Although 2016 was a great year for periods (i.e. the end of the "tampon tax"), some people still see menstruation as a major cock-block: for five days out of the month, sex lives everywhere are sabotaged by an under-appreciation of the ovaries. When I had sex on my period for the first time, I was a) enlightened by the unnecessarily big deal we make of menstruation and sex, b) extremely humbled by how many subconscious hang-ups I had about my body, and c) very satisfied by the lovely sex I had just had, despite the blob. For a generation that preaches body acceptance and sexual empowerment, many women are still too sheepish when it comes to period sex. Periods have, in the past, been unfairly framed as nasty and messy, and the men who still (sigh) feel icky about periods have a fear stemming from the unknown, tangled in a web of outdated societal stigma. Most cisgender women bleed every month but – knowing, perhaps, that periods are a clumpy, gooey Pantone palette of red and brown – we’ve been taught to keep it private. Consequently, the idea of sharing it with a partner can be off-putting. According to a 2011 study, published in Feminism & Psychology, exploring women’s attitudes towards menstruation and sex, women attributed their negativity about period sex to partner discomfort and the emotional implications of dealing with that discomfort. The study’s author, Breanne Fahs PhD writes: “Heterosexual women often prioritise their partners’ pleasure over their own when assessing sexual satisfaction, so avoiding menstrual sex may also satisfy their partners’ needs or wants if their partners dislike menstrual sex.” Durex sex expert, Alix Fox agrees: “I think some women fear that their male partners don’t really know what they’re agreeing to.” However, a survey conducted by The Flex Company, creator of the FLEX menstrual disc for mess-free period sex, shows that “women are more than twice as likely as men to avoid having period sex with a new partner” and that “Bi, poly or pansexuals are most open to having period sex.”
If your partner is that appalled by what comes out of your vagina, they probably don’t deserve to be inside it.
It’s normal not to feel sexy 24/7 (we’re humans, not sex dolls) but if your partner is that appalled by what comes out of your vagina, they probably don’t deserve to be inside it. YouTuber, influencer and author of Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex, Hannah Witton agrees: “In my opinion, men that don't care about periods are 'manly'. It shows that they have a healthy relationship with sex and respect their partner's body,” she tells Refinery29. When it’s not seen as taboo, period sex is a comedic punchline. (Insert weak joke about “blow-job week” here.) Lad banter insinuates that because our menses are an inconvenience, we’re obliged to satisfy their libido with an alternative service. Now, I may be partial to a blow job (sorry, Mum) but I don’t owe you anything simply because I’m shedding my uterine lining, mate. “I think it’s due to the stigma around periods in general,” says Witton. “From a young age we as women are taught to find them shameful and embarrassing." But why the hell should we apologise for our bodies and for what comes out of them? Society is perfectly happy portraying women as sex objects, yet the biology of the female body is somehow unmentionable. “Poor reproductive health education is also to blame,” Lauren Schulte, founder and CEO of The Flex Company, tells Refinery29. “Women still aren’t free to take control of our own sexual and reproductive health. That said, when tampons were introduced, the idea of putting something – anything – inside of your vagina was extremely taboo. So long-held attitudes and beliefs can gradually change over time.”
Men ejaculate, we get periods. It's fabulously messy but then again, the best sex usually is. There’s a lot of pressure for sex to look, feel and sound like what we see in the media and in porn, and period sex rarely features in either sphere. In fact, new government legislation is set to ban a large number of “non conventional” sex acts from online pornography, and sex involving menstruation is on that list. Indie adult filmmaker Erika Lust has made a short film entitled Can Vampires Smell My Period? in which she explores this most taboo of sexual subjects. “I released this short film partly to break down some barriers, and inspire some people to understand that menstruation is not only natural, but it can be sexy,” she tells Refinery29. In an effort to subvert the male gaze, Lust shot the movie to “represent the female monthly reality and a sexual activity that is very normal for some couples, while inspiring some people to think about why they find it repulsive.” As Witton says, the key is communication: “Half the population has periods and a lot of people have period sex but not enough people are talking about it.” After all, sex should be a safe space where you can openly confide with your partner. “There won't be gender equality until we strip menstruation of its stigma”, says Lust.
Men ejaculate, we get periods. It's fabulously messy but then again, the best sex usually is.
Naturally, period sex might be out of the question for women whose menstrual cycle is a major upheaval causing physical pain, especially for those who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. The fact that many menstruating women tend to be insanely horny can feel like a cruel joke – until you realise that orgasm can be great for menstrual cramps because it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, while the uterine contractions caused by orgasm help expel endometrial debris, which might shorten the duration of your period. Bonus. However, the risk of contracting an STI if you have sex while on your period may be higher, with some experts suggesting that your cervix opening to let your menstrual blood out may have the unintended consequence of allowing unwanted things in. You can also still get pregnant on your period. So use a damn condom! All things considered, though, I’ll take sex with a little mess over lying in bed alone, bleeding, horny and frustrated. Whether you do it or not, period sex is about bodily autonomy. “Having sex on your period should always be a choice," Fox points out. “If women genuinely don’t want to have sex when they’re bleeding that doesn’t make them any less of a modern woman.” Ultimately, you can and should do whatever the hell you want – it's your period, after all. But it’s time we get over it. Sex should be about pleasure, trust, exploration and getting your needs met; worrying about making the experience 'perfect' keeps you from fully enjoying yourself and your partner. Mess-free sex isn't the benchmark of a good shag, and a little bit of blood really isn’t that big of a deal. In the words of Rachel Bloom: “If you’re grossed out, let’s pretend it’s cherry lube.”