While sex positivity has come a long way over the last few decades and people have become increasingly comfortable with talking about sex and female pleasure, we still have a long way to go. And in my experience, one of the last frontiers in sexual wellness is period sex.
Many people with vaginas, including myself, were taught through all sorts of implicit ways (such as period blood being shown as blue rather than red in commercials for menstrual products) that periods were shameful, disgusting, and meant to be kept secret. Furthermore, the common American practice of splitting up sexual education classes by gender means that cisgender men are often woefully undereducated and even fearful of menstruation, even after years of dating and having sex with women.
This cultural phenomenon is, first and foremost, sexist, and it encourage vagina-owners to feel disdain for their own bodies. It also complicates our sexual relationships, leading to awkward moments, mumbled excuses, and crippling self-doubt when faced with the prospect of period sex. Many of us worry about how to explain we're getting our periods, whether our partners will reject us, and whether we'll make a horrible mess. Furthermore, our society's lack of education about female pleasure means that many people feel like they're too horny or not horny enough during their menstrual cycles.
However, there's hope. Many people (including cisgender men) don't mind and are even turned on by period sex. Plus, more and more people are speaking out about the joys of period sex, or simply noting that period sex just isn't that big of a deal. Ali Wong, for instance, noted in her her stand-up special (opens in new tab), Hard Knock Wife, that she was turned on by how nonchalant a new sexual partner was when she divulged that she was getting her period.
So, whether you're new to period sex, curious about indulging, or you're a bona-fide aficionado, read on for our five simple, expert-approved tips on how to easily turn period sex (including period masturbation!) into something you look forward to rather than something you dread.
Understand the Benefits of Period Sex
Many women report that sexual stimulation alleviates their period cramps and headaches, elevates their moods, and makes their PMS and menstrual symptoms more manageable overall. Pelvic Floor Specialist Dr. Amanda Olson corroborates this anecdotal evidence, calling the phenomenon "a 100 percent real thing."
"When people with vaginas are experiencing pleasure and especially experiencing orgasm it can release dopamine and other endorphins that feel good, like oxytocin," she explains. "Then also, the fluttering contractions of the pelvic floor muscles can help provide relief to some of those cramps in some women."
Javay Frye-Nekrasova, a sex educator and sexpert for Lovehoney (opens in new tab), agrees, adding that if the person menstruating is engaging in partnered sex, they can also experience emotional benefits from stimulation. "Period sex can offer more intimacy with your partner," she says, "especially in terms of the closeness of having period sex with a partner that you haven't had period sex with before, because it can be a vulnerable act for some people."
Case closed: Many people who menstruate love to be stimulated during their cycles. However, not all of them are sexually active with partners. For those who love period sex but are currently ridin' solo, check out some of the best sex toys for knockout, easy-to-clean menstrual masturbation (or, as some call it, menstrubation).
Best Sex Toy for Clitoral Menstrubation
Frye-Nekrasova calls this bullet vibrator "a great option for menstrubation," explaining that "it allows for direct clitoral stimulation and is super easy to clean."
Best Sex Toy for Oral-Like Menstrubation
"The Womanizer Liberty (opens in new tab) is a good if you enjoy oral-like stimulation," says Frye-Nekrasova, "and the smallness of the toy makes it easier to clean afterward."
Best Sex Toy for G-Spot Menstrubation
Frye-Nekrasova calls this g-spot vibrator "a wonderful option for internal stimulation. It has a finger wearable design, so you can easily stimulate the g-spot and it's size allows for pinpointed stimulation."
Best Sex Toy Cleaner for Menstrubation
Reviewers love this toy cleaner, saying that it's convenient, easy to use, and effective. They also note that the scent is mild yet pleasant, and that it gets the job done quickly.
Get To Know Your Body and Preferences
Some people with vaginas experience an increase or decrease in libido while they're menstruating, while others find that their sex drives remain more or less the same. Both Dr. Olson and Frye-Nekrasova remind us that there is no right or wrong way to feel or to experience menstruation, but they do encourage everyone to get to know their own bodies so that they can better navigate their menstrual cycles.
"A number of factors can go into [libido level]," Dr. Olson explains. "Generally speaking, menstrual symptoms tend to cause women to have a lower libido but that's not every person every person can respond to it very differently. So, usually a week before, women may experience some cramping and some bloating and general discomfort. They may also experience fatigue and brain fog associated with some of those hormonal changes as estrogen levels are changing in them, and that may lead to them feeling less inclined to be sexually active and certainly in the two week period before their period. So, libido can be driven by both hormones and by how they're feeling symptomatically, as well as by how they're feeling about themselves. Each person experiences that in a different way."
For instance, if you're feeling bloated, are experiencing breakouts, or have cramps that make you want to curl into a ball, you probably don't want to be having sex. In fact, Dr. Olson points out that some women may even find that orgasmic and pre-orgasmic contractions may even worsen their cramping. On the other hand, you may feel hornier than usual—particularly if sex relieves your cramps, gets your mind off your symptoms, or makes you feel empowered and beautiful during your cycle. Both reactions are perfectly okay!
Frye-Nekrasova adds that medication, diet, and energy levels can also impact sex drive during menstruation. She agrees that "moving through the phases of the menstrual cycle definitely does impact libido and PMS. In terms of libido, during the ovulation phase, many people experience a higher libido or sense of horniness." Ovulation takes place about 14 days before the start of one's period, and is the process during which mature eggs are released from the ovaries.
The trick is to get to know your body. While period tracking apps have caused privacy concerns among American women in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, you can still track your period in a calendar or planner so that you know when to expect a change in hormonal and libidinal levels.
"It's important for people with vaginas to understand their bodies and to experiment and try," Dr. Olson sums up. So if you're unsure about whether or not you'd like sexual stimulation during menstruation, give it a try! You can't effectively ask for something or please yourself until you know precisely what you want.
Communicate with Your Partner(s)
First things first, you should tell your partner(s) that you're getting your period before the situation gets hot and heavy. Certified sex coach Gigi Engle says, “The most important thing is to be direct, but don’t apologize—women far too often feel compelled to apologize for their bodies." Remember: There's nothing wrong or gross about a period, but it's still important to be fully transparent with a partner in order for the sexual situation to be entirely consensual. Even if your partner is completely fine with period sex, they deserve the chance to logistically prepare so that they aren't met with a post-coital bloody surprise on their sheets.
Frye-Nekrasova also recommends "having a candid conversation to dispel any myths or misunderstandings about periods." She notes, "Not everyone learns about the menstrual cycle, so making sure your partner understands it is the first thing to help normalize it. After they have that understanding, express that period sex is normal and has a lot of benefits."
Indeed, Dr. Olson says that your partner might just be unfamiliar with period sex and consequently nervous about engaging. "Maybe it's new, maybe the partner has never had that kind of intercourse," she suggests, "or maybe they never had partners in the past that were open to that sort of thing. It may be that that partner just needs to get used to it, and it may be that they just need to understand more about how their partner is experiencing them during that particular time."
And if your partner says that they just plain find it gross?
"I encourage asking them what about it grosses them out," Frye-Nekrasova advises. "A lot of the apprehension people have is because they don't fully understand the period, so offering some additional knowledge can help. If their concern is seeing blood, you can throw out ideas such as having sex without the lights on or skipping oral sex."
A point you can make, she says, is that "one of the benefits of period sex is that it the blood offers more lubrication." She also adds that "if their concern is tasting blood during oral sex, there are options to minimize that, such as Lorals Latex Undies (opens in new tab), putting in a menstrual cup or disc, or showering before engaging in play."
And if your partner still refuses to have period sex? "There will be some people who aren't aroused by period sex in any way," she admits, "and that is something you and your partner will need to address in terms of how much it will impact your relationship moving forward." Engle adds that if that's the case, but period sex is important to you, it's important to express that sentiment to your partner. She says that while women should not be tasked with coddling their partners, they can still empathize, share their point of view, and be fully transparent with information about menstruation.
Plus, as with most relationship woes, period sex is not a zero-sum game!
"There's a lot that can be done just in terms of exploring externally," Dr. Olson says, by way of offering a mutually beneficial potential outcome. She calls external stimulation "outercourse," saying that grinding, humping, and similar activities allow people to "experience orgasm just by touching and kissing and being intimate, and you get those positive reinforcements and effects from your partner, so maybe next time you can go a little bit further than that."
In my experience, many people with vaginas are also nervous about having period sex, especially if they've never done it before, if it's their first time having period sex with a particular partner, or if it's their first time having sex with their partner.
As mentioned, the first step is complete honesty. You can even go so far as to specify how intense your period is (i.e., "My flow is heavy today," or, "I'm having cramps, so I'd like to go slow."). This transparency will not only give your partner crucial insight, but it will also allow you to breathe a sigh of relief. You'll be able to console yourself with the fact that they know what they're getting into, and that they want to proceed anyway.
Another major concern that women have about period sex is that the smell of their period will upset their partner. To that idea, Dr. Olson counters, "I would say that your partner during that time is so excited to be with you that they are probably not noticing any sort of smell." After all, sex itself—period or no period—doesn't exactly smell like pumpkin spice.
Still worried? Dr. Olson says, "You can also try coming out of the shower. That may give you some confidence to engage sexually."
Finally, Gigi Engle suggests rethinking the connotations around period blood. It is, after all, natural lube, and sex is a pretty messy and fluid-heavy endeavor to begin with. “Lean into the bloodiness, love the bloodiness,” she recommends. “Blood is sexy. It’s feral. If you can get into it and just enjoy the mess and taboo nature of the experience, do it.”
Master the Clean-Up
Now that we've established that messy can be sexy, we must also acknowledge that messes eventually need to be cleaned up. However, the best way to contain the mess and make clean-up as easy as possible is to prepare in advance.
Engle tells us that period sex prep is "so much simpler than people think." All you need to do is "get yourself a period-specific towel and lay it down before you get down." Dr. Olson recommends designating a specific towel for period sex or putting down a plastic bag if you're in a pinch.
Frye-Nekrasova also offers other options. "You can minimize the mess by showering before period sex, using a menstrual disc to catch additional blood flow, using a moisture-proof blanket, and wearing Lorals latex undies," she says. She also recommends fluid-absorbent blankets, some of which are specifically designed for no-mess period sex (think: period panties, but as bedding), or simply engaging in shower or bath sex so you can clean while you play.
Below, some of our favorite products for mess-free period sex and easy clean-up.
Best Period Sex Underwear
This underwear comes in several different cuts and styles, and is ultra-thin so you can feel every touch (including oral stimulation) through the fabric. Plus, they're stretchy to accommodate passionate play. Reviewers say that they're fun, mess-free, and even kinky to use in the bedroom. Frye-Nekrasova recommends them specifically.
Best Period Sex Blanket
Frye-Nekrasova specifically recommends this fluid-absorbent blanket for period sex, calling it "a great way to minimize mess and the need to change bedding right after sex."
Best Period Sex Menstrual Disc
Frye-Nekrasova and Dr. Olson also mention menstrual discs as a solution for mess-free play. These discs are like menstrual cups, but they're specifically designed to catch period blood while also accommodating penetrative sex. Flex discs in particular can be worn for up to 12 hours.
Best Reusable Menstrual Disc
Concerned about the waste generated by one-time use period products? Us, too. In that case, check out reusable options like this one from Saalt. It, too, can be worn for up to 12 hours, and it has a shelf life of ten years.
For more, visit our Sexual Wellness section, where we unpack topics around consent, kink, sex toys, and more so you can have your safest and very best sexperiences yet.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Amanda Olson is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in pelvic floor disorders including incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain, sexual health, and natal issues. She is certified as an advanced pelvic floor practitioner by the American Physical Therapy Association and the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Institute (PRPC).
Javay Frye-Nekrasova, MEd, is a sex educator, pleasure professional, and sex expert for Lovehoney. Specializing in pleasure, communication, and sex toys, she is passionate about making comprehensive sex education accessible for all and is in the process of earning a PhD in Human Sexuality from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her research focuses on sex work, porn, as well as the relationship between the media and society's understanding of sexuality. She also provides sex education via YouTube and social media for her digital series, In Bed With a Millennial. You can find her on Instagram here: @MillennialSexpert.
Gigi Engle is an award-winning author and a certified sex educator. In addition to contributing to a number of publications online and in print, she also promotes and teaches pleasure-based sexual education and safe sex practices. She has written a number of pieces for Marie Claire, is a sex expert for Lifestyle Condoms, and was named Journalist of the Year during the 2019 Sexual Freedom Awards.
Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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