The second time I ever had sex, I had my period. It was October of my freshman year of college, and I thought I was in love. One of my best friends from high school had visited me at school during the first days of September, and I’d lost my virginity to him. After that first time, I got a UTI, and after the second time, I felt insecure, covered in my own blood and still sore from not being used to sex. “I have my period,” I warned him, but he was pretty relaxed about it for a college freshman. “Don’t worry, period sex is great.”
It felt OK. I didn’t know what I was doing, nor did he. But I didn’t really like period sex — and I still don’t. I have done it quite a few times since then—mostly with serious boyfriends, though once or twice with a random Tinder bro—and I’ve never really come around. I am a staunch feminist, and I celebrate period sex (and periods) on behalf of everyone out there who enjoys it. The health benefits of period sex are real — including a boosted mood (yay orgasms), increased blood circulation for natural pain relief, and even relieved headaches (a common PMS symptom). During your period, there’s more natural lubricant, and menstrual blood is completely normal, healthy, and, well, totally not gross. I welcome any opportunity to destabilize stereotypes, and in theory, I love the idea of encouraging the men I sleep with to get comfortable around my period blood. And yet in practice, I’m not comfortable enough with my period, and my body during my period, to like period sex.
My period is always a tough time of the month for me. I’ve struggled with anorexia, anxiety, and OCD for most of my life, and the hormonal changes that happen around and during my cycle usually exacerbate my anxious thinking and self-consciousness.
Given my history of body dysmorphia, I get especially triggered during my period when my boobs grow a whole size and my stomach feels bloated. Feeling OK in my body is hard enough on its own on a regular day. Add stomach aches, acne, and horrible mood swings to the mix, and I find that my desire to be intimate with another person’s body isn’t raging when my period comes to town.
So why do I feel like the fact that I don’t like period sex makes me a bad feminist?
Here’s the thing. I am committed to breaking the taboos around periods. I don’t hesitate to mention my period or PMS symptoms to male friends, male partners, or my dad, and I’ll freely leave meetings at my office with a tampon in my hand.
At the same time, I’ve also spent my entire life thus far watching tampon commercials depicting joyful women in triathlons, and was conditioned to believe periods were gross, shameful, and humiliating. Because of that, I really struggle to accept the fact that I don’t like period sex.
But being uncomfortable with period sex and being committed to breaking the taboos around periods are not mutually exclusive. As a feminist, and as a person, I think the most important thing is doing what’s best for me and my body, and communicating that. If that’s going to the gym after work instead of happy hour with colleagues, then so be it—even if there’s part of me inclined to judge myself for being too rigid. Sometimes, our attitudes and our actions aren’t 100% aligned, and learning to be more uncomfortable with contradictions has been part of my process feeling more liberated and empowered.
The bottom line is that periods aren’t gross and neither is period sex. In fact, period sex is a great opportunity to practice thinking and talking about feelings, boundaries, body image, and more—with your partner, and even with yourself. Simply taking the chance to ask and answer questions about your desires and needs — during your period, during sex, and any day of your life — is a feat worth celebrating. If you don’t like period sex, you can still be a very radical feminist. Learning to accept that is a bit more challenging.