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The first time my girlfriend and I hooked up I thought I was allergic to her.
Forget just seasonal allergies—although I do have a friend who recounted a terrible story of how they’d awkwardly had to stop in the middle of hooking up after leaking mucus every which way, because they hadn’t been able to ask their one-night stand, “Listen, can we maybe move this somewhere else because I have super bad hay fever and may leak all over you if we don’t?” In retrospect, they really wish they had.
I’m talking more along the lines of: your body, recognizing something about your partner’s body as a threat, creating antibodies, and leaving someone walking away with recurrent bacterial vaginosis. Or a rash squarely on someone’s penis that only appears days later. Or delayed anaphylactic shock.
Do you know what you’re allergic to? Also, just as importantly, do you know what your partner is allergic to?
Because even if you’re not allergic to, let’s say, a particular food item, and bits of those proteins are swimming around in your system somewhere, and you do the do with someone who is allergic, their body could end up creating antibodies against trace amounts introduced by your fluids which could then cause your body to react against those antibodies and then voila! You get a yeast infection, even though it wasn’t your stinking immune system that had a problem with those pistachios.
And reactions to foods or medications (like penicillin or sulfa drugs) are only the tip of the iceberg. Anything you can be allergic to, like latex, can leave you with unpleasant and mystifying post-coital symptoms.
In case anyone is wondering, it’s not my girlfriend I’m allergic to—it turned out to be the trace amounts of coconut in her coconut & shea butter soap that caused me to break out in hives all over and my throat to close up for a few days afterwards. But we wouldn’t have guessed that if we hadn’t gone over an extensive list of all the things I’m allergic to, most of which were food items she’d already cut out of her diet days before seeing me. So now she’s switching soaps and let’s pray there isn’t anything else about her lifestyle she’ll have to change for me.
The moral of the story, aside from the fact that dating me is a lot of work? Pay attention to the things that trigger allergic reactions in your body and your partner’s, and do whatever you need to do—like packing antihistamines or Epipens or non-latex condoms in your overnight bags—to cut those nasty fuckers off at the start.
If you think about it, it makes sense. A lot of people are constantly weirded out by discovering things about their body that “most” people never seem to talk about needing to deal with. Throw in getting all intimate and personal with all the essences of someone else who’s got unique little quirks about their own body, and it’s really no surprise that mixing all that up might yield a strange and confusing aftermath.
Talk about the things that get strange and confusing after sex.
Talk about the things about your bodies that are strange and confusing to you.
Normalize the idea that we’ve all got different bodies with different needs.
And seriously, find out how many different reasons your body can find to try to mount an unnecessary defence campaign against harmless things like pineapples, because allergies will try to ruin everyone’s life at one point or another.
On the other hand, I have another friend who’s refused to allow any more cumshots on his face ever since he had to spend several days blaming his one red, swollen, itchy eye on completely imaginary allergies.
So who knows? Allergies might be fucking up your sex life without you even knowing it, but they could also be there for you whenever you need a handy excuse for polite company. It’s the least they could do.
Originally posted @ The Eyeopener, September 2016.
Jennifer Chan is currently the Product/Operations Manager at Eve Medical, a social venture that is extending health screening beyond the clinic into the privacy and comfort of patients' homes. Motivated by the 500,000 cases of cervical cancer that occur worldwide each year, Eve Medical developed and launched the Eve Kit Service for do-it-yourself at-home HPV screening. Jen is also a Venture for Canada Fellow (2017 Cohort). Along with a background in biomedical engineering, she has previously facilitated and organized around queer, youth, racialized, and disability initiatives.