Author and educator Tara Costello addresses people’s most common questions about how to have sex when it’s that time of the month.
Language Note: this article is for everyone. In this piece we are using the terms “menstrual cycle”, “period”, “uterus”, “cervix”, “ovaries”, and “vagina” but we want to acknowledge that not everyone who has this monthly (more or less) experience has an uncomplicated relationship with it, or uses the same language to refer to this event and these parts of the body. If you are a man, non-binary, GNC, Two-Spirit, gender fluid, gender expansive, and or intersex and you experience this physiological process… hello! This piece is also for you, and we hope you find it useful.
You would think, in this day and age, that people who menstruate would be given a thorough and unbiased education about what’s going on with their bodies during their period. This is plainly not the case, however, and with many people too embarrassed to speak to each other or a doctor, they turn to Google with their questions, queries and concerns.
“Is it safe to have sex on my period?”
“Can you get pregnant during your period?”
“Why is my blood that colour???”
When there’s no real information or education available, it’s easy to get into a panic. That’s where this article comes in, tackling some of the most commonly (read, frantically) searched questions relating to periods and period sex.
Where does period blood come from?
To answer this question, we must start at the beginning and look at the menstrual cycle as a whole. So, here’s a quick summary: for people who menstruate, the body goes through a number of hormone-driven changes to prepare for a possible pregnancy. During what might be considered a typical cycle, an egg is developed and released from the ovaries and the lining of the uterus builds up. If a pregnancy doesn’t happen, the lining breaks down and sheds during the period and the cycle then begins again. Menstrual blood comes from the uterus, sheds through the cervix and is then released from the body through the vagina. There are some instances where the cycle is slightly different, for example people on the combined contraceptive pill may experience withdrawal bleeds which do not contain an egg.
But is a period “just blood”? The short answer is, no! Menstrual blood consists of blood and other fluids, endometrial lining, bacteria and, in some cases, clots. Both the cervix and vagina secrete fluid throughout the cycle, so it’s likely this is present when the uterus is shedding. In addition to this, the vagina is always working to maintain a delicate balance of bacteria – a job that it keeps on doing during a period.
Why is my period blood brown?
Menstrual blood can appear in a variety of hues, from bright red to murky brown, sometimes changing appearance as the cycle progresses.
The different shades can offer insight into how fast the lining is shedding. Bright red means the uterine lining is shedding at a steady rate as this is the freshest blood. If blood stays in the uterus long enough, it will react with oxygen. The longer blood has been in the uterus, the darker it becomes through this process of oxidisation. This is why the blood may appear darker first thing in the morning or on a particularly heavy flow day. If you see brown blood, this just means that the lining is shedding at a much slower rate. It is not uncommon to see this at the beginning of a period (sometimes there’s a little left over from last month – no really!) or right at the end. Don’t worry, it’s totally normal.
Period blood that appears greyish, orangey, or very light pink could be a sign of infection or other ill-health, so make sure to see your doctor if you have any concerns.
Period blood may also appear clumpy from time to time. Blood clots occur when the tissue cannot be broken down at the same speed the lining is shedding. However, if you notice clots that are bigger than a large coin in your own or your partner’s flow, or if there is pain, a sudden change in bleeding, or prolonged bleeding, please consult a doctor.
What is a ‘normal’ period?
Despite what you may have been told, a menstrual cycle does not always run like clockwork and a lot of different things can have an impact on it, such as stress, medication, vaccines, and other health issues. Although everyone’s normal is different, a cycle is often considered ‘regular’ within the 24 – 38 day range for adults and 21 – 45 days for adolescents. It is common to experience some signs of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and lose roughly around 5 to 8ml of blood each period (or, up to 5 tablespoons). It’s all about figuring out what your normal is. If you are bleeding for longer than 7 days or experiencing a lot of pain, you should see a doctor to rule anything else out.
A Word On Pain
You know your body and you know how you are feeling. If you are at all unsure or unhappy about your period, whether that’s to do with PMS symptoms, physical pain, the frequency of your period or anything else, you should go and see a doctor. Too often people with menstrual cycles gaslight themselves into believing that they shouldn’t make a fuss and that the only option when it comes to painful periods is to just get on with it. It isn’t. Although medical research is notoriously deficient when it comes to the health of anyone other than cis white men, there are treatments available that might be able to help you, from better painkillers to changing your contraceptive.
Can you have sex on your period?
Yes, absolutely! Unless you are particularly squeamish around blood, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying all kinds of sexual pleasure during this part of the cycle. Many will find that extra bodily sensitivity comes as a result of menstruating, which can make it a pretty exciting time to experiment with your body and sensation. Some people prefer to give instead of receive during this part of the cycle too. The only rules are dictated by what you and your partner(s) are comfortable with and willing to explore! Check out my first article Period Sex: Everything You Need To Know for a deeper dive into this topic.
Can you get pregnant on your period?
There’s a lot of myths surrounding this question, so let’s debunk it once and for all. There is a small chance you can get pregnant on your period but it’s not highly likely. Someone can only conceive when they are ovulating, which generally happens before the period starts. However, sperm can live inside the body for up to five days meaning a tiny percentage of people have a small chance of getting pregnant from unprotected sex during their period, particularly if the luteal phase (the part that happens after ovulation, but before menstruation) of the cycle is short.
Can sex bring on a period?
Yes! It is entirely possible for sex to kick-start a period, with some people expressly using this trick when they have a period that is taking a while to turn up. How does this work? The act of having an orgasm near the start of a period can force some blood out since climaxing causes the uterus to contract. It’s important to note, however, that if you’re bleeding after sex not around your period this could be a sign of something else and it’s worth consulting with your doctor.
Can sex during your period stop your period?
Although having sex on your period won’t magically stop your periods altogether (if only, right?) there is a possibility it can shorten it. As mentioned above, the uterus contracts during orgasm and this can increase the rate at which the uterine lining sheds from the body. This, in turn, can shorten a period by a day or two. So the stronger the orgasm, the more potential it has of decreasing the length of a period.
What are the best ways to get bloodstains out of sheets?
The key to getting bloodstains out is to be proactive. Since blood can leave a permanent mark once it’s dry and clot if it sits for too long, it’s better to act fast.
The most important tip that we cannot stress enough is to always use cold water! Hot water can set the stain in further and make it difficult to remove.
The moment you notice the stain, remove your sheets and place the spot under cold running water. Next, you want to take a cold, wet cloth and dab the stained area. Avoid the temptation to rub it as this encourages the stain to spread and, again, set further into the sheets. You can use stain fighters too. Most household options are suitable, with hydrogen peroxide and water as an option for white or very light coloured sheets.
Once you’ve dabbed the stain, soak your sheets in cold water in your bath or sink for 24 hours. Then, machine wash your sheets as you would on a normal wash cycle, just again making sure you use cold water. Avoid using a dryer and let them air dry.
When it comes to dried bloodstains you will want to soak the sheets in cold water overnight and then pour hydrogen peroxide on the stain. Using a soft-bristled brush, pat it in. After 10 minutes, dab the stain with a cold, wet rag. Again, shove them in the washing machine on a cold wash and let them air dry.
If the stains do not come out right away, don’t fret. Simply repeat the process. If you’re looking to avoid stains altogether, consider putting down a dark towel to catch any blood or have some fun in the shower.
Want more on periods?
If you’re looking for more period-related reads, we recommend checking out the articles over on Clue. Well-researched and covering everything from irregular bleeding to emotions, product reviews to perimenopause, Clue offers a wealth of gender-neutral advice – in fifteen languages, no less.