The Feeld Guide to Period Sex

Sophie Mackintosh

April 2nd, 2024

A brief history of “the pour to sour crops,” and other vital pursuits of pleasure.

In a world where menstruation is historically regarded as “unclean,” it comes as no surprise that period sex as a practice has largely been considered taboo across cultures. Even when researching for this article, I came across a fairly recent publication in a medical journal that asserted, confidently (and without source), that “Sexual intercourse during menstruation can affect negatively the man’s sexual desire (libido) and make him temporarily impotent”—a belief that seems more fitting for decades ago than for the year (2018) in which it was published.

The truth is, these days, period sex is becoming more mainstream. For many it’s just another everyday (or every month, rather) element of one’s sex life; for others menstruation is a specific kink that isn’t just tolerated but actively sought after. Movements against patriarchal norms have expanded cultural views. Awareness of menstruation more generally has also contributed to changing attitudes, and a more positive perspective on everything period. 

History of period sex

Negative attitudes to menstruation, and particularly to sex during menstruation, are written into the Bible itself. Leviticus 15:19-33 states that a menstruating woman is unclean for seven days, with any man who has “physical relations” with her also becoming unclean. Pliny the Elder, in The Natural History, grimly warned that if menstruation coincided with an eclipse of the moon or sun that the “noxious” congress would result in “fatal effects”; not to mention that the blood of menstruation had the power to sour crops, trigger insanity in dogs, and even cause fruit to wither on the vine.

 As centuries went on, the suspicion around period sex failed to abate in Western cultures. The Tudors believed that a child consummated from sex during menstruation would be born with red hair; in the 1920s there was hysteria around the idea of “menotoxin,” a supposed invisible substance exuded around menstruation that would stop jam from setting and bread from rising. Perhaps paradoxically, the Victorians believed that women were at their most fertile and desirous during menstruation— conflating it with animals in heat—a belief that could both insultingly contribute to sexist views of women’s hysterical sexual nature and also act as chilling permission for sexual activity, with consent implied.

 In the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the advent of the contraceptive pill gave women greater control over their cycles. Rather than necessarily embracing period sex, menstruation was often framed as something that could be minimized or controlled.

Following that argument, if women could expand their sexual agency by bypassing period sex—why not just take it off the table altogether?

Personal comfort, personal safety, personal agency

All this said, any historical consideration of period sex requires us to resist the easy  progression from “outdated” ideas about cleanliness and purity to a more modern and “liberated” approach, where suddenly everyone is having it, all the time, no problem. It’s more complicated than that, and it’s a simple truth that, as with anything so intimate to do with the body, comfort and the presence of desire is multifactorial and individual.

Menstrual activism, which calls for collective liberation from the cultural stigma around this act of the body, has changed the life and attitudes of many. But how do we separate what is culturally taboo from our own intrinsic senses of comfort and selfhood? It’s perfectly fine not to partake in period sex, for whatever reason. For women with endometriosis, for one example, period sex can be downright excruciating or impossible. For another, menstruation can be triggering for those who have experienced sexual trauma.

There’s also the possibility that period sex can be used as a form of domestic violence, as per the testimonies collected in this article—a form of sexual coercion where a partner feels entitled to someone’s body at any time, and where the period-haver feels a lack of agency over choice. In this case, period sex functions not as an act of empowerment, but as a measure of coercion and control.

 A study found that negative feelings around period sex could be grouped into four elements: personal discomfort and the physical labor involved in cleaning up the aftermath; the emotional labor of managing a partner’s reaction; partner discomfort; and negative self-perception. Positive reactions were simpler; the pleasure from the sexual act itself when menstruating, and the sense of rebellion against anti-menstrual attitudes. Sometimes the obstacles to period sex can just feel like a lot of work, even when offset against pleasure.

Period sex as kink

While many people might be perfectly fine with period sex, there are those who actively seek it out.

In some cases, the taboo lends itself to the kink; in others, it’s the fact that period sex can lead to increased pleasure for both partners, what with the extra natural lubrication and cocktail of hormones and additional sensitivity. Perhaps also, for male-identified kinksters particularly, it taps into ideas about masculinity and sexual enthusiasm: boldly exploring where others are afraid to tread. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying it’s a kink growing in visibility, with gleeful explorations into the world of “bloodhounds” (yes, really) appearing even in mainstream media.

A queer female friend has a simple take. “I just get very horny when I’m on my period!” she says. “And why turn down free lube? Having sex with a partner who’s also on their period makes a mess that’s somehow incredibly hot.” Referencing the photos of Nolwen Cifuentes, who documented queer couples engaging in period sex, she adds “There’s a tenderness to these photos that has stayed with me.”

After all, beyond exploration and breaking barriers, sex during menstruation can also be construed as a sweetly intimate act of trust, made all the more so for how it can often take place in context of everyday domesticity; accepting someone for all of them, all the acts of their body, all of the time.

Risks and benefits

Despite rumors of sex during menstruation causing endometriosis, increased cramps, or danger for the participating partner, the only small risks of period sex are a potentially increased chance of STI transmission, or infection more generally (due to the exchange of blood, and because the cervix is softer and more open during menstruation).

On the other hand, the very real benefits include the reduction of cramps thanks to endorphins from orgasm, less need for lubrication—and more pleasure.

In summary

As period sex shakes off its ancient taboo, and more and more people embrace it publicly, it’s also necessary to navigate the complex dance of desire around the act. There is no one right or wrong perspective or approach. Ultimately, as with any form of sex at any time of the month, it comes down not to judgment, obligation, or a sexual box-ticking exercise, but to personal comfort, empowerment, and the vital pursuit of pleasure. 

Illustration by Lulu Lin.

Lin, born in 1992 in Taipei, Taiwan, is an interdisciplinary designer recognized for her dedication to drawing, a passion she embarked on in 2016 and fervently maintains. She earned a Bachelor's degree in industrial design from Shih Chien University in Taiwan and a Master's degree in communication design from Designskolen Kolding in Denmark. Described as unconventional, Lin's drawings defy conventional human representations, often portraying figures as whimsically distorted and flesh-like, evoking a sense of playfulness, surrealism, and occasional unease in viewers.