This Photographer Documented Three Couples Having Sex On Their Period
A chat with Nolwen Cifuentes about her stigma-challenging series.
All photos: Nolwen Cifuentes
This article first appeared on VICE UK
If you’re a grown adult in 2018, period sex shouldn't really be an issue – sometimes people with vaginas bleed from them! Get over it! – but it's not always that simple. There's no doubt that, unfortunately, there's still a bit of a taboo linked to period sex, probably because there's still a great deal of shame attached to periods themselves.
Thankfully, however, people like Nolwen Cifuentes are attempting to challenge that stigma. Cifuentes, a 30-year-old photographer from LA, doesn't think that period sex is a big deal. Last year, she worked on a photo series – "Period Piece" – depicting three queer couples enjoying period sex. The shots are raw, unapologetic, bold and designed to spark a conversation.
So, I set up a Skype chat with her to have a conversation (Heads up: some of the photos below are NSFW).
VICE: Why did you think it was important to explore the topic of period sex?
Nolwen Cifuentes: Well, it stemmed from a conversation that I had with a couple of friends who are grossed out by it. They were really shocked and really disgusted when I mentioned that I have sex on my period. I was surprised, you know? Why are women deemed untouchable when they are on their period? Especially when a lot of the time your hormones are changing and a lot of us feel more aroused.
What happened then?
I thought, 'Why don't I do a photo series on this? Why don't I use my skill to start a conversation surrounding this?' I've seen a lot of photography projects about period-positivity, but nothing about intimacy on your period. Talking to couples during and after working on this, some people were still shocked, but some said they did it all the time and it was just part of their relationship. This project wasn't meant to say that you have to have sex on your period – if you feel bloated or unsexy, of course, you shouldn't do it – but it is saying that you don't have to feel disgusted by it.
Why are some people weirded out by period sex?
I don't know; it's just different fluids that are coming out of the same place that we're being intimate with in the first place. Society is just scared to talk about periods in general, so being intimate and having sex on your period is a whole other level of taboo. When I was young it was so embarrassing for someone to even know that you were on your period.
Even just buying tampons at the store, you had to buy like ten other things to go with it, so you can kinda hide the fact that you're on your period. In high school, a male friend told me that he was so shocked because he heard that one of his friends had her period and it stained her underwear. He explained how disgusting he thought that was. I thought: 'That happens to me every single month; every time I have my period I stain my underwear.'
What about representation of periods in films and on TV?
I've seen every episode of Sex and the City multiple times, and I don't think that they have their period once. Maybe once? But I don't remember that being a factor. It's a show about four women, so that's strange. It's pretty rare that female characters in movies deal with having their periods. When I first became sexually active, it was a big deal. What if I'm on my period when I see this person? I had to schedule around it. But you don't see that in movies.
What reaction have you had?
After Salty [a feminist newsletter] published the photos and it got a lot of really good feedback; people have emailed me and told me how much it touched them. But before they took it, I had a really hard time getting anyone to publish them. People said it was "too much" or "gross". I started to doubt myself; I thought maybe they are too much – I almost gave up. After Salty, though, it blew up. There's been a couple of haters, but for the most part it's been positive. Some people said they felt moved by it, which is cool. Some people commented saying that they still feel uncomfortable about their period, but now they see that there is another way of dealing with it.
In a new relationship, what do you think is the best way of broaching the topic of period sex?
I guess it's different for each relationship. Maybe when someone is on their period and you start making out, or whatever, maybe that's the time to have a conversation: "Hey, I'm on my period. But I'm still down to continue with this if you are." I'm lucky that my current partner is really cool about it. I don't know if we even had the conversation – we just did it.
You can see more of Nolwen's work on her website, and more photos from this series below.