Let’s talk about sex. And periods. We’re often led to believe the two shouldn’t — or can’t — co-exist, leading to shame and a lack of understanding.
We spoke to Australia’s leading sexologist Chantelle Otten about breaking the stigma surrounding period sex and how we can reframe the conversation, get intimate with own menstruation and have more positive sexual experiences in the process.
Why do you think there is still an underlying stigma attached to periods and sex?
If you think about it, for a lot of people, blood freaks them out — from the beginning of time, it has been seen as a sign of injury or disease. Instead of viewing menstruation as a normal and natural process, blood is freaky or a sign that there’s something wrong. Periods are something a lot of women feel like they need to hide, and it’s shameful as well. When we’re going through puberty, we don’t get taught that it’s okay to menstruate. Instead, we learn to hide it away and how to not get spots anywhere.
Half of the population from the age of 15 to 50 is going to get their period each month so, why don’t we all make it a non-shameful part of life? Curiosity brings so many amazing things to our lives. We have to embrace the fact that women are going to get their periods and still achieve incredible things, and that includes a fantastic sex life.
How can we start to normalise period sex?
With a lot of people I meet, enjoying sex during their period is not a problem at all. But for those that do find it a little confronting, I guess I have to ask, ‘why?’. I think they just don’t have the right information. A lot of women also skip their periods if they’re on contraception so they can keep having sex. But I encourage them to give period sex a try and see if they can enjoy the experience.
Remember, anything that you do sexually starts as a bit of an experiment because we’re not taught to have sexual confidence. We’re not taught to have knowledge about what’s going on in our bodies and how it interacts with sex. It’s something that we have to try. Like anything new, it takes a little bit of anxiety and trial and error to get to a place of comfort.
What if you or your partner are a bit squeamish when it comes to blood?
For anyone who gets a little freaked out around blood, or periods, I always suggest sex in the shower because it washes away the blood instantly. You can put a sheet down on the bed or have some wet wipes around to clean up afterwards. Not wearing a tampon is probably the most important thing, because that’s going to interfere with intercourse. Of course, you can wear a tampon during oral sex, clitoral play or when you’re using a vibrator. Anal sex is a really good option too if you enjoy it.
Are there benefits to having sex during your period?
When you have your period, you might feel awkward, bloated and sore, or a bit tired and emotional, but having an orgasm is a natural analgesic. If you can have an orgasmic experience or a sexual experience during your period week, then it’s going to reduce a lot of those symptoms. And it’ll make you happier as well because it releases endorphins. So sex might be an excellent way to regulate your mental and physical health during your period if it’s something you’re comfortable with.
Not all women feel like having sex during their period. Are there other things they can do during this time — with their partners, or for themselves?
Of course. My whole philosophy centres around educating people that sexuality is not just about penetration and orgasm. Maybe you can have a lot more outercourse during that week, or other types of sexuality that doesn’t involve going near the vulva area. You can explore sex toys, buy vibrators for different parts of your body, do nipple play or focus on other erogenous zones, like the ears or chest. You can try a little bit of role-play. Maybe give your partner a massage with a happy ending or direct them to rub your feet. You can listen to audio porn (like Dipsea) and get your mind turned on, or touch yourself over the top of your underwear — it’s all part of an erotic sensation because it’s engaging your senses; sex is what you make it.
How important is it that partners are educated about the menstrual cycle, and what role does this play in maintaining a healthy relationship and sex life?
With sex and periods, I feel it often comes down to a lack of education around what is going on down below in the woman’s womb and uterus. Generally, whoever a woman is having sex with, doesn’t know a lot about menstruation. Oestrogen levels will decrease during your period, and there’s less natural lubrication — the period flow is the added lubricant. There are also times where a woman’s cervix drops when she’s having her period, and certain sex positions might be a little bit uncomfortable. For many women, the shedding of the uterine lining once a month can be extremely painful and there are conditions attached to this such as endometriosis, PMS and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. When men are in pain, it’s noticed a lot more, but often women feel like they have to hide the pain they’re in or the way that they’re feeling within their psychological and emotional states.
Do women need to be more open?
Involving your partner is really important. You shouldn’t have to minimise yourself around your partner. Women will benefit from learning how to be a bit more vulnerable in sharing their period experiences. We also need to educate women about the advantages of getting their period because it’s part of the process of making babies and is very important in regulating health and monitoring how the body is functioning. I’m a big believer in empowering others to think further about their health and their sexuality — it all ties in together.
Chantelle Otten is a Melbourne based Psycho-Sexologist who is passionate about empowering people to feel great about their sexual health, self-esteem, communication and education. You can follow Chantelle on Instagram, and learn about her work and services here.