Confession: I Was Allergic to Sex

I started having intercourse at 15. Besides the perpetual awkwardness of budding teenage sexuality and the occasional urinary tract infection (UTI), my first few casual sex experiences in high school were fun, comfortable and safe — what I would call “healthy.” 

Sophomore year, I entered a long distance relationship, and soon noticed that after my trips to visit my boyfriend, I would almost always get an infection. Assuming they were mild UTIs, I decided to treat them naturally, taking cranberry pills and applying Vagisil to soothe any redness and discomfort. As someone fairly new to sex who didn’t know much about the female body, this was my best guess.

It wasn’t until the summer before college when I realized something wasn’t right…that I might be allergic to sex. Uncommitted at the time, I had several post-graduation flings, as 18 year olds often do. But all of mine resulted in not just discomfort, but serious pain. When I went to the clinic for UTI meds, they asked if it could possibly be an STD. I had always used condoms, but quickly learned they don’t protect you from absolutely everything. I had also been the lucky recipient of oral sex recently, which made me doubly worried. But when they tested me, everything came back negative. That didn’t help my growing paranoia: a few weeks later I was convinced an ingrown hair was herpes. The doctor I rushed to see kindly reassured me, “It happens to everyone.”

The weird thing was all my tests for urinary tract infections came back negative, too. Doctors chalked it up to a fluke, since my symptoms aligned perfectly with those of UTIs. So I would take antibiotics, and eventually the pain would go away.

But when I had sex again, the pain would come rushing back.

Sometimes it got so bad that I couldn’t even leave my bed. Consumed with starting college, moving into my dorm and beginning classes, I decided I was just going to have to abstain from sex until I had the time to figure things out. That’s right: my first few months of true, total “freedom” at college and I wasn’t free to have college sex.

I eventually made myself an appointment with a urologist. The doctor told me that I probably had a short urethra, and would have to take a prophylactic antibiotic pill after every time I had sex. Every. Single. Time.

So I finally began having sex again. While happy about the knooky (woohoo!), I wasn’t psyched about having to get up immediately afterwards to take a pill (it really puts a damper on the post-sex pillow talk, cuddling and naps). Also, the antibiotics made me more prone to yeast infections — yes, yeast infections! Un-fun itching and discharge. On top of all that, I quickly began to realize that I was still allergic to sex, dealing with irritation and discomfort after sex.

I eventually entered a long-term, committed relationship. I was on the Pill, so my partner and I eventually stopped using condoms. Suddenly, the irritation went away! I was so happy. I just figured, somewhat naively, that my body was finally beginning to heal itself. Maybe I wasn’t allergic to sex after all. 

One day, I missed a birth control pill, so my boyfriend and I had to use a condom. Two days later, I felt the discomfort coming on. I was seething with anger. Why? Why now?  It wasn’t until I was standing in the CVS, staring at UTI pain medications, that it finally clicked:


I wasn’t allergic to sex but to condoms. But why were condoms the reason for my discomfort? Was it all condoms, or just some?

I rushed home to do some research. First I read that non-lubricated condoms and condoms with spermicide can increase the chance of infection, but I only used those kinds of condoms on rare occasions. Then I found my answer: mild latex allergies can irritate and swell the vagina, causing painful urination somewhat similar to UTIs. This explained my general redness and irritation. The reason the “infections” went away was because I would take a break from sex and my body would heal.

I went to my gynecologist, and she confirmed it. She suggested I use non-latex condoms, so the next day I picked up one pack of polyurethane condoms and one pack of lambskin condoms. As an animal lover, I was hesitant to buy the lambskin condoms, but I had heard that polyurethane condoms have a tendency to break. On the other hand, lambskin condoms do not protect against STDs. allergic to sex? try non-latex condoms.Unfortunately, before I had a chance to try either of these, my boyfriend and I broke up. By then, I was not as into casual sex, so I would just have to wait until I had a steady partner. The suspense was killing me. (At least my private parts weren’t!)

My next boyfriend and I tried polyurethane condoms first. Unfortunately they broke a few times. Even though I was on the Pill, I did not want to risk pregnancy by having condom malfunctions all the time. I wanted to try the lambskin condoms, but I waited until we had a long and important talk about STDs.

Finally, it was time to try the lambskins. And, wow! Not only did I not get any irritation, but my partner told me that it was the closest to that “nothing there” feeling he’d ever felt with a condom. Of course, these are not for everyone. Lambskins are expensive, they don’t protect against STDs, and, perhaps worst of all, they’re made from baby sheep intestines.

But since I can’t use latex, found polyurethanes unreliable, have a boyfriend whom I’m not worried about STDs with, and on top of all that have dietary restrictions which make vegetarianism impossible anyway, lambskin condoms are, much to my delight, the savior of my sex life. 

— By Miranda Levy, a major in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Elon University where she pens a sex column for its student-run lifestyle magazine, The Edge

Allergic to sex, but concerned about STDs?
Don’t Count Out Polyurethane Condoms
Try Polyisoprene Condoms!