The first time I had penetrative sex involved weeks of planning. I was 17 and still lived with my family — with my father and my grandparents to be precise — and it wasn't exactly a sex-positive household. So when the conversation about taking that step came up with my boyfriend we had to plan a time when my grandparents were out of town.
He was older and had his own place, but I wasn't supposed to go to his apartment. It wasn't unusual for him to spend the night at our place, but always on the couch in the living room, never with me. But with my grandparents gone, he could stay over and take their room. So we planned to "go all the way" the next time my grandparents were on a cruise. My father was a heavy sleeper and we figured we could be quiet.
When the day finally came I was pretty nervous. We'd done a lot of other things at that point, but the social significance made this seem different. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that I'd gotten my period just in time to be bloody for our planned night together. I was running a lot of different scripts through my head about how to tell him. A few of my friends were sexually active and we talked about it a little bit, but I only had enough information to understand that period sex was a no-go for a lot of people.
The look on his face when I finally told him made my heart sink. He wasn't crazy about the idea, but we decided to go ahead anyway. I put down a towel and we were using condoms, so I figured the mess would be largely contained. But after only a couple of minutes he was too squicked out to continue, so we changed activities. Later, I folded up the bloody towel and shoved it in the back of my closet, like evidence of some sort of crime, and vowed to wash it when I could do so without being noticed.
Given that rocky start I was hesitant to bring up period sex in the future, but subsequent partners have been largely unfazed. It's been healing for me to sleep with people who couldn't care less about my blood or fluids, even going down on me when I'm menstruating.
At this point in my life I've been on both sides of the equation numerous times and I don't care in the least if a partner of mine is bleeding. Although I wouldn't generally suggest blood as lube, it can add a bit of slipperiness to the mix.
I live in a fairly sex-positive bubble, so I wasn't surprised to find that in a highly scientific polling of my friends, I had mostly hell yesses and only a couple hell nos. But no one was neutral. The topic sparked such lively conversations I highly recommend you bring it up at your next dinner party.
The strong feelings are there for good reason. My friends group notwithstanding, our culture has a lot of hangups when it comes to sex and bodies and people are regularly shamed for the natural things their bodies do. Menstruation is political, too. From the high cost of menstrual products to photos that show period blood being banned on sites like Instagram. It's no wonder everyone has an opinion.
My friends flooded me with information about being more aroused during their periods. Lee said, "I am always at my horniest and my raunchiest when i am bleeding and I've always been disappointed when partners are grossed out or not into it."
Other friends touted the spiritual, intimate, or cramp relieving properties of period sex.
"Menstrual blood can create an amazing primal kind of intimacy. Yes, check in around barriers/protection and then have fun," said Zahava Griss. "You can paint with it, anoint each other, pour it into the earth or a plant together and connect with the nature of our fertility. It's so rich for shame resilience."
Of course, period sex isn't a cure-all. And for some people, it makes period discomfort worse. One friend said: "I found that penetration or orgasms, combined with the raging fibroids in my uterus, would sometimes bring on the 'scream out loud and go fetal for five solid minutes' level of cramping."
If you're interested in period sex, but aren't keen on the mess, try sea sponges or some of the shallower menstrual cups. It's possible to have penetrative sex while those products are in place, and for many people that leads to entirely mess free sex. (Though I haven't mastered that technique for myself yet.) You can get sea sponges locally from SeaGrape Bath & Body or from Portland company GladRags.
My favorite option when it comes to managing any kind of messy sex (or kink) is to simply play in the shower. Getting dirty feels like less of a big deal when you can immediately rinse off, so that's a great way to start if you or your partner is unsure about getting bloody.
A lesser talked about issue is how it feels for folks who menstruate, but for whom menstruation doesn't align with their gender identity. For some people, it's a non-issue. For others, it can be a trigger. Artist Cass Clemmer started the hashtag #bleedingwhiletrans to bring attention to this issue. In an article about the project, Clemmer wrote that "Getting your period while not identifying as a woman can feel like a monthly battle both with your own body and with a world that continuously tells you that your identity isn't real."
Wherever you are on the spectrum of hell yes to hell no, whether period sex is part of your spiritual practice or simply the cause for an extra load of laundry, bringing up the conversation can be a valuable way to learn more about your body, your partner's body, and how you relate to each other.
Have you got a burning question of your own? We're listening! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and keep your eye out for an answer in an upcoming column!