Stomach cramps, mood swings, fatigue, a face full of spots and some serious bloating: on the surface your period doesn’t seem designed to make you feel your sexiest. Not to mention if you have a heavy flow, when the idea of anything near your vagina other than a tampon, pad or menstrual cup seems like a recipe for carnage.
As a result lots of people write off sex altogether in the week of their period, preferring to wait until it’s finished before engaging in the bedroom. This can vary from a penetrative sex rule (one woman said an ex-partner optimistically referred to that time as ‘blow job week’) to no sexual touching of any kind.
While you can see some of the reasons for choosing to avoid it, there are other people out there who find sex during their period to be a positive experience.
One poll of 500 people found 55% of participants thought period sex was “awesome” and “natural” (not least because a release of post-orgasm oxytocin and dopamine hormones can be helpful in lessening cramp pain). In fact there are some people who enjoy period sex so much they actively seek it out.
Jenni*, 25, from London, says she is all for having sex when she is on her period because she tends to have a higher libido. This isn’t as uncommon as it sounds – experts have speculated about the causes of this well-documented libido surge from the psychological (feeling liberated from a fear of pregnancy) to the physiological (the theory that bleeding stimulates nerve endings in the vulva).
The first time Jenni had period sex was at the beginning of 2018, and now she does it regularly. “Sex is always on my mind [during my period],” she says, adding that she and her partner use a towel to clean up afterwards but also rely on the missionary position to try and reduce mess – rather than her preferred position of ‘cowgirl’. She also has more shower sex during her period.
“Boys are fine with ‘cum’ so why aren’t they fine with blood? Blood is just blood.”
But Jenni didn’t always feel this way. “Having been that person who was afraid of the stigma, it is totally understandable [to me] why some people might feel differently.” The turning point, she says, was a feeling of resentment that women’s bodies were treated differently to men’s. “Boys are fine with ‘cum’ so why aren’t they fine with blood? Blood is just blood.”
Louise*, 31 from London, has period sex more for logistical reasons. She and her girlfriend tend to continue sexual activity throughout her period because their cycles don’t always match up – meaning if they didn’t have period sex they’d be left with only a few days a month as a window. “To avoid total mess we just don’t do anything internal,” she says. “We used to put a towel down, but both of us have quite sore periods and as much as penetration can feel weirdly nice, that can take a lot of time to get used to and it’s generally a faff.”
Louise says that she feels more sensitive around her time of the month and that an orgasm can be the perfect way to relieve period pains. “I used to have it a lot more when me and my girlfriend were long distance and had to make do with the time we had. I’ll have it probably once or twice a month these days, and if so it’s not full on sex, it’s just hand stuff.”
Other people like the extra layer of intimacy it can bring with a partner. Lydia*, 21, from York, doesn’t have period sex on one night stands but would with “a partner who really cares about me”, she says. “It’s like peeing with the door open or talking in the morning before you’ve brushed your teeth. A little icky and a little bit more real. It’s embarrassing and messy but it feels more honest.”
Rachel, 26, from Leeds agrees on the intimacy it brings – and as a result wouldn’t do it with a one night stand either, only with her current long-term partner. “Knowing that it doesn’t bother my boyfriend feels good,” she says
“I don’t feel overly sexy when I’m on my period – it all feels a bit messier than it’s worth.”
Ellie*, 19, from Cheshire is more on the fence. She has had period sex before, near the end of her period, but doesn’t do it regularly and isn’t really a fan. This is because she doesn’t feel at her best when she is bleeding, either physically or mentally. “I find I am in too much pain with my period earlier on in the seven days. I know it’s only a little blood but I don’t feel overly sexy when I’m on my period and it all feels a bit messier than it’s worth.”
But, like Jenni, she does acknowledge that her sex drive is much higher when she is on her period. “This could be psychological because I’ve told myself I can’t have it. But your sex drive is definitely higher in my experience – I can definitely understand why people love it.”
Aside from the pain, she also struggles with having the conversation with male partners. “It all feels a little too much for me and my partner to handle, like you can be close but it still feels a bit much! I think it is something that works better with a long-term partner as it is messy and can be a bit embarrassing.”
Kelvin*, 22, a trans man from London says that having period sex is a negative experience for him because it is too triggering. He had periods when he was younger – he started a medical transition at the age of 15 – but wasn’t old enough to have sex, and has only experienced period sex secondhand with a partner.
Even though it isn’t him having the period, he says that this can be a stressful time for a trans person suffering with gender dysphoria (where a person experiences discomfort or distress over the mismatch between their gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth). Because of this, he says, sex has been “completely off the table” during his partner’s period.
Any interaction on those days has relied on using toys over clothes, or anal sex. But Kelvin says this is still difficult and it sometimes feel easier just to avoid it. “Because of my history with dysphoria, it can be difficult to navigate period sex with partners who are up for it without being triggered,” he says. “Even though it’s not mine, seeing menstrual blood can cause me to have anxiety attacks.”
Zoe*, 27, from London, is also anti-period sex because of the pain and discomfort she experiences during her periods. “I’m bleeding, it’s sticky and messy and it has an odour, my back aches, I get awful sharp cramps like I can feel my body shredding itself apart, I’m often bloated, and if I tried to have sex when feeling like that, that’s all I’d be thinking about.
“If it was just the mess it would be simpler, but for me (and I’m sure loads of others), it’s all the other stuff going on with my body as well as the bleeding. Period bowel movements? Not an aphrodisiac.”
Zoe is in a long-term relationship. For her it’s not about awkwardness, she says, adding that often feels “horny” on her period, so she can see those arguments.
But for her, it’s still a no. She worries that period sex has been co-opted by men as a “badge of honour,” rather than always being what women want. “There’s an element of shaming to it,” she says. “If you aren’t getting jiggy when on your period you’re a prude! It’s not the case – I’m as horny as the next person but I also know myself and my body.”
• Some names have been changed and surnames omitted at the request of interviewees.