It might be that time of the month for you or your partner, but that doesn't have to mean that intimacy is off the table.
The cramps. The bloating. The back pain. The crying at random pet food commercials. There’s no question that periods are a drag. Add in a week’s worth of forced abstinence on top of it, and it’s no wonder women the world over dread “that time of the month.” Just when you could use some really good sex, your lady parts have to sport an “out of order” sign.
Or do they? If you’ve been surfing the crimson wave solo, you might be missing out on what could be some of the best sex of your life. Here’s everything you need to know about period sex, from the potential benefits to steps for making it a pleasant — and mess-free — experience.
Periods Have a Long and Fascinating History
Many women (and men) avoid sex during periods. For some women, the physical discomfort caused by their period is enough to turn them off to bedroom adventures altogether.
For others, period sex is more of a social taboo than a personal turn-off. In Western culture, blood — especially menstrual blood — is often viewed as being “dirty” or associated with disease. And while it’s true that communicable diseases are indeed often transmissible via blood, the negative connotations surrounding menstruation predate germ theory or even modern medicine.
To truly understand why society generally perceives menstruating women as “unclean” or unapproachable, you have to dig pretty deep into human history.
In some ancient cultures — and even some modern ones — menstruating women were isolated from the general population. Author Anita Diamant explored this practice in her 1997 novel, The Red Tent, which follows the childbearing years of several major female biblical characters as they manage and maneuver the men in their lives while grappling with social customs that force them to spend a significant portion of their time secluded in a — you guessed it — red tent.
The Romans took a different approach. Far from seeing menstruation as a shameful thing, they believed periods gave women special powers. The philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that naked menstruating women had the ability to ward off hail and lightning. He also claimed that a woman on her period could frighten insects away from crops. Think about that the next time cramps and mood swings get you down — instead of a late-night chocolate or ice cream binge, you might want to try your hand at changing the weather.
Period Sex Is Good for You — Really!
We’ve come a long way since ancient times, but period sex is still one of those subjects people are reluctant to talk about. Kinkly contributor JoEllen Notte writes that modern attitudes surrounding menstruation still tend to focus on monthly bleeding as dirty or unclean, pointing out that even menstrual pad commercials feature blue liquid “because heaven forbid we even imply that there’s blood coming out of there.”
She adds that this way of thinking is inaccurate because it paints periods as a sickness or a disease. “When a woman has her period she is not sick or broken,” Notte writes. “Her body is doing exactly what it’s designed to do. And when it comes to sex, there’s no reason to assume she’s out of commission.”
Orgasms Can Relieve PMS Symptoms
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to partake in some period sex is the promise of more manageable cramps — one of the most debilitating premenstrual syndrome symptoms for many women. Registered sex therapist Judith Golden says that orgasms produce more blood flow in the body, which can relax the uterus and ease cramping. Golden also says that sex during menstruation can reduce irritability — another common PMS symptom.
Sex on Your Period Can Be More Intense and Satisfying
Psychologist and relationship expert Antonia Hall says that sex during menstruation can also result in better orgasms. “Orgasms release endorphins, a natural pain reliever, and feel-good hormones oxytocin and dopamine,” she states.
Some women also feel more aroused during their periods and may experience more intense orgasms during sex while menstruating. This is because your hormones shift throughout your cycle, and estrogen begins to rise steadily around the third day. Estrogen plays a prominent role in producing arousal in women, which is why declining estrogen levels in menopausal women can wreak havoc with a woman’s sex drive.
Period Sex = Shorter Periods
Who doesn’t like the idea of a shorter period? Halls says that having sex during menstruation can also decrease the duration of your period. The muscle spasms that occur during intercourse and orgasm can expel blood more quickly from the uterus, helping your body kick your period to the curb in short order.
Taking It to the Sheets: Steps for Having Sex During Your Period
If you’re ready to shrug off social conventions (and maybe your own preconceived ideas about sex on your period), consider the following steps for making it a fun and hassle-free time.
1. Discuss It with Your Partner
Let’s face it: not everyone is down with period sex. On the other hand, don’t assume your partner thinks period sex is icky. You might be surprised to discover that your significant other is perfectly willing and even excited to try being intimate while you’re on your period. There are even men who enjoy performing cunnilingus on a woman while she’s menstruating, which has given rise to a whole category of period-related kinks.
If you and your partner aren’t quite ready for such a — ahem — deep dive, there is nothing wrong with taking things at your own pace. Whatever you and your man (or lady) decide, clinical sexologist Marlene Wasserman says women shouldn’t feel ashamed about desiring pleasure while menstruating. “You are not dirty, so don’t feel shameful that you long for sexual release,” she writes. “Many women feel extremely horny and others the opposite. But what they choose to do with these feelings is their choice completely.”
In short, there are no right or wrong feelings when it comes to period sex. Keep in mind, however, that your man may not fully understand the nitty gritty details of menstruation.
Sex and relationship expert Megan Stubbs says you should explain the ins and outs before getting down to business. “Ask your partner if this is something they would like to do with you and go from there. Explain the logistics, especially if they are not female, about what may happen and make sure everyone feels good about it before diving in.”
2. Get Prepared before You Start
Before you hit the bedroom, it’s a good idea to do a little prep work. A dark towel on the bed can stop any mess from staining your sheets, and having a few towels or some baby wipes within arm’s reach on the nightstand can help you avoid an awkward waddle to the bathroom when you’re done.
Stubbs says you can even buy special waterproof blankets to really cut down on any potential messes — just toss them in the washer for an easy clean-up. She also suggests hitting the shower if you’re worried about ruining your bedding. “The running water will help wash away any mess that’s created and can be a fun change of pace from the bedroom.”
You might also want to have some water-based lubricant on hand to make the experience more enjoyable. Although menstrual blood can serve as a natural lubricant, your flow isn’t like a faucet you can turn on and off (although that would be nice). Also, fluctuating hormones can make your inner tissues more sensitive during your period, so using a lube specifically formulated to be gentle on skin is ideal.
3. You Still Need Protection
If you’re going to have any type of sexual contact on your period, it’s important to use protection, not only to protect against disease, but to also guard against unwanted pregnancy.
It’s a common misconception that women can’t get pregnant during menstruation — something Stubbs is quick to dispel. “Menstruation is at the end of the [menstrual] cycle,” she says, “but sperm live in the vagina for about 72 hours, and there is a chance you may begin ovulation at the tail end of your bleeding. Double reason to always use a condom!”
According to Hall, period sex also increases your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease due to the cervix being slightly open to allow blood to flow from the uterus. “As always, you should still be careful to use protection against sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Blood of an infected individual can increase the partner’s risk.”
As an added bonus, using a condom can help a male partner stay neater during the act — just have a tissue or trash can handy for bedside disposal.
4. Find the Right Position
When it comes to having sex on your period, positioning is key. If you’re worried about your bedspread looking like a murder scene, stick to the missionary position. Hall suggests elevating the woman’s hips with a rolled up towel or covered pillow, which will work against gravity as well as possibly heighten her pleasure. You can also try spooning, which Halls says gives the male partner better control over the depth of penetration.
Also, don’t be alarmed if you see a few blood clots when you’re cleaning up — these are just a mix of blood and older uterine cells that are shed during a normal cycle. It’s normal for blood to range in color from dark brown to bright red. Darker blood is simply older blood, and bright red blood is new. The jostling and friction of sex can cause bleeding to temporarily speed up, which might make your flow seem a little heavier than normal immediately after sex.
Not on Board? It’s Okay to Stick to Other Things
If period sex just doesn’t appeal, that’s perfectly okay. The good news is there are plenty of other ways to enjoy intimacy without a full horizontal tango.
You might even find that foregoing intercourse opens up opportunities to explore other forms of sexual gratification. Wasserman encourages couples to “have fun exploring the rest of your bodies in different ways.” This can include anything from an intense make-out session to a full-body massage — a good idea if your period makes your legs ache.
You could also use this time to show your significant other a little lovin’. Charlie and Rissy Ervin of Please My Spouse suggest taking care of your man by exploring oral sex during your period. (He can return the favor later.)
Your period is also a great time to perfect your shower sex game. Light some candles, fire up a sexy playlist and get steamy while soaping each other up. You won’t have to worry about any mess, and you can enjoy the soothing spray of hot water on sore, tired muscles. What’s not to love?
Just make sure that if you opt for the shower that you choose the right lube for water play. A silicone based lube like ASTROGLIDE Diamond Silicone Gel will stay put and stay silky smooth even in water. We can even hook you up with a free sample.
Also, being on your period doesn’t mean you have to completely forego happy times in your nether regions. You can still indulge in clitoral stimulation without penetration. If you’re worried about messes, you can keep things tidy by wearing a tampon or menstrual cup during foreplay.
The bottom line is that menstruation — like sex — is natural and healthy.
Bleeding one week out of the month may be an inconvenience, but it doesn’t have to put a cramp in your sex life. Whether you choose to go all-out in the sheets or restrict yourself to different types of intimacy, you can still enjoy sex in all its forms during your period.