Periods tend to last between three to five days (although sometimes they drag on an entire damn week), and they tend to keep going until menopause, which usually hits around age 50.
So if you’ve sworn off period sex—well, those days definitely add up.
It used to be that period sex got a bad rap (“Ewww, it’s gross!”), but these days, a lot of people have come around to the idea that sex while menstruating is not only totally normal, it’s actually good for you. Still, there are many misconceptions about it, so to help us wade through the facts about period sex (and give us tips about how to have great period sex), we reached out to New York-based doctor Alyssa Dweck, M.D., author of The Complete A to Z for your V, and Jane van Dis, M.D., an OB/GYN with Maven, the digital clinic for women.
Period sex really does have health benefits.
It’s well-known that a little nookie can help alleviate period cramps. “Yes, orgasms (and their uterine muscle contractions) are associated with the release of feel-good chemicals and neurotransmitters—which naturally help with pain,” Dwerk says.
One study found that women who had a higher frequency of orgasms experienced less menstrual pain. In addition, Dwerk says, some women also have heightened libido during their menses… which always leads to better sex.
“I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from patients that having sex and using menstrual discs and cups can help shorten your period,” van Dis says. “But I haven’t seen any studies demonstrating this.”
Still… better safe than sorry, right? Especially when “being safe” means “having an orgasm.”
… but you still need to use protection.
“Period sex is definitely safe, so long as you continue the same sorts of practices to prevent pregnancy and STIs that you would when you’re not on your period,” van Dis says.
Many STIs, such as hepatitis B and C and HIV, are transmitted through bodily fluids, including menstrual blood. Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are also sexually transmitted, and van Dis notes that OB/GYNs have been seeing an increased rate of all three. Some data suggests that you may also be more prone to some infections during menstruation. The correlation isn’t definite, though.
When half the population menstruates, there’s really no need to whisper about it.
“Some have hypothesized that since the cervix is slightly opened to allow menstrual blood and endometrial lining to pass, that there could be increased risk for transmission of viruses or bacteria during period sex,” van Dis says. “But there haven’t been any definitive studies showing this is true.”
So if you’re non-monogamous, it’s a good idea to use a condom (during your period… not during your period… pretty much always).
And yes, you can still get pregnant.
One of the old myths about period sex is that you can’t get pregnant, but that’s totally false. “I tell women that while the chance of conceiving on days one to seven of the cycle is low, it’s not zero,” van Dis says. “If you’re not ready to become a parent, it’s best to use at least one reliable form of birth control at all times.”
There are ways to reduce the messiness.
Van Dis suggests shower sex or a product like a menstrual disc, which can be used for mess-free period sex. Other fun options: Do it in the bathtub, or if you have a super-secluded outdoor space, this is the perfect time to take advantage. To avoid big messes on heavy flow days, you can throw a towel down on the bed; break out the special, black bedsheets; and avoid positions like the cowgirl, because gravity.
Perceptions are changing.
While period sex used to be fairly taboo, that’s no longer the case, Dweck and van Dis say. In fact, more than 75 percent of the men polled in a recent survey said they’d love to have sex during menstruation. Dwerk says partners need to openly communicate with each other about their comfort levels. “Menses and vaginal health and hygiene in general are still controversial subjects. Let’s change this,” Dweck says.
Adds van Dis: “When half the population menstruates, there’s really no need to whisper about it.”
Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist currently based in Mexico. Her work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, Man Repeller, Teen Vogue, and CityLab. Follow her @JulissaTrevino.