Welcome to Ask the Sexpert! This blog series focuses on sex, sexuality, and relationships. Read on for BU Sexperts Sophie Godley and Dr. Teri Aronowitz’s honest, truthful answers to students’ scandalous questions.
Dear Dr. T:
The other night I passed out during sex. Is there something wrong with me?
-A Fainting Lady
Dear FAINTING LADY:
This phenomenon is known by some as ‘la petite mort’ – the little death. This is a phenomenon seen more often in women during orgasm but can occur in men as well. During the sexual response cycle as we get aroused our breath gets shorter and quicker and for some people it is actually hyperventilation. As with any other time we hyperventilate, normal levels of CO2 in the blood falls and we can get dizzy and even faint. Also too much alcohol can have the same effect and may even elevate the possibility of this reaction.
One other explanation is that during sexual arousal, the brain doesn’t get enough O2 because of blood flow from the brain to the genitals – causing an altered state of consciousness (or loss of consciousness). Some people intentionally deprive the brain of oxygen to heighten sexual pleasure and orgasm (auto-erotic asphyxiation).
Fainting during orgasm can be a symptom of a serious health condition, such as an abnormal heart rhythm, so it’s best to talk to your doctor. If it happens again during sex, lying flat on your back is usually all that’s needed to return to consciousness. You can also ask your partner to lift your legs to increase blood flow to the brain and heart.
Dr. Teri Aronowitz has a PhD in Nursing and completed post-doctoral studies at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Her clinical and research interests focus on sexual health and she has authored many publications on this topic. She is an Assistant Professor at UMass Boston College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, and is a Nurse Practitioner at BU Student Health Services.
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