11 December 2008
Sneezing induced by sexual thought
A paper in this month's issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine highlights an under-reported but possibly not uncommon phenomenon - sneezing in response to sexual excitement.
When Dr Mahmood Bhutta, a specialist registrar in ENT at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, came across a patient who sneezed every time he had a sexual thought, his initial reaction was one of disbelief, but it interested him enough to undertake an internet search.
“I was surprised by how many people also reported the same reflex in internet chat-rooms. It certainly seems odd, but I think this reflex demonstrates evolutionary relics in the wiring of a part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. 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. Sometimes the signals in this system get crossed, and I think this may be why some people sneeze when they think about sex."
The paper also describes how there is a genetic reason for why some people (around 25% of the population) sneeze as a response to sunlight. More rarely, there are families who sneeze when their stomachs are full.
Dr Bhutta believes the response to sexual ideation might also run in families but not be the sort of thing that children and parents discuss together. “This may have implications for future research in finding genes involved in neural development of the autonomic nervous system.”
Dr Bhutta says the novel research method of looking in internet chat-rooms could be a potential new tool for investigating the incidence of unusual or embarrassing symptoms that patients may not feel appropriate to discuss with their doctor.
Notes to editors
'Sneezing induced by sexual ideation or orgasm: an under-reported phenomenon' is published in the December issue of the Journal of the Royal Medical Society, volume 101. JRSM is the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. It has full editorial independence of the RSM. It has been published continuously since 1809. Its Editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi. Dr Mahmood Bhutta is available for comment. The article will be available free at www.jrsm.org/ A copy is attached.