The human body has many built-in mechanisms for resisting the ill effects caused by
foreign organisms and agents. Of major importance is the production of antibodies by
the human lymphoid system. Ordinarily, these antibodies serve a protective function
against invaders. Antibodies were first discovered in the last part of the nineteenth
century. At that time, it was thought that individuals could not produce antibodies
against their own tissues or for that matter against the tissues of other individuals. Thus,
it was thought that antibodies could only be produced against non-human foreign
substances, chiefly protein in nature. As knowledge in this field progressed, it became
apparent that antibodies could be produced against one’s own tissues under unusual
disease conditions. These antibodies were known as auto (self)-antibodies.
Later it was discovered that antibodies could be produced against tissues of other
individuals. For example, antibodies to human skin fragments were detected in certain
Twenty years ago, he first report of a life-threatening, adverse reaction against human
seminal plasma (male ejaculate) was reported as a result of formation of harmful antibodies (allergic antibodies) against proteins in male seminal secretions. Since that time about 100 similar cases have been reported in the medical literature.
Research on this condition in our laboratory over the last twenty years established several important facts about this type of unusual allergic reaction. First, the allergic antibodies are formed against specific protein substances contained in the liquid portion of the male ejaculate. The sperm themselves do not cause the adverse reaction in such cases. Second, most women who develop this condition also are susceptible to developing allergic antibodies to other natural substances, such as pollens and foods. Third, these adverse antibodies develop after variable period of exposure to seminal plasma. Such reactions have often been observed after the first contact with seminal fluid. However, in most cases, these unusual reactions occur months or years after initial contact with semen. There was also a noteworthy tendency for the first adverse symptoms reaction to occur a few weeks after childbirth or surgical procedures of the female genital tract. Finally, once the allergic reaction appeared, there was tendency for them to become much worse and in some cases, even life-threatening. Fortunately, these reactions have not been associated with infertility. Up until15 years ago, the only effective treatment was avoidance or “barrier” treatment which consists of using condoms.
The symptoms of a generalized allergic reaction to semen occur within minutes after intercourse. They consist of itching throughout the body, hives, difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, faintness, light-headedness and in severe cases, sudden lapse into unconsciousness. The latter is most dangerous and can result in death if immediate treatment is not given. However, no reported deaths from systemic seminal plasma hypersensitivity have been report to date.
Research in our laboratory has also established that some women may develop an entirely different type of allergic reaction to human seminal plasma proteins. This reaction consists of local symptoms occurring in the female genital areas. The most common symptoms of localized reactions are severe burning pain, local itching, extreme redness, soreness, and in several cases, the development of blisters or rashes in and around the vaginal area. These women often have lower levels of antibodies in their blood compared to women with systemic seminal plasma allergy.
Fortunately, research in our laboratory has been successful in developing a new way of preventing such reactions. This method permits natural intercourse without use of condoms. The treatment consists of a series of injections with proteins isolated from a woman’s conjugal partner. This treatment is given over a period of approximately 3 hours, after which complete tolerance to prevent any future adverse reactions is achieved. This procedure is similar to how people with venom (i.e., bee, wasp) allergy or penicillin drug allergy are treated. In order to maintain tolerance to seminal plasma proteins, it is usually necessary for intercourse to be continued on a regular basis, usually 2 or 3 times a week. The mechanism for this protective effect of the treatment has not yet been determined, but it is suspected that protective antibodies are formed against the offending protein and these protective antibodies overcome the effects of the harmful or allergic antibodies.