a beginner’s guide to period sex, part 1: everything you need to know before having sex while menstruating
Sex & Pleasure
9th September 2021
We love period sex. It sometimes gets a bad rap because people think it’s gross (wrong) or messy (right) or can’t imagine feeling in the ~mood~ while they’re cramping and bleeding (valid). Maybe you’re up for the idea of period sex but don’t know how to broach it with your partner(s), or your partner has expressed interest in it and you’re looking for tips on how to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible.
When it comes to having sex while menstruating, there’s a lot going on. You’ve got a lot more to think about than just how horny you and the person/people you’re having sex with are, you might want to plan around the mess, experiment with comfort level, and you’ll have to face your body and it’s weird n wonderful functions in confronting ways. You also have to have open, honest communication about your period and the kind of sex you’re interested in having while menstruating. We hope you’re having open, honest communication with your partner(s) about sex anyway, but maybe talking about your period is new territory for you.
We’re going to be deep-diving into all things period sex: having it, not having, how to have it safely, how to ask for it, and how to have as much fun as possible while you do have it.
First up, we’re talking about everything you should know before you have period sex for the first time. Even if you’re a seasoned pro when it comes to period sex, there’s probably a few things you didn’t know about the world of bloody shagging. Like, erm, did you know you should take different safety precautions while having sex when on your period than you would regularly? Or how to keep period sex hygienic? Or whether it’s possible to get pregnant after engaging in period sex? All comin’ up.
First thing’s first: CAN you have sex on your period? Abso-fuckin-lutely! It’s not bad to have sex on your period, at all. Plenty of folks who are new to menstruation or sex (or maybe aren’t new to either of those things but had what we’ll charitably call a ‘conservative’ sex education) often wonder if it’s possible or safe to have sex while you’re on you period. The answer is yes: so long as both/all sexual partners are consenting to having period sex, you’re being safe, and you’re not doing it atop those bajillion-thread count sheets you’d be heartbroken to stain (it happens), period sex is totally doable – and can even be hella fun.
Some housekeeping for the uninitiated: we’ll be covering how to chat to your partner(s) about period sex later in the series, but we just want to point out that consensual period sex (like all sex, hopefully), means getting explicitly informed consent – whoever you’re planning on having sex with will need to know you’re menstruating beforehand and you need to discuss to what level of… let’s say ‘getting messy’… they’re comfortable with, be it acrobatics and kinky stuff or something which keeps the blood well out of the way, such as mutual masturbation or oral sex while the person bleeding is wearing a tampon, cup, or disc. And if they want to dip out because blood just isn’t their thing, you have to be cool with that. We can wax lyrical all we want about period sex not being gross (it really isn’t!) and how empowering it can be to shed those taboos, but it’s important we allow people to set their own boundaries and respect them, especially when they don’t align with our own. So, while I love a good feminist rant as much as the next person, telling someone they’re being backwards for not being down with getting down when you (or they) are bleeding is really not cool, okay?
Is period sex safe? Period sex is like most sex: safe if you’re being safe, less so if you’re being a bit careless, not taking precautions, and not keeping up with your sexual health check-ups. However, it is worrying how little we speak of the risks associated with period sex specifically; having sex during your period actually carries more risks in the form of passing on Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV than sex during other times of your cycle. Let’s unpack why this is before we pull a soccer mom on period sex and make sure everyone’s having fun but safely.
To get the scary one out of the way: does period sex have a greater risk of spreading HIV? Yes, having sex on your period does carry a higher risk of passing on HIV. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, if you have HIV and your viral load is detectable, you’re more likely to be able to pass it one while menstruating due to the fact that the levels of HIV present in your vaginal fluid is likely to be higher around the time of your period.
If you have a detectable viral load, you should use condoms if having penetrative sex, always, and while menstruating. And if you want to receive oral sex while on your period but you have a detectable viral load, the person giving it to you should use a dental dam, which is a latex sheet kind of like a flattened out condom, especially if they have any sores or cuts in their mouth, a sore throat, or any kind of throat or mouth infection. An actual condom, cut and stretched over the vulva, can also serve here. You cannot pass on HIV if you have an undetectable viral load and are undergoing effective treatment.
As for STIs, you also need to be mindful about the increased risk of contracting or spreading them if having sex while bleeding. During your period your usually-closed cervix opens – you know, to give that shedding uterus lining right of way on it’s swift exit from your body. The other time it opens is during childbirth, to allow an entire human to exit your uterus. Normally, your cervix acts as a barrier protecting you from bacteria which can get into your body during penetrative intercourse – and we’re not just talking penises either flesh or faux, we’re talking fingers, tongues, toys, and anything that’s getting up close and personal with the sensitive insides of your vagina. Unwanted bacteria entering your body can result in an infection. The pH balance of your vagina is also more alkaline than acidic during your period, so while the acidity of your vagina usually helps to protect the body from infections, you don’t have the benefit of that extra defence while you’re menstruating.
If you’re having sex with someone with a penis, to mitigate the risk of infection, we highly recommend using condoms when you have period sex. Yes, even if you’re in a committed relationship and yes, even if you’re on hormonal birth control. Only a barrier contraceptive can help you here! And even if your sexual partner doesn’t have a penis, be liberal with the condoms, babe. Strap-ons, toys, fingers – it’s best to make sure whatever’s going inside your vagina is either clean and sterilised as hell, or wrapped up. Besides, if you or your partner is a tad squeamish about the mess, a condom can catch most of the blood or at least prevent your partner’s body parts from getting too gory. Win-win.
Is period sex hygienic? Period sex is hygienic and safe in that the blood itself doesn’t pose a risk to your partner in anyway. If you’re following the safety guidelines outlined above, and if you and your partner(s) are aware of your sexual health statuses, there’s no reason to be afraid of period sex. Menstrual blood in and of itself being thought of as harmful, dangerous, or impure is unfortunately still a lingering taboo in many parts of the world that we’re working hard to dismantle!
Period blood is made up of blood, cervical mucus, endometrial tissue, and vaginal secretions. It’s no more unsanitary than blood that comes out of your cuts and scrapes, and (unless you have a blood-borne illness) poses no threat or risk to another person if they come into contact with it (read: when you wanna get it on). Period blood is actually so rich in nutrients that some people are even into fertilising their houseplants with it. Now we’re not saying you have to go that far, but just bear this in mind next time you or your partner freaks out at the idea of touching it!
Can you get pregnant if you have sex on your period? YES! Sorry for shouting. But yes. A lot of people think there’s absolutely no way you can get pregnant from having period sex, but it’s absolutely possible. Now, if we’re being honest, for many people it’s not super likely, but it’s important you really understand the nuances of how the whole baby-making malarkey works before you brush it off as something that ‘just wouldn’t happen to me’. To get pregnant, sperm needs to be present at the time of ovulation. Sperm usually survives around 5 days, but up to 7 days, in your body, so if you ovulate while there’s still sperm clinging onto life inside you, you can get pregnant.
In most menstruating folks, ovulation happens at the midpoint of your cycle, or 14 days before your next period is due – e.g. day 14 in an average 28-day cycle. Say you have an average cycle (28 days) and you have a period which lasts 7 days. If you have sex on the last day of your period, you could still have viable sperm living inside you by the time you ovulate. Or say you have a short cycle and long period? Same story. What about those of you with a short bleed and long cycle? Well, unfortunately since we’re dealing with erratic bodies and ever-fluctuating hormones, this isn’t an exact science. It is possible to experience early ovulation, regardless of how long your cycle is, the duration of your bleed, or even how regular and reliable your cycle usually is! A minefield, we know. So if you’re having sex with folks who could get you pregnant, you’re not on hormonal contraception, and you’re not looking to get pregnant any time soon, we highly recommend you take the exact same precautions against pregnancy that you’d use at other times of your cycle! That means condoms or your barrier contraceptive of choice – check out this article for all your contraceptive options if hormonal contraceptives aren’t your thing.
So, is period sex a good idea? If you want to have period sex and your partner(s) are comfortable, consenting, and into it, there’s no reason why you should be scared of having sex while you’re bleeding. Period sex requires a little more housekeeping than sex at other times of your cycle, such as taking extra safety precautions and having different kinds of discussions beforehand. But periods are a huge and unavoidable part of your life as a human with a cycle, and sex shouldn’t have to be off limits every damn time you’re bleeding!
Check back next week when we’ll be sharing all our top tips for having great period sex, saving sheets, and exploring the cramp-curing miracle that is orgasms and vibrators.
Image credit @chanelmckinsie
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