This year I found myself hooking up with a Media Bro who was rude in a really hot way. Since I was on my period, I felt bloated, cranky, and hyper-aware of my bedroom's lack of noodles, so I didn't feel like having sex—plus, I was babysitting a pug, Frank, who was watching us from a pile of clothes in the closet, awake-snoring in a way that I interpreted as disapproving. But on a deeper level, I think, I harbored a perception that period sex is reserved for people in relationships. "I am menstruating," I told him, implying that sex would not be happening. "What are we in, middle school?" he replied. My first thought was: Woah, he was fucking in middle school? When I was in middle school I thought "handjobs" meant sucking people's fingers. And then: Why do I have this sense of period sex as a non-casual thing? And then: I'm getting vibes from Frank that he needs to defecate; I should take him outside and send this man home.
Beyond relationships, the only period sex I've had has been accidental, when I thought I was done menstruating but I very much wasn't. I once ruined a wonderful Italian man's entire bed. Don't get me wrong—I didn't feel bad about it, not even a little. As punishment for not menstruating, people who don't should occasionally have to deal with some of the inconveniences of blood, blood everywhere. For this reason, period sex can seem like a feminist act, as it defies the societal expectation of women to hide, or be ashamed of, this awful fucking thing.
"I take period sex as a feminist issue, to be honest," a woman told me. "Any guy that is not down for it can fuck right off. One of my strongest memories from my scum of a high school boyfriend is fighting with him, making up, asking if he wanted to come over, him asking if I was on my period, me shamefully admitting yes, to which he said, 'Nah, no thanks.' Now, as a grown-ass woman, I delight in period sex, except for the mess of semen mixed with blood, which is particularly good at staining everything. So I demand use of a condom when I'm on my period, even in a committed relationship."
Another woman, Claire*—who also has no qualms with period sex, and says she enjoys the extra lubrication—tells me she also dated an asshole who refused to engage with her bleeding vagina.
"He refused to have sex while I was on my period or even really to touch me," she said. "That was bad enough on its own, but he also expected that I would still satisfy him sexually during that week and would basically force me to give him blowjobs, which I've always hated and now probably hate even more. It honestly felt like punishment, as if I choose to spend 25 percent of my time bleeding from the vagina. Periods are bad enough as is without feeling pressure to tend to someone else's needs!"
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Claire said she understands that some women might not want to have period sex with a casual hookup because it's a bit more intimate** and messy, so requires a higher level of trust—"but if you're in a relationship, there is no reason it shouldn't be on the table, unless the girl doesn't like it; guys shouldn't be able to veto it."
Of course, this attitude—a popular feminist trope in recent years—challenges a deeper principle: People should feel empowered to veto sex for any reason, even if we find the reason annoying or unevolved. Sex expert Dr. Logan Levkoff puts it best: "Not everyone has to be into it, but if the response is disgust or horror, that partner sucks," she says. Another woman echoed this sentiment, telling me that if a guy is super weirded out by periods—whether it's a casual situation or not—he does not deserve the privilege of fucking someone who has one. "If a guy is spooked by period sex I find it off-putting and unattractive. Like get with it: It's 2017, girls have periods."
I agree—men who scared of period sex need to back the fuck off, and I think it should be on the table for casual hookups if the comfort level and communication are there, even though I can get shy about it. (Side note: A male colleague once said to me, out of nowhere: "I've never really been into girls on their periods." I had to take a personal day.) One man I spoke to—who asked I refer to him as Ron Dongman—said he hasn't had any premeditated period sex, but would be open to it if his partner wanted to.
A male colleague once said to me, out of nowhere: "I've never really been into girls on their periods." I had to take a personal day.
"Typically if I'm with a girl she'll let me know the situation and she'll stick to a blowjob," Dongman said. "I've never had anyone express interest in period sex, and I'm not going to press the issue because blood isn't really my thing. If I was with someone and she wanted to, I'd make it happen, though." He said he'd be slightly more hesitant if a first-time hookup asked him. "I think it'd be similar to anal during a first-time hookup—like, yes I'd like that if you're into it, but probably not the first time we bang?" I understand what he's saying; anal and period sex both seem more intimate and once-in-a-while-y, perhaps because of the taboos still surrounding them. But, as a friend said to me, "Anal doesn't arrive in your body once a month whether you like it or not, and it requires a lot more preparation."
For some, period sex may be a feminist act, but for others, not having period sex if they don't feel like it is empowering. No woman should have to force herself to be comfortable with something she doesn't feel comfortable with, even if it seems retro and dated to abstain during that time of the month. The menstruating people I spoke to who don't like period sex cited not liking their periods, period. "I have PMDD and get really bad cramps and gas, at the same time as all the emotional difficulties," a woman told me. "So I try to hide away during that time, even if I'm seeing someone." Another woman said: "Mostly I just don't feel particularly desirable, plus it raises my self-consciousness considerably, which means I'm just not there for it." Some women I spoke to who aren't comfortable with period sex told me that men will often try to pressure them to have sex in an effort to show how progressive they are (and horniness), as if overcorrecting for all the guys who are weirded out by it. That sucks, too.
If you want to move forward with period sex, Dr. Levkoff suggests approaching it with an open mind, dark towels, and condoms. If you just don't feel like it, that's chill, too.
"Period sex isn't about whether it's a good idea—it's about someone's comfort level," she says. "Sometimes you don't want to have to lay dark towels on your bed; sometimes we don't feel up to it. Sometimes period sex can be a great way to alleviate cramps. And in case you were thinking of forgoing the condoms, remember that condoms are still the best protection against STIs during period sex, plus they can make for easier period-sex clean-up."
One male friend, who says he's always down with period sex, is confused by the hierarchy of fluids, and ultimately, I am too. "It's just blood, common old human blood like everyone's got," he said. "We're comfortable with an exchange of spit, mucus, and semen, but it's impolite to offer your blood? It's sort of insulting to treat blood like it was vomit or urine. Unless you're into those kinds of things. I'm not here to judge."
Maybe I'll marry him.
*Name has been changed.
**Only if you agree with me in that there's a directly proportional correlation between intimacy level and number of fluids.