Originally published January 24, 2018.
Sexual activity during menstruation is considered taboo in some cultures (1). Since women and people with cycles menstruate for about a quarter of a month, avoiding sex during menstruation often requires negotiation or discomfort in relationships (1). Why do these taboos exist? Most are based on archaic ideas—there is nothing “dirty” or dangerous about menstrual blood.
Sex during menstruation can be healthy and even has certain benefits. Some women notice increased arousal during their period and find that period sex strengthens their connection with their partner (2). Plus, there is anecdotal evidence that the hormones released during orgasm can help to reduce menstrual cramps (3).
If you don’t feel like engaging in sexual activities during your period—or ever—that’s also totally fine. Masturbation during your period is always an option and has similar benefits.
Here are some period sex tips
How period sex is approached is unique to each couple—some might prefer to have shower sex while menstruating to make it less messy. Some people wear a tampon up until intercourse and then use lubrication. (Menstrual blood can also function as a lubricant.) Some couples might prefer to lay a towel underneath them, while others might enjoy getting a bit messy. As long as all partners are comfortable with the situation, there is no reason to avoid having sex while menstruating.
Can you get pregnant if you have sex on your period
The short answer is: yes.
You can get pregnant if you have sex on your period. Your fertile window—the time in your cycle when you are most likely to become pregnant—depends on various environmental and physiological factors. Conception can occur if you have unprotected sex during your period.
But, research has found the probability of being in your fertile window on the first couple of days of your period is close to zero, and may rise to about 2% on day four (6).
People with predictable, typical-length (24 to 38 days) menstrual cycles are less likely to be in their fertile window during or right after their period, while people with short or unpredictable cycles are more likely to be in their fertile window during menstruation (5, 6). The fertile window is the days in your cycle when pregnancy is most likely to occur. It includes the days leading up to, including, and immediately after ovulation (6). If you ovulate early in your cycle, which is more likely as you age, your fertile window can overlap with your period (6). If you have unprotected sex during your period when it overlaps with your potential ovulation days, then pregnancy can occur.
Some people experience bleeding outside of their period. Be aware of ovulation spotting—and other causes of spotting—so you don’t mistake it for a period while having unprotected sex. If you don’t want to become pregnant, use a condom or other form of birth control every time you have sex.
Is there a risk of STIs when having sex on your period?
Menstrual blood can change the pH of your vagina, increasing the likelihood of contracting an STI from a partner who is infected (8, 9). Condoms are important when having period sex with an untested partner (9). Use barrier methods (condoms, dental dams) with an untested or new sexual partner during both penetrative and oral sex to reduce STI risks.
If you have period sex in the shower, the water can impact the effectiveness of a condom. The risk is associated with a condom falling off in the shower, so use lube even when showering or in the water. Oral sex while menstruating doesn’t have to be off-limits if you and your partner consent to it. Oral sex that focuses on the clitoris may reduce the likelihood of blood getting into the mouth.
Anal play or anal sex are also accessible during the menstrual phase of the cycle and can reduce exposure to menstrual blood. If you’re into anal stimulation with another person, just remember it has similar STI risks as oral sex or vaginal intercourse. Encountering some feces during anal play is possible—it’s a bodily reality of that area. Rectal bacteria can introduce a risk of infections (9). Wash the penis or toy or change condoms before changing from anal to oral or vaginal sex.
The truth about period sex
The idea that period sex is dirty or unclean when compared to other sex is simply not true. All sex can involve different types of fluids and excretions—arousal fluid (being “wet”), ejaculate (“cum”), sweat, sometimes urine, and even fecal matter (if you’re exploring the anus)—so menstrual blood is not a reason to avoid intercourse unless it’s your personal preference.
Do you notice increased arousal during your period? Track your sex drive and bleeding in Clue.