"'It's all kosher, Renee… Bodies and sex and blood. Bloody sex,
sexy blood. Relax'."
Renee Himmel, the heroine of Rebecca Goldstein's novel The
Mind-Body Problem, likes to seek out new experiences -- ones
which weren't allowed by her strict Orthodox Jewish family. She
eats forbidden food, studies forbidden subjects, enjoys forbidden
sex. But every so often, she finds something hard to stomach. One
day, while making out in bed, her boyfriend wants to enter her; she
refuses because she has her period.
A leftover religious hangup? he suggests. She thinks back to the
ritual mikva: the bath used to cleanse women after menstruation.
Maybe, she admits. He persuades her to try.
"I did relax, losing myself in the world of his hand and my body.
But I was brought abruptly out of it when he pulled his hand away,
bloody. Here it comes, the male revulsion at the state of being
female. How could he not be repelled by this uterine debris, the
uncleanliness at the heart, or rather the womb, of womanliness?"
Not all of us are trying to shake off religious taboos. Still, it seems
some people find sex while menstruating odd, extreme, even
freaky. A web search of "period sex" turns up sites boasting such
items as "incest, fetish, animal" and "nude tomb raider sex," along
with "fetish, tampon, maxi pads."
Come on -- how weird can it be? Is this attitude a remnant of junior
high, when to have a tampon fall out of your pocket when a boy
was around was the worst disaster that could happen? What are
you supposed to do if you are a woman and/or a woman's lover --
give up sex for days every single month? Anyway, that's the last
time I want to take a break. I feel great: glad to get rid of my
PMS, charged up and creative. And I like my flow. It reminds me
that I'm healthy and possibly fertile.
So, for me, the main problems are practical. I don't want to ruin my
clothes and sheets. I can't always spend an hour washing up after
sex, either. This can be a big issue -- so to speak. Even if your
period isn't heavy, sex and orgasm may pump up the volume
enough to make it inconvenient.
Before we get into techniques, let's remember that sex while you
have the painters in is the same as sex any other time when it
comes to safety. You can still get pregnant -- especially if you don't
ovulate 100% regularly -- and you still need to protect against
STDs with your usual condoms, dental dams or whatever. Also,
menstrual fluid isn't all blood -- we just call it that for convenience -
- but it contains blood. If you think you may have any condition
that spreads through contact with blood, you need to allow
carefully for that.
Now, if you're going for boy/girl intercourse or oral sex, the most
obvious approach is to have the woman lie on her back with a
towel, or something else you can easily wash, underneath. (I use a
dark green bath sheet, folded in half.) Most of the "blood" will run
down into the towel, often without getting much on your partner.
Maybe you don't like the missionary position, but prefer to do 69
and roll around all over the place. You could cover your furniture
with plastic wrap, I suppose. Or you can try a product called
"Instead," sold as an alternative to tampons. It looks a bit like a
contraceptive diaphragm, but it's not meant for birth control. It
blocks your flow long enough to have sex pretty much as if you
weren't on your period. I know because I've tried it. Ecologically,
it seems a lot of plastic to throw out, say, every day of every
period. But if period discharge really bothers you (more on that
topic later) this product could be your alternative to abstinence.
Some advise using your actual diaphragm as a blocker. When I had
one, my doctor told me to go ahead and put it in place, with my
normal spermicide, during periods. That can be tricky, however, if
you flow heavily, since you need to keep the contraption in for
hours after sex. Also, it's not a good idea to leave anything in the
vagina for too long when you're menstruating, since pooling
blood seems to be a cause of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Be sure
to ask your doctor about all this, and do more equipment checks
"Wait a minute!" you may say. "You feel insatiable when you're
flowing; I feel awful. Sensitive, heavy, uncomfortable. I can't even
imagine putting an Instead thing in there at that time of the month."
Fair enough. Everyone's body functions differently. Of course, I
can repeat the adage that (as with working out) the less you feel
like having sex to start with, the more you may surprise yourself
by enjoying it. The more you need it, even. Physically, there is a
point to this: intercourse and orgasms speed your menstrual flow,
and you can wind up feeling much better. If you haven't tried
working through the icky crampy feeling with orgasm -- even if
only by masturbating -- I recommend it.
What if you're physically put off by menstrual flow -- yours or your
partner's? If it's just a question of "This is kind of messy and
sticky" you can adapt your methods. Bathe immediately before
sex; use Instead. By all means, try the shower. A dental dam -- or
even a piece of Saran Wrap -- can let one go down without having
to taste or smell the period stuff.
Other people are like Renee Himmell: their or their partner's
menstruation turns them off psychologically. It seems unclean or
reminds them of injury. After all, some of us can't stand so much
as squeezing out a drop of blood for a medical test.
A girl I went to school with felt practically phobic about having
sex during her period -- because, she finally realized, she'd bled
heavily when losing her virginity, at an early age and with a
clumsy partner. The association of sex and blood reminded her of
that unhappy initiation. Eventually, a partner who made a big point
of conquering fears (his own and other people's) persuaded her to
try and get past it, kissing and cuddling and finally working up to
intercourse after several sessions. Eventually she lost the dislike
Only you and your partner(s) can decide whether the effort of
overcoming an aversion is worth it. In any case, it's important not
to hide how you feel. A partner may be very hurt, at some point, to
discover you've silently been doing something you dislike. Much
better to experiment together, agreeing that you'll stop any time
you have difficulty.
As a reward, you may discover a greater sense of intimacy. A male
friend tells me he came to enjoy going down on his lover during
her heaviest flow although he didn't positively like the smell or
taste. It felt erotic that the woman, who was embarrassed at first,
would trust him with this.
Testing your boundaries can lead to awkward moments, but it can
also be exhilarating. As Renee describes her experience:
"'Relax, relax,' he whispered as he entered me and we began to
move through territory that was totally new to me. How to describe
the feeling rising in me? It was very intense, joyful, revelatory. A
feeling of acceptance. My eyes were oozing tears, my womb
blood, and he was embracing it all. And when we finally parted
and I saw my blood on his body, I felt clean."
Renee's euphoria is the kind that ought to go with good sex, at least
some of the time: that feeling which comes from breaking down
physical and emotional barriers. So, if you've been considering a
few days each month no-go, why not try to reclaim them? You
might discover a new sense of freedom. And I don't just mean the
kind of freedom we were supposed to get when they put the wings