If you just landed on this planet from a distant galaxy, no one would blame you if you got the impression that periods were Public Enemy #1.
The way we talk about menstruation (Dread! Disgust!) and the way they’re portrayed in both branding and the media (Hide them! Embarrassing!), you’d think it was some sort of high-level infectious disease manageable only by quarantine and Hazmat squads. Many people can’t even say the words “period” or “menstruation” — instead, these terms have been sterilized into euphemisms like “Auntie Flo,” “that time of the month” and “on the rag” that folks use to sweep this natural, healthy and humanly universal process under the rug where it can’t be seen.
Myth and misinformation has surrounded menstruation for millennia, so it’s not surprising that when the equally stigmatized topic of sex gets tacked onto it, the taboo doubles down. People aren’t supposed to like periods, the logic goes, so they should doubly dislike having sex on their periods.
Too bad that’s not the case.
As the growing amount of people who are increasingly vocal about loving period sex shows, it’s becoming more and more apparent that not only do people not mind it, they actually enjoy it. Kinda makes you wonder — if we’re “not supposed” to have sex during menstruation, why do we do it? Maybe period sex isn’t something to run from, but something to consider as a valuable and expansive addition to our sexual repertoires.
While it’s not for everyone (and nothing is), period sex is nothing to be ashamed of and isn’t something we should have to hide from ourselves or our partners. Learning to normalize and celebrate such a healthy and basic feature of the female body is essential for both the physical and mental health of all genders, not just because it combats stigma to do so, but because it feels good.
In fact, sex during periods can not only be pleasurable, but healthy for you, too. With a variety of research-backed physical, mental and even social benefits, sex-while-menstrual is actually one of the more advantageous forms of intimacy for both yourself and your partner(s). However, you don’t actually need a partner to reap the rewards — period sex with yourself is still sex, and the benefits you get from it are more about the pleasure than the partner (though an enthusiastic bed-friend is great as well.)
(Note: While menstruation is largely a female feature, it’s important to note that some non-binary folks and trans men menstruate too!)
Can you have sex on your period?
Boy, can you ever. Plenty of folks have sex while on their period — according to a recent survey by Flex, 83.7 percent of people have tried it.
In fact, having period sex is not only possible, but a phenomenon that’s entirely unique to humans. While we’re one of three known species that menstruates, we are the only one that has sex during menstruation.
Is period sex good?
It depends on who you ask! Like all types of sex, some people love it, some people hate it, and the majority of people fall somewhere in between. It’s impossible to generalize whether something feels good for everybody, but many folks of all genders do enjoy it. The same Flex survey mentioned above found that of the 83.7 percent of people that have tried period sex, 55 percent really liked it, referring to it as “natural” and “awesome.”
In fact, not only do some people not mind a little blood; they like it. According to a recent investigation by The Cut, both men and women report being turned on by period blood. Some people like the physical aspect of it, others enjoy the particular hormonal cocktail that accompanies period sex, and others yet appreciate the eroticism and pride in celebrating the female body in its most natural, uncensored form
10 Benefits of Period Sex
1. It feels really, really good
Though not everyone experiences an increase in desire, libido and pleasure when they’re menstruating, many people do. According to Planned Parenthood medical spokeswoman Dr. Vanessa Cullins, the increased blood flow to the pelvic region during menstruation can engorge the clitoris, labia, vagina and perineum with blood, making these parts much “fuller” and more responsive to touch than at other times of the month. At the same time, a surge of estrogen that happens a few days into a period can turbocharge a person’s sex drive, increase vaginal lubrication and make sex feel better than it may at other times of the cycle. The Sex MD even speculates that the hypersensitivity of the menstruating uterus can result in more intense orgasms.
Ah, improved circulation and hormones: truly the female Viagra.
2. No lube needed
Anyone who’s experienced the discomfort of dryness during sex knows that things tend to feel better when things are well-lubricated.
Good thing the menstruating uterus provides its own natural reserve of lube. Thanks to the unique combination proteins contained in period blood, it makes a remarkably effective and long-lasting lubricant that both enhances sensation and protects the already hypersensitive tissues of the vulva, vagina and uterus from any discomfort.
But before you start running around and shouting “Blood isn’t lube!” know that period blood isn’t actually blood (at least not as we know it.) While the body’s regular, circulatory blood does get filtered through the uterus to build up the uterine lining that eventually gets shed during menstruation, it takes on its own, distinct chemical makeup in the process, thereby transforming into a substance that is similar to, but not the same as blood. (Which explains why you can have a period and not feel faint or pass out like you can when you’re bleeding from a vein or artery.)
People also don’t bleed nearly as much as it looks like they do — on average, folks only shed about an ounce of menstrual blood per cycle over the course of a few days, a volume no bigger than your standard tequila shot. In fact, in most cases, the amount of period blood that gets shed during sex is not a significantly greater volume than the amount of semen some people ejaculate. Both fluids have a charming tendency to get all over sheets, towels and bodies, but period blood is red so it looks more alarming than semen.
So, opposed to seeing period blood as something to avoid, embrace it. In the context of sex, it’s really just extra lube, and lube makes everything better.
3. It can help alleviate cramps
Sexual pleasure — and orgasm in particular — causes the brain to release a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins, three naturally-occurring chemicals which kill pain better than any over-the-counter bottle you can shake a tampon at. These hormones have the magical ability to block pain without compromising the sensitivity that leads to pleasure, meaning that a romp with your partner or yourself might be lightyears more effective for period cramps than the classic “hot water bottle and Midol-crying” treatment.
4. Shorter periods
Just because menstruation is a natural and healthy process doesn’t mean folks want to be doing it 24/7. A shorter period is usually a better period, so anything that speeds up the process tends to be a welcome suggestion.
Well, have you ever heard of orgasm?
You have. Great. Because the vagina and uterus contract during orgasm and periods of prolonged pleasure, period sex or masturbation may help expel the uterine lining at a faster rate than if your menstrual remediation ritual solely included pasta binging and shaking your fist at the sky because you can’t wear white pants for a week.
5. Less headaches, sluggishness and malaise
Thanks to rapidly changing hormones, it’s not uncommon for menstruating people to experience the scourge of period headaches.
Sex to the rescue. One recent study found that 70 percent of people who had sex during migraine experienced moderate to complete relief. Any questions?
6. Improved mood
If you’ve ever had a period, you’ve probably been on the charming rollercoaster of moods that accompanies that time of the month. Not everyone experiences mood changes or emotional effects, but even those who get through it unscathed tend to feel a bit lethargic, sluggish or foggy.
Thankfully, the same hormones that can make sex during menstruation feel extra good have also been proven to boost your mood. Dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin can make you feel more pleasant, friendly and perky, and the estrogen that also gets released during orgasm can help regulate emotions.
“Estrogen levels are closely linked with women’s emotional well-being as estrogen affects parts of the brain that control emotions,” Dr. Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist in New York City and author of Your Next Big Thing, told Medical Daily. Estrogen also helps suppress the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which may explain why many women report feeling more energetic, happy and inspired towards the end of their period.
7. Try something new
It’s easy to get into a routine with your sex life. It’s hard to stay in that routine when there’s period sex involved.
Menstruation sex is a novel, deliciously unpredictable form of intimacy that sometimes necessitates in-the-moment workarounds that require creativity beyond your routine. You might need to change the location you typically have sex in from the bed to the shower. You might start to focus more on the clit than on penetration. You might start to explore other erogenous zones, or combine them with the menstruating ones. You may start to use toys that work well for period play as opposed to fingers, tongues or pensies. Or, you might even lean into it and use the period blood as an erotic device.
Some people enjoy going down on someone who is menstruating, while others like the sensations and feelings of liberation that come with being unencumbered by shame or potential mess.
Using period sex to expand your sexual Rolodex might also benefit your partner — you can always compromise by offering to do something they’ve always wanted to try like prostate play, bondage or couples’ toys.
However you look at it, period sex can lead you to new and interesting ways of expressing desire you might not have discovered had you not seen red, as it were.
8. Grow intimacy
Because of the largely negative way periods are approached in our culture, having period sex can require a little more trust, communication and vulnerability than other types of sex. And that’s totally okay — these are positive things that tend to lead to greater intimacy between partners.
It doesn’t matter if said partner is a one-night or one-millennia type thing — sharing that part of yourself with someone can bond you. We’re taught that periods are personal, but baring one of the most personal parts of yourself to another person in a safe, shame-free situation where pleasure is the priority can be surprisingly intimate. It’s like when someone tells you a secret about themselves that no one else knows — you feel a little special knowing you share something not everyone gets to see.
Beyond that, orgasms and pleasure cue the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that both encourages bonding and inspires cuddling. What’s more intimate that cuddling after period sex?
9. Stress relief and control
Periods can be stressful. But then again, so can life. Things are just tense in 2018.
Know what helps? Sex. Yep; you guessed it — research from the University of the West of Scotland found that people who had intercourse at least once every two weeks were better able to manage stressful situations such as public speaking and workplace meltdowns. There’s no reason you should have to put a cork on those stress-relieving benefits just because an unfertilized egg left your cervix, right?
10. Resist necessary shame and stigma
While most of the benefits of period sex are physical — stronger orgasms and cramp relief, for example — menstrual pleasure also has a broader benefit that impacts us not just as as individuals, but also the culture within which we live: having and enjoying period sex is way to resist the shame and stigma that many cultures place on female bodies and the natural processes that happen inside them.
We’re told it’s gross. We’re told it’s dangerous. We’re told it’s something to hide and be ashamed of; that it makes us weak, or less-than. We get these psychologically disorienting messages from all angles, whether its from menstrual product companies, partners who react to our bodies with revulsion, or repressive cultures that scandalize the enjoyment of any sex that takes place without the specific goal of procreation.
Period sex is not everyone’s thing, and that’s okay. Not everyone has to like everything. However, the shame and stigma we place on it is a damaging, disparaging and pointlessly cruel way to keep women — and other trans and non-binary folks who menstruate — under control within a patriarchal society that teaches both women and men that body embarrassment is just part of the feminine experience.
Shame shouldn’t be part of anyone’s experience, especially when that shame is directed at such a deeply normal thing like menstruation. However, when people find pleasure and wonder in their bodies during a time they’re supposed to find disgust and pain, it helps to undo the needlessly negative beliefs that keep us from feeling empowered.
At the risk of politicizing period sex to a degree that’s beyond the scope of this blog, it has to be said that it’s important for all of us, whether we’re into it or not, to break the stigma around menstruation. In order to create a healthy, sex-positive culture where a person’s worth isn’t defined by how they chose to experience intimacy, we need to acknowledge this healthy bodily process as just that, rather than as the obstacle to pleasure or intimacy we’re told it is.
Given all the benefits period sex has, period sex is far from a barrier; it’s an open door to feeling good. And that’s something we could all use a bit more of.
No one will ever understand that.
Ibby has written for Playboy, Harper's BAZAAR, Flaunt, Animals, Rooster Magazine and this very site you're on now.