Guidance: This feature contains adult themes
Collapsing onto the bed, I let out a sigh of utter bliss and contentment - I’d just had some of the best sex of my life with my boyfriend. I felt incredibly close and bonded to him and the intensity of the experience had left me speechless. We’d been together six months and had just spent the entire weekend together, completely inseparable. Textbook, honeymoon-phase sex, you might think. But there was one detail you might not expect: I was on the heaviest day of my period.
I wasn’t always so comfortable with the idea of ‘period sex’. In my late teens and early twenties, one week out of every month was completely off-limits for intercourse. Back in the mid-noughties my first boyfriend would tediously (and rather optimistically) refer to it as “blow job week” and I didn’t bat an eyelid.
Fast forward to 2018 and I’m firmly in the pro-period sex camp. Through a combination of growing older and more confident about asking for what I want from sex, I gradually realised I love it. Now, in my relationships, I enjoy sex during every day of my cycle - sometimes even more so during my period.
I know I'm not alone. One study of 500 people saw 55% of participants tell the researcher they found period sex 'natural or awesome'. However, the other 45% said they thought it was 'gross'.
There are plenty of other studies to back up why the 45% feel that way – with experts saying women are likely to feel a surge in arousal during ovulation (rather than when they get their period). That certainly makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint - so how then do we explain why there are people like me who are turned on when they're ‘on’?
Experts may struggle to explain why, but I know i'm not alone in my attitudes towards period sex.
Kathryn, 28, told me that the craving she feels for sex on her period differs from that at other times of the month. “There’s something very vulnerable about it. I don’t want crazy, all-different-positions sex all night long, but I definitely feel this intense need for intimacy and comfort.”
I can relate to this. While some women seek comfort from giant bars of chocolate, the warmth of a hot water bottle or sofa-bound TV binges; others’ instincts are for more primal forms of comfort.
Rachel Newman, MD, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of California, Irvine, explained this theory to me. “When you have intercourse, your body releases oxytocin, which is the 'bonding' hormone, and also the hormone that is released during labour to help your uterus contract down. It makes sense that this may bring some relief from cramps."
She added: “And if you get the added bonus of an orgasm, you’ll also be flooding your body with even more feel-good hormones which will, at the very least, distract you from any pain or cramps for a little while.”
Anna Druet, a science researcher for a period-tracking app named Clue, added to this theory and explained, "Cramps can be painful and uncomfortable. The endorphins released by orgasms may help relieve menstrual cramps (and stress) for some people. What's more, period sex obviously makes for the most naturally lubricated sex of all. Menstruation can be an especially great time for shower sex, when you’re less likely to have to re-apply lube, which can wash away quickly in the shower."
The most common reason I hear for people’s reluctance to have period sex is the 'mess'. Obviously, all women are different with vastly varying levels of flow. But, according to Rachel Newman it's even possible having period sex could curtail your bleed. "Orgasms cause strong uterine contractions which, during your period, help expel the uterine lining. So it certainly makes sense that women who engage in regular intercourse during menstruation may experience a shorter period than they would otherwise."
But on even your heaviest day, my advice with penetrative sex is just keep the position simple and put a towel beneath you. Then your bedroom won’t look like a crime scene.
Perhaps most importantly, if you're sick of spending half your salary on sexy lingerie, there’s something incredibly liberating about having sex with someone you care about when you’re in your flannel pyjamas, bloated, and feeling less than 100%. In a good relationship, you want to feel desired all the time, not just when you’re 'at your best'.
Of course, it’s a personal preference and might not be for you. And I’d never judge someone (well, not much, anyway) for not wanting to do it. But, in my experience, many people have absolutely no problem with it. Broach the subject with your partner and you might find you’re both more up for it than you thought. After all, despite generations of Hollywood depictions to the contrary, the best sex isn’t airbrushed and perfect. It’s messy and very real.
This article was first published on 28 January 2018