Get Real! Sex, Period? Yes!


Anonymous asks:

Can you have sex when you have your period? If so, how?

Heather Corinna replies:

There’s nothing about having a menstrual period which makes it impossible or even difficult for a woman to have any kind of sex.

In fact, because there are extra fluids present, plenty of women (as well as some men) find some kinds of sex — like vaginal intercourse — more pleasant during menses. Women often will experience high levels of arousal during menstruation because of decreased estrogens in their bodies at that time, and for women who chart their fertility and know that during menses, they as individuals (remember, all our cycles vary somewhat) are far enough away from ovulation for that to be a low-risk time per pregnancy, their enjoyment if they have opposite-sex partners may be increased because of fewer concerns about pregnancy. In addition, via masturbation or partnered sex, sexual activity and orgasm can help reduce cramps and other menstrual symptoms during menstruation. At the very least, it’s certainly a great distraction.

Can be be messy? Of course it can. But you know, sex is usually messy in some way. If not literally, certainly emotionally and intellectually!

With most kinds of sex, we’re already dealing with fluids, and semen (and some lubricants) will often stain sheets or clothing, as will menstrual flow. But for a woman who wants to have genital sex during her period and make things less messy, she can simply put a towel beneath her that’s easily washed or not as likely to show bloodstains. As well, women who want to have genital sex during menses but avoid the mess entirely can use a diaphragm (but not a cervical cap) or Instead menstrual cup to contain flow during sex without obstructing the vaginal opening or canal. Or, for a woman who isn’t interested in vaginal sex, but in something like clitoral stimulation only, it’s fine for her to have a tampon in during that sex (though since tampons absorb vaginal fluids, she’ll likely need to use more extra lubricant from a bottle than usual). Just be sure not to try and have vaginal sex with a tampon in: that’s neither wise nor comfortable.

Just so you don’t get freaked out if this happens, because orgasm causes extra uterine contractions, sometimes right after sex during menses, it may appear that your menstrual flow has abruptly stopped, something that sometimes causes women to worry they because pregnant right then and there. But that’s not what’s going on: rather, those contractions can just push out extra flow more, which means you also may end sex seeing more flow on your genitals or your partners than you did when you started. You may even have pushed out the very last of your flow, so it’s not abnormal in the last few days of a period to have sex, then find flow stops. Remember that pregnancy isn’t instant: it’s a process that takes around a week to complete: we can’t instantly become pregnant and have it change our fertility processes in an hour.

Some women won’t want to have sex during menses, and some partners may be squeamish. Sometimes, that’s just because people can get freaked out by blood, which is pretty darn normal: after all, usually when we see blood it’s because someone is hurt or injured, so it can tend to invoke a natural reaction of fear in us, especially if we weren’t expecting to see it. Other times, that’s because a person feels like there is something shameful or gross about menstruation in particular, which while common enough to call normal, tends to be based in a lack of acceptance of women’s real bodies, as well as very archaic and uninformed ideas about women and menstruation. Those attitudes aren’t just limited to women’s sexual partners, either: some women may feel embarrassed about or ashamed of their periods, or just feel that menstruation is a time they’d rather spend alone for any number of reasons, from religious or spiritual beliefs to a preference to lay on the couch and watch movies rather than having sex.

Do be aware that because there is blood in menstrual flow, some sexually transmitted infection risks can be higher for partners during menstruation, particularly for bloodborne viruses like HIV or Hepatitis. So, while safer sex is always important, it can be especially important — particularly with more casual partners or with new sexual partners — for sex during menstruation.

For more information, see:

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Heather Corinna on Twitter: @Scarleteen

To schedule an interview with Heather Corinna please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • vashra

    NO!

    Come on now! People trust this site to keep up on the scientific data!

    Sex during menses is *bad* for you. Not only does it offer you no guarantee that you won’t get pregnant, but there are a LOT of studies out there which show that it ups your chance of getting an infection, developing endometriosis, requiring an hysterectomy later in life, and other lovely things like that.

    Here are just a few of the more solid studies:

    Tanfer K, Aral SO: Sexual coitus during menstruation and self-reported sexually transmitted disease history among women. Sexually transmitted diseases 1996;23:395-401.

    Ayoola EA, Ladipo OA, Odelola HA: Antibody to hepatitis B core antigen, e antigen, e antigen and its anitbody in menstrual blood and semen. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 1981;19:221-223.

    Silverman AL, Puccio JE, Kulesza GW, McCray DG, Gordon SC: HCV RNA is present in the menstrual blood of women with chronic hepatitis C infection. American J Gastroentrology 1994;89:1201-1202. (More an issue for the man with her than for herself…but…still)

    Hellberg D, Zdolsek B, Nilsson S, Mardh PA: Sexual behavior of women with repeated episodes of vulvovaginal candidiasis. European J Epidemiology 1995;11:575-579. (Shows that women who have sex during menses are *way* more likely to have to deal with yeast infections than those who do not).

    Oral E, Arici A: Pathogenesis of endometriosis. Obstetrics and gynecology clinics of North America 1997;24:219-233

    Moen MH: Why do women develop endometriosis and why is it diagnosed? Human reproduction 1995;10:8-11.

    Cutler WB, Friedmann E, McCoy NL. Coitus and menstruation in perimenopausal women. Journal of psychosomatic obstetrics and gynaecology 1996;17:149-157. (This one was particularly interesting because it found by accident that the vast majority of women in America who require an hysterectomy later were women who regularly mixed sex with being on their menses.)

  • wildorchid

    If you are practising safer sex the chances of transmitting anything are much lower than if you used restraining from sex during menstruation.

    As for yeast infections – there are women who are more susceptible to them. If something exacerbates the infection they can decide to avoid it. But I see no reason for women who don’t have that correlation to abstain from something they enjoy.

    There is <a href=”http://www.med.yale.edu/obgyn/kliman/resources/GOIEditorial.pdf”> a study that shows orgasm can prevent endometriosis.</a>

     

  • heather-corinna

    Vashra, I appreciate you adding these studies.

     

    However, a few things:

    1) I don’t write for perimenopausal individuals, but for young people.

    2) You’ll note my last paragraph about safer sex.  I did not suggest sex of any kind during menses, or at any other time, was safe without safer sex practices.  Many of the studies above either state or presume no one is using barriers, from what I can tell (I can’t look at all of them in depth, per access issues).We make clear on our site that bloodborne infections, like Hepatitis, require certain safety measures at all times, including during menses or other contact with blood.

     

    I also was not writing to users with pre-existing infections or healthcare issues, though I likely could stand to edit in a sentence which makes clear that certain pre-existing conditions may or do pose extra risks.  I will make that editorial change soon, and apologize for its omission.

    3) Sex isn’t only intercourse, or even only partnered sex, as I talked about in the piece. These studies seem to define it much less broadly or are specifically talking about penis-in-vagina intercourse.

     

    Lastly, all of three studies you have linked to were published in the mid-90′s, at the latest.  Since you obviously are handy with the studies, might you know of any done more recently I could look at?  The Center for Menstrual Cycle Research has linked to this piece supportively in the past, and I do work in and network with women’s clinics, so I’m feeling very good about my answer here. As well, other, more recent study has found DECREASES in endo b/c of sex during menstruation, so I’d consider that right now, we have studies showing a wide range of results, and should figure we just don’t have an answer on that one yet.

     

    However, if you know of other, more recent studies, especially those for younger women without any pre-existing health condtions, which also either aren’t just about intercourse and/or include those using condoms, I’d want to check them to be sure I’m correct in understanding masturbation and various kinds of sex to be safe during menses on the whole, particularly when safer sex measures are already being taken.

     

    Thanks!

  • elizabeth-k

    Vashra, you should have noted that Heather Corinna’s post notes that menstrual fluid contains blood and that therefore all risks of blood-borne pathogens apply, and appropriate precautions should be taken.

     

    In nearly 20 years of studying menstruation* (and ten years of involvement with the <a href=”http://menstruationresearch.org”>Society for Menstrual Cycle Research</a>), I’ve not come across any substantive research to suggest any negative indications of sex during menstruation, so I’ve just been looking up the studies you cite. Although I cannot find all of them in a quick search,** the ones I’ve been able to locate (via CINAHL, MEDLINE, and EBSCO Health Source) do not warrant the conclusion that “sex during menses is *bad* for you”.

     

    For instance, Cutler’s study found “an association between coitus during menstruation and longer and/or heavier menstrual flow.” The first rule of statistics is that association ≠ causation. 

     

    Oral’s review article did not study the association between intercourse (which is only one type of sex, by the way) and menstruation, and does not conclude a causal relation.

     

    Ayoola’s (very small) study seems to confirm the role of sexual transmission in the propagation of hepatitis B virus infection in the tropics; not that sex during menses is bad, and as noted, the post acknowledges increased risk of certain infection and advises appropriate precautions.

     

    Data from Tanfer and Aral’s study comes closest to supporting your assertion, but the researchers themselves note that “Sexual intercourse during menstruation may emerge more consistently as a risk factor for the heterosexual transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted pathogens in future studies.” In other words, even with self-reported data from more than 1500 participants, they’re not willing to say that “sex during menses is bad for you”. 

     

    If you’re not interested in sex during menstruation (whether vaginal intercourse or other forms), that’s your prerogative and you’re welcome to say so here, but cherry-picking dated, limited studies to support an unwarranted conclusion is not demonstrating how to “keep up on scientific data”. Like Heather, I look forward to your provision of more recent and appropriate research.

     

    *I am not a physician or medical researcher, but my studies of cultural attitudes and beliefs toward menstruation are wide-ranging.

    **With digging and interlibrary loan, I could probably find all of the studies. That is not my point here.