Here are two things that are completely normal: Sex and your menstrual cycle. Separately, they’re both pretty easy to understand, but when you bring them together, things can get a little…messy. Literally. Sexually distancing yourself during your or your partner’s period is a choice, but it’s not the only choice!
Since most of us weren’t educated on the subject in our sex ed classes, it’s possible you might have a few questions on navigating the red waters—and we’re here to help. To make sure you have a bloody good time, we tapped a few of our favorite sexperts for a crash-course on every period sex myth we’ve come across, and the truth (or lack thereof) behind them all.
So throw a towel down, get comfy and prepare to go with the flow—things may get messy.
Myth #1: You Can’t Get Pregnant During Period Sex
We’ve all heard this one before, and long story short: It’s not true. According to licensed psychologist and K-Y’s sex therapist Dr. Shannon Chavez, there’s always a risk of pregnancy when it comes to unprotected heterosexual sex, although it’s considered uncommon when one partner is on their period.
“It is not common, but is a possibility because sperm can live in the female body for up to five days. So, if there is any variation in the ovulation window and if it is close to the time that ovulation occurs, there is a chance of pregnancy,” says Dr. Chavez.
Dr. Chavez also notes that the length of your cycle can also play a role: “Women that have cycles shorter than 28 days have the chance of early ovulation, which can increase the risk of pregnancy if unprotected sex occurred later in the menstruation period and closer to the ovulation window.”
Myth #2: Period Sex Is Messy
This is probably the biggest misconception about period sex—and it’s also one of the biggest excuses people have for avoiding it. Yes, period sex can be messy, but it doesn’t have to be if you take the proper steps.
Dr. Alyssa Dweck, OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer at Bonafide, notes that there are quite a few ways to minimize the splash zone, including wearing a menstrual disc or vaginal diaphragm during sex. “The disc or diaphragm will collect flow and in many cases prove to be mess free,” she says. Dweck also notes using a menstrual sponge before sex can minimize blood as well.
If you’d rather let it all flow (but don’t want to deal with clean-up afterwards), Dweck says simply having sex in the shower is the easiest way to guarantee almost no mess. She also recommends laying a towel over your bed (or wherever you’re having sex, we don’t judge) for an easy-to-clean setting.
Myth #3: Period Sex Is Unhygienic
Though we understand if you or your partner would rather not go down on someone during their menstrual cycle, we can’t express enough that your period is not “dirty.”
Dr. Chavez says it loud and clear: “It is perfectly healthy to have oral and vaginal sex during your period. Periods are not dirty or shameful and can actually increase the benefits of sex during this time such as higher arousal and desire, more lubrication and stronger connection with a partner.”
With that said, Dr. Dweck notes that your period is still blood. “Blood is also a bacterial medium; theoretically, oral exposure could lead to illness,” she says. But of course, there are preventative measures one can take: “A dental dam or female condom can help mitigate risk,” says Dr. Dweck.
Myth #4: You Can’t Get An STI During Your Period
Just like Myth #1, this is entirely untrue. Though period blood isn’t dirty, Dweck and Chavez agree that it can carry sexually transmitted diseases or infections. “Any fluid exchange can increase your risk of STIs,” says Dr. Chavez. “Also, during menstruation, the pH of the vagina changes and can increase the risk of STI transmission.”
Dr. Dweck adds that any blood-borne STI, such as syphilis, hepatitis and HIV, can be transmitted through blood, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re with a new partner. If you don’t know your partner’s sexual history, then be safe and use a condom, the only form of contraception that protects against infection and diseases.
Myth #5: Period Sex is Painful
If you have a particularly painful period, then just the thought of having sex can send shivers down your spine (in a bad way). But, you may be missing out on some major pain relief: Chavez notes that sex can actually reduce pain by releasing hormones that ease your cramps.
“Sexual activity can also release tension and relax the pelvic floor, which can reduce painful sex,” she says.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s painless for everyone. If you notice any discomfort while having sex during your menstrual cycle, Dweck recommends changing positions, trying alternatives to penetrative sex (oral, anal, hand stuff, you get it) or taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen before sex.
Myth #6: Period Sex Can Change Your Cycle
This is actually true, but don’t be afraid! Both doctors agree that period sex can change your cycle for the better.
Though your cycle is dependent on a variety of factors like stress, hormones, genetics and other health specifics, Dr. Chavez notes that sex can relieve your period symptoms by decreasing pain and discomfort from cramps. How? Through dopamine, says Dr. Dweck.
“Dopamine, the reward and pleasure neurotransmitter, is released during orgasm to heighten pleasure and lessen pain,” she explains. “Flow could be lightened from sex since orgasm involves uterine contractions and expedited expulsion of flow.”
Who knows? Maybe sex has been the secret to a more enjoyable period overall. If you give it a go, we fully support you!