From the Old Testament’s claim that anyone who touches a menstruating woman will be “unclean until evening,” to the 38 states that still tax menstrual products as luxury items, the cultural stigma surrounding a woman’s monthly cycle has led to it often being treated as a problem, an illness, or a “curse,” instead of the biological sign of health that it is.
Even in pop culture, references to menstruation are most frequently and memorably scenes that evoke embarrassment and shame—and are written by men. (Think of the scene in Superbad where Jonah Hill grinds with a girl who leaves a period stain on his leg, or the “plug it up” tampon assault in Stephen King’s Carrie.)
Plenty of people, even among feminists and millennials, still feel squeamish when approaching the subject, let alone the actual substance. While memes and internet culture glorify subsets of sexuality that were far from the mainstream just a few years ago, period sex seems to be the final taboo.
Is period sex the last tabooed frontier?
Even in my circles filled with sex-positive women, shame around this aspect of sex and sexuality is surprisingly common. “The one time I did do it, I was so embarrassed,” said Raven, 23. “It was one of my last days and there was more blood than I expected on this guy’s white blankets, white sheets, white everything, all stained.” Even though her partner (a cis man in his late twenties) was “unexpectedly cool” about the whole situation, Raven insisted he turn away while she changed and washed his sheets.
While Raven certainly didn’t need to be embarrassed, I’m not here to pile shame on top of an already pervasive feeling of shame. But you can tackle those feelings, with a little perspective and a few positive period sex experiences. There’s a lot of different ways to have period sex that won’t necessarily leave the bedroom looking like a massacre. And even if you do, there are plenty of relatively quick, easy and affordable ways of handling it.
How to have sex on your period
If you’re nervous to start having period sex, the shower may be a great place to start, or you can simply lay a towel down on your sheets. There are also plenty of options that allow you to keep a tampon in—we do all know that penetration is not the only way to have sex by now, right? Have your partner focus on external stimulation, be it with a mouth, hands, or a vibrator.
However, if you are one of those rare angels who can orgasm from penetrative sex or if you have the best orgasms from a combination of penetration and external stimulation (like me!), you may want to stick to positions where you’re lying down—that whole gravity thing is no joke. Missionary is a classic for a reason; spooning is a great option to control the angle and depth of penetration, and especially nice for working out some of those cramps.
No matter how you choose to do it, there are a number of benefits that people aren’t talking about. For some women, the orgasm itself can be super-charged thanks to the extra blood flow to your vulva, which heightens sensitivity. That blood flow can enhance sex but can also sometimes make sex painful—and this can vary from woman to woman, cycle to cycle, even day to day. The best news for those who are beleaguered monthly with menstrual symptoms? The hormones released during orgasm help soothe cramps and, according to a 2013 study, reduce migraine and cluster headaches in some people. Additionally, orgasmic contractions in your uterus can help shed your uterine lining, giving you a shorter and more pleasant period.
Have fun, and don’t forget protection
Of course, you still need to take precautions. Just because we think of menstruation as the end of a woman’s cycle, there is still another one coming right up. So keep using your regular forms of birth control (and possibly an additional one, if you rely on the Pill), as it is still possible to get pregnant.
More good news: the squeamishness around periods does seem to lessen with age, among people of all genders. “No grown dude is gonna say no,” said Lyla, 33. “The older guys get, they’re just like, wet is wet.” Often as people mature into themselves, there’s an acceptance of the slippery, slimy, sometimes unexpected release of bodily fluids that are a part of sex—regardless of the time of the month. And with that comes acceptance, and a whole host of benefits and potential for fun.