There are too many things to count about the ways we love Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, but this week, in episode three, it was her depiction of periods – specifically period sex.
ICYMI Coel’s Arabella is hooking up with Italian Biagio (Marouane Zotti), before revealing she’s on her period. Undeterred, the pair carry on, with him removing her tampon. He later finds a large blood clot, which the pair discuss and he plays with.
It’s a reflection on how far we have to go on period sex, that the episode got mixed reactions on Twitter, from screaming praise, to screaming disgust.
A survey last year by intimate health brand Intima found that women lose six years worth of sex throughout their lives by avoiding period sex. Read like that, it seems we need to do whatever we can to get over the stigma of period sex – whether it’s programmes like I May Destroy You normalising it, or education. One of the top questions on Google around period sex is ‘Can you have sex during your period?’ Well, let’s get that one out of the way first, yes.
Why was the blood clot scene in I May Destroy You so important?
Sex expert and ambassador for Womanizer and Tenga, Alix Fox says: ‘There are several reasons why the period sex scene in I May Destroy You is (literally) bloody brilliant. For a start, when Arabella tells the guy she’s about to sleep with that she’s on her period, he behaves maturely: unflinching, unfazed, unperturbed…and unwavering in his desire for her. There’s no shaming or “ew!” response; while I’d forgive a man with genuine and generalised hemophobia of being wary about witnessing period blood, I hold only disdain for fully grown men who - when about to be potentially blessed with the honour and privilege of getting intimate with a woman’s vagina - act disgusted, affronted even, that there’s a very normal, natural substance coming out of it.'
Let's talk about men's reactions to period sex...
‘I also rate that Arabella’s lover doesn’t act like her period is necessarily an inconvenience to either of them, or that its presence means that any type of genital-focused pleasure for her is off the table during their sex sesh,' says Alix, who is an ambassador for Bloody Good Period (a menstrual poverty and education charity). 'I recently made an educational video about period sex for Bodyform, and alongside being sickened and saddened by all the men (and women…) declaring it to be “gross” and leaving vomit-face emojis, I was enraged by the hoards of men making comments like “No problem – she can just give me a blow job” or “That’s what the back doors are for” – as though menstruation granted these assholes automatic access to anal, or obligated a woman to please them some other way. Talking about sex during ‘Shark Week’ truly reveals some men to be pond scum.
‘Perhaps the most impactful part of the IMDY scene, though, is the fact it shows a guy being cool with getting up close and personal with a saturated tampon, and a big ol’ blood clot…and that being fine. While a survey of 2000 people conducted by Bodyform in 2019 revealed that around a third of men said they’d be A-OK with the idea of “a threesome with Aunt Flo”, anecdotally I hear from many women who fear that their partners don’t comprehend what period sex might actually entail: they suspect men imagine a little spot of bright red blood, whereas in reality menstrual fluid can contain brown clumps of shed womb lining, stringy bits or cervical mucus, snotty trails of vaginal secretions, and a lot of fluid. Periods ain’t always a visual picnic – I May Destroy You serves them honestly.’
Alix adds: 'A note on “bloodhounds”: men who either fetishise menstruation (which, fine if that’s your furry cup of tea); or who, more problematically, boast about being into ‘braving’ period sex because they see ‘facing’ a bleeding foof as some kind of gutsy marker of ultimate masculinity or being “a real man”. I’m dubious about pretty much any sex act where the primary motivation is not shared pleasure, but to make a dude feel more alpha. Let’s please drop phrases like “earning your Red Wings”: you don’t get a badge for being a Big Strong Boy about a menstruating vag.'
Is period sex good for period pain?
Aside from just enjoying sex, there’s another very good reason not to shy away from having sex while on your period, says Alix. ‘During sensual pleasure and orgasm, the body releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals including dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins; these can act as natural painkillers, so some women find getting frisky when they’re on can help with period pain. Plus, the way your pelvic muscles contract and release during climax helps force prostaglandins – the chemicals that cause cramps - out of the vagina along with period blood, which in theory could help hurry your period to a close.
‘Brilliantly, recognising the gender-based gap in medical research into female sexual pleasure versus male, female-focused sex toy company Womanizer – known for inventing pleasure products that use pulses of air rather than traditional vibration to stimulate the clitoris – recently began a unique global clinical study examining how masturbation can produce similar effects, since solo period sex can be similarly beneficial and enjoyable yet suffers from being stigmatised and taboo too. It seems that many women welcome this step forward: over 20,000 womb-owners across the world applied to take part. 1,000 have been randomly selected to take part, and results from the collaboration with Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones are expected around the end of the year.’
How can I avoid mess during period sex?
‘If stress about mess is putting you off exploring period sex, there are companies making products designed to help,’ says Alix. ‘You could try disposable sponge tampons (like these ones from Joy Division), which are soft and have no string so they can be worn during intercourse; along with natural sea sponges (although I’d be careful about sterility with those), they’ve been employed by sex workers and porn actresses for a long time, so they can keep on jobbing while on-the-blobbing.
‘There are also disc-shaped menstrual cups like the Nixit and Intimina Ziggy, which fit over the cervix to collect blood but are much more shallow and flexible than standard mooncups, so they don’t get in the way during penetration. Both do require you to be ok with reaching inside yourself to fit and retrieve them, so if that’s not for you, just pop a dark-coloured towel on your sheets then chuck it in the wash afterwards. Sexual coach Dr Lauren Brim has even designed a special protective menstrual mattress mat, although having tried one I’m not sure how well it would work for larger bodies or anyone who tends to move around a lot during a passion session.’
What if I don't want to have period sex?
'Front-bottom line is: you should only have period sex if you want to, and some women, non-binary and trans folks won’t,' says Alix. 'The Bodyform survey showed that 31% of women found they simply weren’t in the mood, due to things like bloating and hormone fluctuations affecting their libido. Others will be affected by religious beliefs and cultural influences, and whilst I think it’s a wise and necessary thing to question any dogmatic stigma and shame attached to the natural processes of women’s bodies – frequently originating from male cultural figureheads, an individual’s personal feelings in this realm should always be respected. I’d particularly hope to empower women who are denying themselves the pleasure they desire during their periods because they worry that their bodies’ normal cycles will turn off their partner, or who are making choices based on myths and misconceptions like the idea that period blood is “toxic”.'
What's it like having period sex? Your experiences...
Sarah: ‘We've probably had sex every time I've been on my period’
‘I used to be really weird about when I first started sleeping with my boyfriend. He is my first relationship and so I guess I was still wrapped up in the taboo of periods and wouldn't go near him if I was on my period. One time he fingered me and I must have started there and then because there was blood over his hands. I was absolutely mortified and didn't stop thinking about it for days.
‘Then one day when I was about to bat him away when he tried to initiate stuff, my boyfriend looked at me and just said, "You know I don't care right? I don't care about the blood I just want to give you orgasms." It really changed my whole perspective of it. Like if he wasn't bothered why was I?
‘So since then we've probably had sex every time I've been on my period and it really doesn't bother me anymore.
‘The only problem is the mess it can make, but we always put the emergency towel down. I wouldn't say period sex is better than normal sex persay, more like I am usually more horny during my period so having sex then scratches a better itch.’
Kerry: ‘At that time in your cycle you will often feel aroused more.’
‘I feel that it's a normal part of life as a female, and we shouldn't feel held back by it in terms of enjoying sex with a partner. If they are happy to take part, then go ahead.
‘At that time in your cycle you will often feel aroused more, and can be much more sensitive so I feel like rather than being restricted by a period we should embrace it! There aren't many positives about experiencing a period so we should take all we can.
‘I work with young people for a sexual health charity and always try to be an advocate for being open about our bodies and periods. Every day in the world more than 800 million people are having a period, so people who menstruate shouldn't grow up feeling it's something that's gross or we have to hide.’
Jo: ‘I’m hornier on my period… Men who really care about you are less likely to be bothered’
‘I was sleeping with someone when I was single and it was a very mutually enjoyable and respectful experience until one instance where shortly after I'd finished my usual period, it made an unexpected reappearance during a session with him. He made a poor excuse, put on his clothes and left, and I never saw him again! Safe to say, I didn't care too much, but such a pathetic reason to end what was a good thing for both of us.
‘Recently I've been in a secure and happy relationship where my partner has actually realised that I'm hornier and more sensitive while on my period (surprise!) and now he likes to engage with my sexually (not always the whole thing, due to saving our bed sheets) when he realises I'm on my period.
‘It's led me to believe that men who really care about you (and are men rather than boys) are less likely to be bothered about something that is completely natural.’
Melanie: ‘Sex is messy already and if it's not you're doing it wrong as far as I'm concerned.’
‘I've had period sex in relationships, during casual sex and even on one-night stands and the only man that ever cared was my first boyfriend. We were 19 so he was just immature, but after a while and once he realised how much better it can feel he didn't care anymore.
‘I've never really had a problem with it myself, sex is messy already and if it's not you're doing it wrong as far as I'm concerned. If you've already got sweat, discharge and cum in the mix what's a bit of period blood on the side?’