What It Means When Thinking About Sex Makes You Sneeze

The kinds of things that make us sneeze are usually external irritants. Think dust, pollen, or pet dander, for example. But can internal stimuli do the same thing? In other words, is it possible that our thoughts can prompt us to sneeze too?

When an irritant meets the inner lining of our nose, our nerves become activated. Those nerves then communicate with the brain region responsible for a sneeze. In response to the invader, our brain tells the body to close up the throat, mouth, and eyes (via PBS North Carolina). Our chest muscles tighten to constrict the lungs as our throat muscles open up and a buildup of air, mucus, and saliva is propelled from the body in the form of a sneeze.

For some people, however, a sneeze can be triggered by more than just a speck of dust or the plucking of a sensitive nose hair. Rather, research has shown that thinking about sex may also prompt a person to let out an involuntary ah-choo!

Your parasympathetic nervous system may be involved

In a 2008 scientific review published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, researchers documented the case of a healthy adult male who reported sneezing fits in immediate response to sexual thoughts. Although pre-existing research on the subject was limited, the researchers identified several theories that had been previously proposed by experts, including the presence of erectile tissue found in both the genitals and the mucous membrane lining of the nose.

Based on their review of the existing literature, the researchers determined that the link between sexual ideation and subsequent sneezing may lie in the activation of the body's parasympathetic nervous system. It's this same mechanism that is thought to be behind another similarly strange phenomenon: sneezing in relation to sunlight exposure. Dr. Mahmood Bhutta, who conducted the review, told the Independent that stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system produces involuntary reactions in the body. "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," Dr. Bhutta told the outlet. "Sometimes the signals in this system get crossed, and I think this may be why some people sneeze when they think about sex."

Sexual activity may also prompt a person to sneeze

For others, the thought of sex may not trigger a sneeze, but the act itself might. The authors of 2020 research published in Challenges in Rhinology defined the condition, termed "honeymoon rhinitis," as the occurrence of nasal symptoms, such as sneezing or congestion, as a result of sexual activity. The research outlines that honeymoon rhinitis, which affects both females and males, may strike at any point during sexual intercourse. The condition was also discussed in a book titled "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art" by James Nestor, who touched on the same theory explored in the previously mentioned 2018 scientific review (via Slate). The author wrote that because the genitals and the mucous membrane lining of the nose are both made up of erectile tissue, both can become swollen with blood in response to sex. This swelling may then lead to a feeling of stuffiness in the nose, prompting a sneeze.

While you can find a number of Reddit posts from individuals who have experienced this kind of sneezing for themselves, more scientific research is still needed on the subject. Gathering data may prove difficult, however, as experts note that patients may be hesitant to discuss sex-related sneezing with their physician.