Is there anything as polarizing, sexually speaking, as period sex?
There are many people who sing its praises. (Orgasms can relieve cramps and the cluster headaches so many women experience while menstruating, one 2013 study found. Plus, some women experience a surge in their sex drive while on their periods, so why not capitalize on that?) But there are just as many who balk at the idea.
Some who are anti-period sex find the whole experience ― or at least the messy aftermath ― not unlike a crime scene. Naturally, there will be blood. (And of course, sex during menstruation is religiously frowned upon in some cases; in certain sects of Judaism, for instance, observant women refrain from sex during their periods.)
But fans of period sex are fervent in their support. Malcolm, a 24-year-old studying advertising in Rio de Janeiro, is firmly pro-period sex. Sure, things can get a little messy in the moment, but it’s nothing that a little prep work ― namely, throwing down a dark-colored towel before sex ― can’t take care of.
“It’s a turn-on for me. I think of period sex as a little change in an otherwise quiet month,” said Malcom, who, like others in this article, preferred to be identified by first name only for privacy.
“Plus, as a boyfriend, I think it’s close to torture to deny sex to a woman during her most hormonally troubled days,” he said. (“Hormonally troubled days” ― we’re absolutely going to borrow that one, Malcom.)
For the disinclined or uninterested, it’s often the blood factor that makes period sex a no-go. Bryce, a 19-year-old from New Castle, Pennsylvania, felt that way for a long time.
“I think guys are squeamish just over the thought of blood,” he said. “Before I did it, it always made me uncomfortable to think about it. The idea kind of made me lose my sex drive.”
But once he tried it, he quickly became a fan.
“I did it because my girlfriend at the time was in the mood, and I loved the feeling of it,” he said. “Even with a condom on, you can notice a difference. And for me personally, I got more out of it because I was making her feel good and taking away some of the pain of her period cramps.”
Bryce’s earlier reservations about period sex are understandable, given how taboo a topic menstruation still is in our society, said Cyndi Darnell, a sex therapist in New York.
“Until recently, women’s periods were never depicted in feminine hygiene ads beyond blue inky water,” she said. “As a result, lot of heterosexual, cisgender men have no idea what a period even looks like.”
The problem is exacerbated by the associations most of us have regarding blood, Darnell said.
“The only time we encounter vast quantities of blood is during horror or gore, so the mind will associate such visuals with period sex, even though many women find it highly pleasurable,” she said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people get turned on by the blood. (Not everyone who’s into period sex is necessarily into the broader blood fetish, but some are.) For other period sex fans, it’s the fact that doing it on your period is still so taboo that gets them off.
“If I’m not supposed to have it, then I want it even more, which heightens arousal when it actually happens,” said Amy Baldwin, a sex educator and co-host of the Shameless Sex Podcast. “Plus, I find it super sexy because it suggests that a lover accepts and relishes in all aspects of me.”
Wherever you stand on period sex ― pro, indifferent, “no thanks, I’m squeamish around blood” ― it couldn’t hurt to learn more about it and demystify the experience a bit. Here are a few things experts in the sexual health field want everyone to know about period sex:
1. Periods are completely natural. So is period sex.
As with most erotic experiences, period sex is a matter of personal preference and cultural attitudes. That said, if you’re allowing Aunt Flo to stand in the way of sex you otherwise want to have, it might be worth reflecting on your overall attitudes toward periods, said Chris Maxwell Rose, the co-host of the weekly podcast “Speaking of Sex” with the Pleasure Mechanics.
If you’re someone who gets a period and feels grossed out by period sex, ask yourself why being on your period makes you feel dirty or embarrasses you. Really sit with your answers and try to examine them.
“It’s important to confront and overcome the period shame that most of us have carried around, to one degree or another,” she said. “The goal is to get to a ‘period neutral’ place.”
That doesn’t mean you have to love your period or “water your plants out of your menstrual cup to rid yourself of shame,” Rose said jokingly. It just means treating your menstrual cycle ― and all that it entails ― more matter of factly.
“From a more neutral stance, you can start by thinking about how you feel about sex during your period,” she explained.
Speaking of uneasiness around periods, it’s also time partners, too, get over the period taboo.
“A lot of guys are fascinated by vulvas and vaginas and everything about them,” Rose said. “In regards to period sex, being invited into the experience by someone who isn’t grossed out by their own body can be eye opening for these guys.”
2. Don’t forget the lube. And dark towels.
One of the much-touted benefits of period sex is that period fluids make for great lube and heighten the sensation of sex. But tampons can absorb natural discharge and make things drier down there, so you may not want to forgo lube entirely.
“Have a great lubricant on hand ... as period sex can actually dry things up with plenty of friction,” Baldwin said.
As for the inevitable mess, Baldwin suggested investing in a black waterproof blanket. Otherwise, just lay down dark-colored towels before you get started so you have less mess to worry about later. Having shower sex is another smart way to curb the messiness factor.
3. Also, don’t forgo protection.
It’s true that the odds of getting pregnant while on your period are low, but it does happen.
“Many people assume that conception categorically cannot occur when we have our period, but just ask a woman who conceived during her period how reliable that is,” Darnell said.
Another reason to use protection during period sex? There may be a heightened risk of spreading a sexually transmitted infection, said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist at the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Hawaii.
“If you have HIV or hepatitis, there is a higher chance that you can spread the virus because both of these viruses originate in the blood,” she said. “Bottom line: It’s always best to use a condom.”
4. Take pleasure in knowing you’re probably providing your partner with some pain relief.
“For some women, a great orgasm or two is the best relief for menstrual cramping,” Rose said.
In other words, by having period sex, you might be helping your partner de-stress and alleviate pain. You’re like the patron saint of menstruation!
At the very least, by showing your interest in period sex, you’re proving to your partner that there’s nothing icky about having a period. As our sex-positive, pro-period-sex buddy Malcolm put it: “You like women, and women [often] come with periods,” he said. “It’s just part of the package.”