Menstruation may be a basic bodily function, but it's loaded as hell in our culture. Throw in sex (or not) and things get even more heated. Some women find period sex is the only thing that gives them any kind of reliable relief from monthly, godawful period cramps. Some partners think it's a total turn on. For others...not so much.
We asked our readers -- both women and men -- how they feel about period sex and how those feelings play out in their sex lives. Here's what 14 of them said.
"If someone's like, 'Blood in general is fine, but when it comes from a vagina it's disgusting,' that's ridiculous." -- Yvonne, 29
The first time I had period sex was actually with the first person I had sex with. I couldn't tell you if he was really comfortable with it, or if we were just super horny teenagers [laughs]. Every serious partner I've had since then has also been OK with it. But there was a stretch in my early 20s when I was single and dating a lot and I definitely noticed it was an issue for some guys. I kind of forget that some people are really disgusted by it. Like, just a few weeks ago I was in an elevator with a co-worker who is basically my age, and he kept asking me where I was going so I finally jangled my change for the tampon machine. He yelled "EW!" and physically backed away from me. That kind of thing just makes me feel a kind of defiance, like, f**k you.
Now that I'm almost 30, I'm in a place where I'm much more comfortable with myself and my body, and I'm also much more aware that there's this huge culture of shame around women's periods. But I shouldn't have to feel ashamed. It's one thing if someone's like, "Um, blood makes me queasy." I get it. I would never ask someone to have sex with me then if they're totally grossed out by blood. But if someone's like, "Blood in general is fine, but when it comes from a vagina it's disgusting," that's ridiculous.
The thing is, having sex during my period actually helps me. For the first day or two, it's probably not going to happen because I have dysmenorrhea and am in excruciating pain. But after that, it helps with the cramps. When I come, I feel such relief.
"We started finger painting on each other. We drew hearts and swirls." -- Scott, 36
When I was 19 years old, I met an artist who was 10 years older than me and we had a wildly passionate affair. We would rendezvous in her studio. One time she announced she had her period. I'm a feminist, and I'm pretty well-informed -- I grew up in a family of women, and had a lot of frank discussions with them -- but I think she could sense my confusion, because I'd never come close to having period sex at that point.
We took our clothes off, and she put my fingers, and her fingers, inside her vagina...and then we started finger painting on each other. We drew hearts and swirls and wrote each other's names. It was gorgeous. It's still one of the most beautiful, connecting, sex-positive experiences I've ever had.
A lot of partners I've been with since have been squeamish about having period sex at first, but once we try it it usually goes really well. With one partner, we called it caveman sex or primal sex.
I don't fetishize it -- it's just a different kind of sex. But I also don't think there's anything somehow repulsive about it. It's nothing to be afraid of.
"It's just nicer to wait." -- Sally, 38, and Diego,* 45
Sally: We have sex, on average, two or three times a week, but we refrain from having penetrative sex during my period altogether. The first time we were sleeping in the same bed while I had my period, he started to initiate sex, and I told him it was my time of the month. He just said "Ah, OK" and hugged me instead. Since then, we haven't really talked about it.
It just feels more natural for both of us not to do it then. I really don't feel comfortable having sex during my period, because I just don't feel attractive or sexy. I've had sex with previous partners while I had my period, but I never enjoyed it. I was never fully relaxed.
Diego: It's just nicer to wait. I wouldn't mind if sometimes we made love during those days, but generally, I feel it's better as a time of relaxation.
"She has to deal with it, so there's no reason why I should run away and hide." -- Margot, 22, and Matt, 22
Margot: We have a period towel. I mean, we wash it every time, but it's kind of like our sacrificial altar. [laughs]
Matt: We might as well only get one really dirty.
Margot: Before Matt, I had had period sex, but it was not positive. I was in an abusive relationship, and my ex-partner made me feel really ashamed and dirty about it. I remember one time we were having sex, and he was going down on me. My period had started, but I didn't know it, and he had a horrible reaction. He grabbed a handle of whiskey and washed his mouth out in front of me. It just made me feel so dirty that my boyfriend was basically sterilizing himself because of me. I also didn't get my period for a while, because I had eating disorders. So when it was such a positive, casual experience with Matt, it was so healing for me. It was a reminder that I was healthy, and that I was in a healthy relationship.
Matt: I didn't know all of that beforehand -- that it was so weighted for her before we had period sex the first time -- but it's nice knowing it now. To me it just seems like it's a thing that happens once a month, and Margot has to deal with it, so there's no reason why I should run away and hide. I know people are grossed out by it, and I guess I kind of get it. I mean, it can be kind of strange. Margot can testify that sometimes I don't go down on her as frequently. But if you taste it, it's just for a fraction of a second. And human bodies are really strange places. A lot of what happens during sex in general is pretty strange.
It's hard to pinpoint what makes period sex different, but it's kind of ineffable. There's just a different energy there. It's really primal. It's us having sex as animals.
Margot: I'm more sensitive, sexually. It's fun. It feels more playful.
"What if our cycles aren't the same, and we don't have sex when we have our periods? That would mean not having sex for two weeks." -- Jordan,* 28, and Chelsea, 28
Jordan: I remember, probably two or three months after meeting each other, I got my period on a night we were supposed to meet up. I was kind of disappointed and told her I was on my cycle and she said, "Well, that's what tampons are for."
Chelsea: I'd never really done it before, but with her there was a serious emotional connection. It didn't bother me. And I think we have an advantage over guys, because, you know, we're girls. I get my period. If you've got the tampon in, it's no big deal.
Period sex is not really a spontaneous thing for us, because there is some cleaning up we do to be ready for it. You change your tampon, shower, and you're fresh and ready to go.
Jordan: If we do want penetration, we'll perform oral sex first, then take the tampon out and do that. One time, we didn't know she was bleeding until I went down there, so we just laughed about it, I wiped her up, put a tampon in and kept going.
I'd never had sex on my period before, with either men or women. She's really the first consistent girlfriend I've had in my life, and one of the things that, I don't want to say it was a fear, but that I thought about, is what if our cycles aren't the same, and we don't have sex when we have our periods? That would mean not having sex for two weeks, and I'm not OK with that. Fortunately, it's not a problem for us.
"I think of my period as a time when I'm really turning inward." -- Sarah, 29
I do not have sex during my period, and that decision is rooted in my Jewish spiritual practice, as well as all of the learning I've done about my body and my cycle -- from hippie, woo-woo, feminist menstruation literature [laughs]. I am the founder of an organization supporting Jewish women's wellness, so I think about this topic a lot.
Basically, I think of my period as a time when I'm really turning inward, harnessing the unique energy and power of that time. I don't go so far as to not touch, and if I were in a committed relationship (which I'm not now) I would certainly snuggle and spend time with my partner, but I won't have sex or share my body in that way. When you have sex with a man, someone else's body part is literally inside your body. I see that as more of a thing to do around ovulation, which is when I feel like I really want sex. (I don't want to get pregnant, so I use double barrier protection during that time.)
A lot of the family planning laws in Judaism, and ideas about avoiding sex during menstruation, are steeped in patriarchal texts about impurities, but to me, I really read it as a much deeper message. It's about giving my body that restful time.
"Every time I had my period, I felt like my body was doing something wrong." -- Jade,* 22
I grew up in a small town where conservative politics and religion are deeply ingrained in the culture. I distinctly remember coming home from school after they gave the puberty talk, and my mom told me that none of my younger sisters could know what I had just learned. She told me that when I did start my period, I would have to hide my feminine products -- even my razors -- somewhere in the bathroom so my brothers wouldn't see them. So every time I had my period, I felt like my body was doing something wrong.
I became sexually active at 15, but didn't have period sex until college. By then I was much more comfortable with my period because I had talked about it with friends and read articles that reassured me it is OK. The first time I did have period sex, I was drunk. I openly announced that I had my period, and the guy was into it. It was a fantasy he had always had. Honestly, I think it took me being drunk that first time to be OK with it -- but it's something I've been comfortable with ever since.
I think communication is key. My current, longterm boyfriend is curious about it more than anything else, and I really think a lot men believe period sex is disgusting simply because they aren't informed about it at all. He did once get a bit grossed out -- and concerned -- when he saw clots coming out while we were having sex, but so long as we talk about these things openly with each other, we're golden. Having said that, he didn't want to talk about it for this article. Like, it's our own secret "gross" thing we do, I guess?
"I think there's an expectation that queer female couples don't have an issue with period sex at all." -- Michelle,* 23, and Susan,* 25
Michelle: We’ve been together for about a year and a half, and we typically have sex two to three times a week. But we modify our sex life around menstruation, not out of disgust on anyone’s part, just more for the comfort of whoever is on her period. We fell into our routine. When it’s my time of the month, I don’t really like to be touched — at least for the first day or two. During that time, I focus on pleasuring her. However, by day three or four we got back to a more reciprocal approach.
When she’s on her period, she usually doesn’t want to do anything. Her period is heavy, and just makes her disinterested in sex. She usually wants to avoid receiving anything, including oral, during her period.
Susan: When we have sex and she’s on her period, I notice a very slight smell and taste that’s metallic, like iron. It’s definitely messier then, but I’ve never cared. We just handle the mess by doing lots of laundry.
Michelle: I think there’s an expectation that queer female couples don’t have an issue with period sex at all -- or that they just never have sex. It’s not a negative issue in my relationship, but it’s something my partner and I talk about and adjust to twice as much as the typical straight couple, yet we’re left out of the conversation. Some queer female couples are more comfortable than us with period sex, and some are less comfortable.
Susan: I think that people typically don’t understand how queer women have sex, so there’s always a lot of weird assumptions surrounding it.
"I was initially put off by it more than he was." -- Anne,* 23, and Tom,* 24
Anne: We used to have intercourse on my period with no issues, but I switched from the pill to an IUD within the last year, and that screwed things up. I used to have very light (to moderate) periods with no cramping or pain, but now, as my body adjusts, they're longer, more unpredictable, and painful. But if it's a lighter day, with no serious cramping on my end, we'll go for it! We've noticed that when I climax, the bleeding increases. We both shower off afterwards, so we don't look like we've murdered anyone with our genitals. I think I was initially put off by it more than he was.
Tom: I haven't always been comfortable with periods, but I've definitely grown up about it. You know, I'd still prefer not to see tampons in the garbage, but I don't mind some blood. It's a natural thing.
These accounts have been edited and condensed
*Names with stars have been changed to protect anonymity.