Everything You Need To Know Before Having Sex On Your Period

Photographed by Ruby Woodhouse.
As someone who has quite irregular periods, I'm fairly used to being ambushed by a sudden wave of horniness at seemingly random intervals throughout the year. It's not always obvious that it's period horn – I'll occasionally put it down to the fact that it's summer and lots of hot guys have got their tattoos out. It only becomes clear what the issue is later on that evening when, shortly after a vigorous shag, my other half will go red in the face and explain that I've just come on.
If that sounds like a weird way to introduce an article on period sex, consider how odd it really is that so many period sex articles begin by talking about mess and staining. Yes, mess and staining are sometimes a by-product of period sex, but surely all good sex should start with the arousal part, not the oh-no-we-have-to-change-the-sheets part.
While few people in the UK would admit openly to feeling ashamed of their period, many still behave like it's a secret curse – hiding all evidence and living in fear of someone they fancy finding out that their body does this natural thing. It's frustrating but understandable. Five years ago I'd have told you that if you're worried about period sex – or your partner is – the best thing to do is just get on and have some, so you can realise how great it is.
But these days I'm a bit more circumspect: years of societal conditioning can't just be dismissed with a shrug. There's a reason it has a powerful impact on us, and that impact can't be ignored. It can, however, usually be tempered by experience and a more practical perspective. Here are some of the things I think everyone should know about period sex.

There are lots of benefits to period sex

Apart from the obvious fact that sex can scratch that period-horn itch, there are other benefits to period sex. Many people report that sex – and particularly orgasm – can help to relieve pain from menstrual cramps, or at the very least take their minds off it. Even those who find penetrative sex more painful while they're on their period often use clitoral orgasms as a means to ride through some of the crampy pain.
Period sex can be beneficial from a mental health and body confidence point of view, too. Not just because we all feel better when we're orgasming, but because getting to know your body at every stage of your cycle can bring new ideas, sensations and sexiness to you and your partner.
The first time I had period sex with a guy who really loved it, I felt like a switch had flicked in my brain – dampening the shame society wants me to feel about menstruating, and replacing it instead with a realisation that for this guy (and many others) the smell and sensations of period sex weren't a barrier to my sexiness – they were an enhancement. Though as a cis woman I'm often encouraged to make my vagina clean and neat and floral-smelling, the tangy, iron scent that comes with period sex is a comforting thing: it reminds me (and my partner) that the sexiest smells don't always come from a bottle I bought in Boots.

There are plenty of ways to deal with the mess

OK, let's talk about the mess. Period sex can be messy. Anything from 'slightly brown' if you're at the start or end, to 'wow who sat on the ketchup' if you've a particularly heavy flow. What's more, people who've never had periods themselves can find the substance a little surprising – like my first ever boyfriend, who exclaimed in horror when he realised: "It's got chunks in!" Perhaps it's an indictment of the poor sex education we got at school, but he was devastated to learn that menstrual blood isn't just blood: it's the sloughing-off of the womb's internal lining which means that sometimes, yeah, it has chunks in.
But just as we learn how to deal with period mess when we've a tendency to leak at nighttime, so we can also minimise mess while we're shagging, if that's what we prefer. Personally I'm happy to stick a towel down (dark colours, naturally) or go on top so the drips are caught mostly on skin. My partner has his faults but one of his many benefits is that he is easy to clean in the shower.
If you're more fastidious than I am, you might want to invest in some special sheets for period sex. Though some of the more kinky options – rubber and PVC sheets, for instance – can hamper sex by being a bit sticky or sweat-inducing, there are now much more tactile options on the market. I like Sheets of San Francisco because they don't make you sweat and they feel soft rather than tacky like the back seat of a car on a hot day.
If you'd rather avoid the blood altogether, there are plenty of sexy things you can do to sate that quiet period-horn voice inside you that says 'sod the mess, I want to ORGASM'. If you keep a tampon in (or a menstrual cup), pretty much everything you'd normally do is available to you, mess-free: masturbation, oral, clitoris-stimulating sex toys, frotting. Even blow jobs and anal, though I suspect you know that already. It's far too common for us to see 'period sex alternatives' as some kind of vagina-substitute. Previous boyfriends have occasionally been guilty of considering period week to be 'blow job week', despite the fact that I'm horny as sin and quite keen on orgasms of my own, thanks.

It's not compulsory

This might sound like a strange note to end on, given that I've been evangelising about period sex for most of this article. But we're so used to reading sex tips and advice that tells you what you 'must' or 'should' do in bed that it's easy to forget nothing in the bedroom is ever compulsory. Sure, some of us might adore period sex, but that doesn't mean everyone does. If the idea makes you uncomfortable, there's no law that says you have to get over your discomfort in the name of empowerment.
Likewise – and this might make me unpopular here – if your partner feels uncomfortable, please don't put pressure on them to embrace it. Show them this article, talk through some of their worries to see if you can address them, but always respect their right to opt out. No good sex ever started with the words 'oh get over it'.
To end on a more positive note, when I was researching this piece I found a selection of different surveys and studies that asked people how they felt about period sex and whether they had it themselves. Depending on which results you look at, anywhere between 30-75% of sexually active people have period sex, which hopefully will be a relief to you regardless of your opinions on the subject. Whether you love it or hate it, you're definitely not alone.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series