One of the most powerful moments in the HBO dramedy, I May Destroy You, is when Arabella and her Italian lover, Biagio, have period sex. And not a Hollywood version of period sex, where the act is alluded to but not shown on camera. In the scene, you see Biago pull out Arabella’s tampon and even play with a clot of her menstrual blood. It’s real and raw and unlike anything we’ve ever seen on TV. Which was exactly the point. “How can something that happens once a month still cause shock and discomfort,” series creator and star Michaela Coel told The Express. “I hope that it’s normalized.”
Especially because having sex during that time of the month is something many people enjoy. Women are often hornier during our periods. Sex can help with cramps, boost lubrication, and for some women with vulvodynia (chronic pain in the vulva), it can even make doing it more enjoyable. Researchers aren’t sure why, but “there is some data that suggests that penetration pain is lower when women are menstruating,” says Dr. Lori Brotto, director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory.
Reducing the stigma around period sex requires reducing the stigma around periods full stop. This week, Pantone Color Institute joined the cause, teaming up with Swedish menstrual cup brand Intimina to create a color they’re calling Period Red. Yes, it’s a marketing campaign, but if it’s something that gets us talking more about menstruation, it has to be a good thing. Which is why we asked women to share their thoughts about period sex.
As with everything sex-related, the takeaway here is: Do it if you like it and skip it if you don’t. But remember: if you’re having P in V sex during your period, YOU CAN STILL GET PREGNANT. “It’s very rare, but I’m not going to say there’s a zero-percent chance,” says Yolanda Kirkham, MD, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. “Sperm is alive for three days and if someone has very short period cycles, and maybe that month they ovulate a lot earlier, there’s a possibility.”
“I’ve never had period sex. I’ve never been on the pill so my period is an absolute nightmare, lasts for seven days, and feels like I’m dying for all but five minutes of it. It would be like having sex while having the worst flu of my life. I wouldn’t be against it if a partner was on her period. But I also feel that just because your partner may want to, it doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable with it.” — Sandra
“Period sex is a hell yes. Why not? Society needs to stop shaming women about periods. In my defense, my flow is very light (#blessed). Usually I’ll just provide a disclaimer and 99% of people don’t care.” — Sarah
“I’ve had period sex only once. I was 25 or so and hanging out with a guy I’d recently started seeing. Because it was new, we were all over each other. It was the last day of my period, and while I was uncertain about it, he assured me it was no big deal to him, so I went along with it in the spirit of trying something new. Big mistake. I felt awkward and self-conscious the whole time. Plus, even though my flow had been minimal all day, having sex triggered a fresh flow of bright red blood that got everywhere. Afterwards, I excused myself to the bathroom of his gross apartment and dug through my purse for a fresh tampon. I only had one left, and of course, I dropped it on the floor — which was covered in a fine layer of cat litter. I honestly don’t know why I don’t like it. It’s not a pain issue. I’m not grossed out by blood or anything — I’ve been menstruating for 25 years now, so it would be weird if I hadn’t gotten used to that part by now. I guess I’m just happiest when my vagina is only doing one thing at a time.” — Beth
“My partner and I, although not entirely opposed to it, are just not really into period sex. My partner has an IUD, so she hasn’t really had a period in a few years. I, however, do have a period, and the floodgates are open the first couple of days, so frankly, I’m not feeling very sexy or horny. I do tend to get very horny near the end, though. My period is very light then, so we usually do a couple of rounds between flows. We do use a lot of toys during sex, so it doesn’t bother us getting a little blood on them. We usually just avoid going down on each other. What I do like is my hormones working for me and hyping me up, helping me feel extra feisty. What I don’t like is… also my hormones. Although I can feel quite horny, I also have a range of emotions the other days. I also almost always feel bloated during my period, so I’m not always feeling sexy.” — Laura
“I’ve had period sex pretty often. My periods are usually light, so it’s not too messy. If I’m worried about light-colored sheets, I’ll put a towel down. Sometimes I’ll avoid sex for one day if I have a random heavy week. I like it because you’re basically ready-to-go before you even get started. I usually avoid oral sex during my period because I feel like it would be gross for the guy, but if he really, really wanted to, I’d let him go to town. I don’t love having to pull out my tampon right before we’re ready to put the P in the V, but I’ll usually leave it in while making out so that there’s no mess. (I’m a worrier that way!) I always make the guy turn away when I take it out, or I leave the room. I’ve only ever had one guy that didn’t want to have sex because of the blood, and that’s a huge turnoff for me. What, you think women’s bodies are gross? Get outta here!” — Andrea
“I have had period sex in my younger years when hormones raged. Either in the shower, or if I was on a lighter flow day, in bed. One time I even has sex while forgetting I had a tampon in. (A separate catastrophe ensued when it got stuck!) Now that I’ve been off birth control, quite frankly the idea of having sex on my period — when I’m having wild cramps, bloating, and garbage skin — could not be more of a turnoff. My partner has never seemed to care either way; this has been a choice on my end. And now that we’re trying for a baby, we save up sex for when I’m ovulating anyway.” — Katherine
“My best period sex story was with my husband early in our relationship. We decided to take LSD on our first Valentine’s Day together. We stared deep into each other’s eyes and exchanged I love yous under the light of the full moon. This quickly led to sweet and passionate sex, which made me quite thirsty. Naked and without my glasses on, I leaned over to the windowsill to grab my drink and saw a large dark spot on the comforter. I reached down and felt period blood all over my thighs and labia. Tip: LSD can actually cause a uterus to contract and start bleeding. Also hydrogen peroxide takes fresh blood out of fabric very well.” — Jaxx
“I like period sex! It’s naturally more lubricated. Sex is sometimes messy anyway! If you want to have sex — don’t let it hold you back, instead make accommodations. Jump in the shower to do it, or to rinse off together, or put a towel down. This preconceived notion that you shouldn’t is just silly.” — Natalie
“I’ve had period sex a few times. I don’t enjoy it! It’s messy and I just don’t feel sexy when I’m on my period. I think in feminist circles there can be pressure to enjoy period sex, which is maybe an over-correction from the societal perception that it’s gross. Well, maybe not pressure, but an expectation that everyone has to be okay with period sex. If someone told me they didn’t like it, I’d tell them that they don’t have to. And hopefully have a conversation about why: Are they actually uncomfortable or grossed out, or do they think that they should be? There’s no sex act that I think everyone has to like or be comfortable with, and the important thing in any sex life is that every partner is enthusiastically consenting and not feeling pressured or shamed!” — Dee
“I had period sex semi-regularly before I had a hysterectomy. At best, it wasn’t any different than sex at other times. Occasionally it would trigger cramps, which was less-than-fun. My libido seemed higher during the first couple of days of menstruation, so that was a time I often had sex. Honestly, put a towel down and if your partner has a penis, a condom can make cleanup a bit less messy. Be slow with penetration so you don’t trigger cramps!” — Mel
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
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