Sperm allergy: is this the end of Carmen’s sex life?
What is it like to have a sperm allergy? Is it the end of sex and love? A true tale of sex, love, and having an allergy to sperm.
Will a sperm allergy be the end of Carmen's relationshop and sex life?
What is it like to have a sperm allergy? Is it the end of sex and love? This is a true tale of sex, love, and what happens when you develop an allergy to sperm.
I had a rule about dating guys I met on the train. Don’t do it.
I also had a rule about rules. They’re meant to be broken, especially when impossibly handsome men are involved. So when Rashad* walked onto the almost empty Metro car, long wool coat and dreadlocks swaying in slow motion, and sat directly next to me, I had a decision to make. I followed my gut and put on my flirty girl eyes.
Despite having some first date anxiety, our first date lasted all night. He was a complete gentleman – funny, charming, and down-to-earth. We fell asleep on his couch, talking about everything.
I beamed home the next morning. Too excited to do anything else, I called my best friend. “I don’t want to sound crazy,” I said, “but I think he might be The One.”
The awesome sex
The following week, we spent almost every single day together. It was easy to drop the innocent act. Being young and fairly inexperienced, it’s fair to say that sex with Rashad was the best I had ever had at that point.
It was exciting, passionate, and tender. Better yet, since I felt a genuine connection with him, I wasn’t afraid of having regrets. I wasn't afraid of having uninhibited sex. I felt so safe.
That was until my vulva became swollen. Suddenly, all of my warm feelings and smiles and giggles at cute text messages melted down into a bubbling cauldron of “WHAT THE @#$%!” And it felt like I was sitting right on top of it.
The yeast infection diagnosis
I made the awkward call to my gynecologist.
“What’s the reason for this appointment?” the receptionist asked.
“I need to get tested,” I said.
“Alright, and what do you need to be tested for?” She needed specifics.
“Everything.” It was the best I could do.
The results? A yeast infection. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out. I had had one when I was in undergrad, and consistently wearing my leotard from Basic Modern Dance through my African American Studies seminar. Though I hadn’t remembered it being quite so intense, I did remember it was totally treatable.
The yeast infection medications
So I went to the pharmacy and then back to Rashad’s apartment. Our budding love was advancing, and I expected to be back in top shape in a week or so. However, a few weeks went by with no improvement. I made another doctor’s appointment and then another. They wrote prescription after prescription, and everything I took only seemed to be making it worse.
Our relationship was still moving forward, despite the fact that we were living in a state of forced abstinence most of the time. By the time we “made it official” about 6 months in, I was experiencing a constant cycle of yeast and BV (bacterial vaginosis) infections that lasted most of every month.
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The sexual blues
I was worried, I was aggravated, and most of all, I was embarrassed. Who wouldn’t be? I certainly was. I had found the perfect guy, and my vagina and vulva seemed to betray me. Rashad was extremely understanding through the whole ordeal, though I could tell he was sometimes frustrated.
More than setting my nether regions ablaze, my vaginal infections consumed my mind and ripped at my self-esteem. I felt the post-sex blues.
Rashad and I continued to push ahead, but I second-guessed everything. What was he feeling? Did he think I was dirty? Was I dirty? Did I have an STD? Was he cheating on me? Did he give me an STD? Was he telling people? Why was he still here?
I had come into this relationship with my issues, but mostly confident and carefree. However, my vaginal nfections had become far more than a nuisance. Each day I spent feeling inherently unwell in the most sensitive part of myself ate away at me. I was losing something and didn’t want to lose Rashad, too.
Time for home vaginal infection remedies
Something had to be done. The doctors hadn’t been any help, so I took to Google and tried almost every home remedy for vaginal infections that came across my screen.
I drank apple cider vinegar cocktails.
I made apple cider vinegar douches.
I took apple cider vinegar baths.
I went through tubs of yogurt.
I applied essential oils.
I hydrated constantly and rarely had alcohol.
Goodbye red wine, hello room temperature water with a plate of lemon wedges. (Wait, lemon’s no good? Ok then, just the water, please.)
Ubiquitous among the internet’s advice for curing vaginal infections was the idea that I needed to let my kitty kat breathe. Since a little ventilation was all she required, I did away with all of my lacy, silky underthings. It was strictly cotton or commando for me. Speaking of fresh air, breatharianism became an option for the first time in my life.
I cut virtually all sugars and starches out of my diet, along with many proteins and even certain types of veggies.
I did unholy things with cucumbers. And although the cloves of garlic I shoved up there changed the nature of my vaginal symptoms (a little less cottage cheese, a little more aioli), at the end of the day, nothing really worked.
Sperm allergy: was I developing an allergy to sperm?
And then I found the cause of my swollen vagina and vulva. After hundreds of Google searches deep in the interwebs, I came across the personal blog of a young lady who had dealt with almost my exact experience.
She recounted the agonizing physical symptoms of having a sperm allergy and the emotional weathering of her situation: the shame, the self-doubt, the strain on her relationship. I saw myself clearly in her story and found enlightenment in its conclusion.
After years of struggling (and the medical gaslighting), it was determined that diet, clothing, chemicals, and the like had little if any bearing on her chronic vaginal infections. Instead, it was a reaction to her partner’s bodily secretions. She was allergic to her lover. She had a sperm allergy.
Talking about my sperm allergy
I took this new information to Rashad. Given the sensitivity of the situation, I beat around the bush, so to speak, quite a bit before getting to the point.
“So, you know how I’ve been doing all this research on the… ummm… on my… umm… vaginal situation?”“
Yeah,” he said, eyebrows slightly raised. He looked so hopeful. Poor guy.
“Well, I found something on the internet that I hadn’t read before. There’s this woman, and I was reading her blog, and it seems like she had the same things going on as I do now. I mean all of it. She had all the symptoms, tried all the same things, and nothing was working…”
“Babe,” Rashad looked at me with so much damn compassion that I almost burst into tears. “Just spit it out.”
I took a deep breath. “Well … she had an allergic reaction to sperm … she was allergic to sperm … her boyfriend’s sperm. She had a sperm allergy."
His head snapped back a bit. “Wow! … Can you be allergic to sperm?” he said.
Then after a few seconds of quizzical looks – a moment in time that felt like an eternity to me – he asked, “Wait. So you think it’s me?”
Yes, said the voice in my head. “Maybe, just maybe, I have a sperm allergy.” I shrugged and said aloud.
My stomach was knotting, but I found a modicum of courage somewhere inside. I squared up.“Look,” I said. “There hasn’t been any other explanation that has made as much sense as this one. From what I've gathered, having an allergic reaction to sperm is rare, but I think this is what we’re dealing with. I could have a sperm allergy. This has never happened to me before, and it didn’t start until I met you.”
He sighed. I looked down. I didn’t need eyes to see that Fate was donning its black hood and stepping up to the block.
“Well…” Rashad said. I braced myself for the blade.“What can I do if you really have a sperm allergy?”
The guillotine had failed to drop. I was amazed. I was confused. I was sucked even deeper into love.
I wasn’t, however, prepared to answer that question. The only solution I had been able to find online entailed a medical procedure in which the woman was exposed to trace amounts of the man’s semen and allowed to develop a more desirable immune response, basically vaccinating her against whatever it was that was making her react to reduce or prevent the sperm allergy.
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Insurance companies usually only covered this process for married couples, and it wasn’t a sure shot. Neither of us had thousands of dollars to spend, much less on something that might only work.
Still, Rashad tried… some things. Not experiencing the sperm allergy symptoms himself, he wasn’t quite as inclined to make the drastic lifestyle changes I had made in searching for a solution. (It’s hard to tell a twenty-something rabid sports fanatic that he’s going to have to give up his beer.)
He did make some valiant efforts, though – doctor’s appointments cleanses, etc. He started eating cleaner and buying more organic products. He even downed the bitter herbal concoctions I brewed up for us in my makeshift kitchen laboratory. Overall, Rashad was a great sport and a really good man.
Did I have a sperm allergy or was I allergic to Rashad?
I continued my quest for a cure for my sperm allergy, experimenting with this and that, but I also continued to spiral. Despite both of our efforts, I was still allergic to sperm. I was suffering, and somehow the fact he was trying so hard made me feel even worse. I was tired and depressed and ready to give up, but how could I give up on someone who loved me enough to stick with me through all of that?
Even when I did break up with him – when I felt I had to for my sanity, for my health, for my vagina's health, for our ultimate happiness – didn’t last long. Inevitably, I ended up back in his arms, aflame. I couldn’t help it. Through no fault of his, our relationship had created deep-seated insecurity in me that it seemed only his love could assuage.
Sappy and sad, I know. It’s even a little shameful. I was allergic to our love, but I was also addicted to it, and I just didn’t have the strength to go cold turkey.
It took us nearly six years to wean ourselves off of each other. A few years ago, I went to see Rashad one last time. It was to be an official goodbye. We were moving to opposite corners of the country.
We spent the day together, revisiting some of the places we had loved most as a couple. Our favorite Greek restaurant, the lake, and a farmers market. We ended up back at his tiny apartment, watching movies, making jokes, and talking about everything. We made love one last time.
I drove away the next morning with tears streaming down my face. Waves of nostalgia had rocked me the night before, and I was still reeling. Then, as I made the left turn out of his neighborhood, I realized something. I was fine. No vaginal itching, no burning, no swelling vulva, no allergic reaction to sperm.
Although I was an emotional wreck, physically, I was okay.
I took it as a sign. Perhaps it always had been. He wasn’t The One.
Goodbye was the only cure for my sperm allergy.
Carmen R. H. Chandler
Carmen R. H. Chandler, the author of "Sperm allergy: is this the end of Carmen’s sex life?" is the creator of the online community The Body Temple, where she writes and provides culturally relevant wellness information for women of color.