused the blood clot, and the hole in her heart allowed the blood clot to reach her brain, but is it true to say that an orgasm caused the clot to break free? It is possible, but then so are a lot of other things. Change in position like rising from a long period of sitting to standing can cause a clot to break free. Increased intra-abdominal pressure, like that caused by cough, could have also detached the clot. In fact, something as unglamorous as straining at a bowel movement, could also have caused the clot to be released into her bloodstream.

A blood clot is not the only way that you can die from sex. Anyone who has an abnormal blood vessel in the brain is at risk for bleeding into the brain if the blood pressure rises, and sex can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure. For those with heart problems, sexual activity can lead to a heart attack. For those with heart problems who are cheating on a spouse, the risk of a heart attack appears to be even higher. It must be the added effect of guilt on the blood pressure.

I feel a little embarrassed for being tricked by the headline into reading the magazine. However, on further reflection, I’ve decided that Cosmo has performed a public service, in the way that only Cosmo can. Blood clots in the leg are a rare side effect of the birth control pill. Patients receive written information about this side effect, but most probably pay no attention. After reading this story, it’s unlikely that anyone will forget the association between the Pill and blood clots.

That’s Cosmo for you: selflessly searching out stories of sex related medical problems in an effort to keep young women up to date with the latest health news. An orgasm almost killed that young woman. Don’t let it happen to you.

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I read about this woman on AOL news at least a year ago. Why is it making the cover of Cosmo now?
I had a gyno friend who told me one day that he was perplexed how, each month, his younger patients often asked the very same, or similar question. Finally (I forget how he made his discovery) he learned that they were getting the questions from Cosmo. He became a subscriber so that he would be forearmed.

I have a question. Once after a very vigorous bedroom session which, however exciting it was, did not result in an orgasm for me but instead I suffered the most immediate, excruciating headache I have ever had. I thought I was having a stroke. Gradually it went away and it's never happened again.

What's up with that?
Allie Griffith:

"Why is it making the cover of Cosmo now?"

I don't know. It's hard to believe that they had other sex and death stories they wanted to tell first.

"instead I suffered the most immediate, excruciating headache I have ever had."

That's a phenomenon known as post-coital headache. According to

"An Headache that occurs during sexual encounter especially during orgasm or immediately after that is called coital cephalgia. This headache belongs to the category of exertional headaches. As the phrase suggests this type of headache is caused due to physical workouts or exercises."

You can read more about it at Headache Updates, under post-coital headache.
Very interesting article. rated
The tone of this piece is funny, Amy. Sarcasm becomes you.
Must have been good.
Rotflol!! I This was closer to "le grand mort".
I KNEW those orgasms were up to no good!
...but what a way to go, eh?
Two thoughts:

1) Remember the episode of "Hill Street Blues" where Jon Conrad's desk sergeant character dies, as Officer Renko puts it, "Planting his flag, so to speak?"
2) Even if orgasms could kill, it wouldn't stop guys from going for it. We're guys, after all!
I never read Cosmo when I was the age of its target audience, which I believe must be the 17 to 25 year old group. But now that I'm older (and a dominatrix) I subscribe to it and actually find some of their articles downright interesting. Recently, it had an article about a young woman who got some kind of genetic test to see if she would get a family disease, and it was pretty sobering. But yeah, their sex-oriented articles are pretty tedious -- they love to refer to a woman's breasts as her "twins" or her "pair" or some other bizarre wording that real woman would never use.

Mistress Aubrey the Dominatrix
Their sex articles always irritate me (not necessarily this one, just in general) because they are so focused on men. "25 ways to please your man" "What he's really thinking when you're naked" "His secret desires" etc. The last cosmo I bought was last year and I couldn't even read the whole thing it was so annoying. Now, if they start coming out with articles like "Best solo sex toys 2009" or "How to take control of your orgasms" or whatever, I might read that, but you still can't reinvent the wheel.

Anyway, nice post. I actually know a woman who was involved in a class action lawsuit against the people who made the patch because she got a DVT while she was on it. She didn't smoke, and she was in her 20's, and she still got a blood clot.
"That's a phenomenon known as post-coital headache"

So that's how it is. Women complain about post-coital headaches, but for us guys, we suggest bedroom activity, and all we hear about is pre-coital headaches!! Just kidding. Love your posts Amy.
If I may be so bold to defend Cosmo, its cover blurbs made you pick it up. Magazines play a number of roles in our information-hungry society. Cosmo serves that demographic of women (18-34) who typically want to read about taboo subjects; subjects that perhaps weren't breached in school or by their parents, yet are often front-and-center in pop culture and social circles--in this case, relationships, which the editors dedicate the greatest percentage of editorial to writing about (almost 30%).
The magazine tags its primary reader as “the fearless female.” As sensationalist, shallow and medically incomplete as this article might appear to an MD, I suspect that having read it allows a doctor to broach the topic with the next woman who wants to start taking birth control pills, or who is at higher-than-normal risk for blood clots or who has high blood pressure, for that matter.
Cosmo relates to its readers, and speaks the language of pop culture, which I don’t condone as being correct, just popular. The risk of blood clots while on the pill are real, yet when I was first visiting the Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, all the potential risks associated with taking the pill went in one ear and out the other.
So, Dr. Amy, don’t be embarrassed by the cover blurb that sucked you in. It did its job quite well considering you aren’t even the magazine’s demographic. May I also say that I don’t believe Cosmo is right, just popular, and doesn’t that in itself deserve some respect and recognition?

Rated for taking magazines to task for not always being as thorough in their content as they could be.
Well, I don't like to brag but post coital headaches are a specialty of mine...
Somyr Perry:

"don’t be embarrassed by the cover blurb that sucked you in. It did its job quite well considering you aren’t even the magazine’s demographic."

The folks at Cosmo are extremely clever at creating teaser headlines that work. As someone who tries to create teaser headlines for my own writing, I can only stand in admiration. Cosmo recognizes one of the basic laws of publishing: an article isn't of much value unless you can get people to read it.
This is almost good as the Cosmo spoof edition that National Lampoon put out a while back. Feature story: "How to Tell if Your Man is Dead!"
I had a GF who had a stroke during sex (not with me). She found out, at age 20, that she had a dime size hole in her heart. She wore a brace on her right leg and arm. It took her about three years to walk right. She was trooper the whole time and didn't complain.
Please forgive me, I have to ask. If I'm having sex with my wife and she strokes out and dies am I good in bed or am I a murderer? If a person is masturbating and has a fatal stroke on completion did they commit suicide or did they just have a really good time?
bobbot. Precisely why I don't go to porno theatres. I'd hate for a loved one having to ID my body, and finding out where they found me.
Those Cosmo headlines! My daughter left a recent issue around the house, with one that read "Am I Normal Down There?". On taking a peek at the article, it consisted of (and I'm not paraphrasing by much) Q. "It doesn't feel snug in there, am I normal?" A. "His dick is too small"
Do orgasms cause death?

They can if you are cheating on your spouse.
Well, we do know that they're associated with 'the little death'...