When it comes to period sex, "put a towel down” is basically the only advice we’re ever given, and that’s usually framed in a hetero, penis-in-vagina context.
Three cheers for heteronormativity and lousy, non-inclusive sex education! So when, in my late 20s, I had my first ever period sex experience with another vulva-having person, I felt like a nervous teenager all over again.
She gently told me to go to the bathroom and put a tampon in. “That way I can still finger you,” she said. Sitting on the loo, I realised I had no idea if it was safe to be fingered while wearing a tampon.
But as a baby queer, I took her Real Lesbian Advice seriously and did as instructed. She slipped her fingers inside me and around the tampon with ease, and the sex was great.
Since, I’ve learned that wasn’t totally safe. And there are some things about sex with queer women and people with vulvas I wish I’d known beforehand.
Orgasms are pain relievers
As orgasm is a natural pain reliever, it’s been proven to help with the annoying side effects of your period like cramps and headaches.
Orgasm stimulates the pituitary gland, which releases endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine, neurotransmitters often dubbed “feel-good hormones”. Aside from promoting feelings of intimacy and bonding, they increase your pain threshold and boost your mood.
It’s also believed that endorphins reduce the effect of prostaglandins, the chemicals produced during your period to contract your uterus which cause cramps. On top of that, when you orgasm, your uterus is able to relax the contractions that cause menstrual cramps.
Worried about “mess”?
If you’re happy to potentially get a bit of period blood on your sheets, go for it! Period blood is nothing to be ashamed of.
But, if you do feel a bit awkward and want to reduce the likelihood of “mess”, you can wear a tampon or menstrual cup during external stimulation. You can also use this opportunity to have sex in the shower or bath—who doesn’t love a change of scenery and an easy clean up?!
Stimulating the clitoris
As most women and people with vulvas don’t orgasm through penetration alone, it’s important to focus attention on the clitoris.
Many clit-havers will experience heightened sensitivity during their period, so be sure to go slow and start with a light touch. The approach also provides more stimulation so is worth the wait.
Make sure your hands are clean
Before touching anyone’s genitals, scrub under your nails and make sure your hands are clean. If you have long nails, either trim them or wear gloves to even out the surface of your fingertips.
This will prevent you scratching your partner’s vulva, which can lead to pain and soreness. Gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr. Larisa Corda says you should also avoid having painted nails as the “polish may come off and land inside your partner”.
While many people use period blood as lube, it’s also OK to use a good water-based lube at the same time. Go for a pH balanced product with natural ingredients where you can. Using lube also reduces the risk of injury and post-sex soreness—and it feels really good.
Even during external stimulation, bodily fluid is produced and exchanged. This means there’s an STI risk and everyone should get tested before sex. If you’re unsure of someone’s STI status, wearing gloves during fingering will make sex safer.
Some people might not want penetration while they’re on their period—or ever—and that’s fine. But if you do, be aware your vagina may feel different at this time. Queer period sex educators Lily Hatcher and Terri Harris from Blob Gram say some peoples’ cervixes will change position during their period and sit slightly lower.
This means penetration may feel uncomfortable. Take it slow and ask your partner how it feels. Listen and watch out for their non-verbal cues and body language. Constant communication, folks.
Remember how during my first queer period sex experience she told me it was OK to be penetrated while wearing a tampon? Yeah, it turns out that’s not quite true. Medical experts say having penetrative sex—with sex toys or fingers—while wearing a tampon is generally not recommended. A tampon can’t disappear inside, but it can be accidentally pushed up so the string becomes difficult to reach (and may require medical assistance to remove). As Dr. Corda says, “the longer a tampon is left in there, the greater the serious chance of infection.”
A tampon soaked with blood is the perfect place for bacteria to grow, says Mia Sabat, a sex therapist at Emjoy. If additional factors like fingers or sex toys are introduced to the vagina, there is a greater likelihood of bacteria entering the body and toxins being produced. This could potentially cause severe harm and lead to toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Tampons can also absorb your natural lubrication, which may mean penetration becomes uncomfortable or sore.
If you do decide to go ahead with internal fingering while a partner wears a tampon, Lily and Terri advise putting a condom on your fingers or the sex toy to reduce to risk of bacteria being transferred to the tampon. They also say you should change the tampon immediately after sex. They recommend using a menstrual disk instead, as it sits higher up and does not absorb arousal fluid.
Oral sex is safe and can be very pleasurable during your period. Experts say period blood may have a distinctive odour and more metallic taste than you might not be used to.
Some studies have found we’re more susceptible to STIs during our period, Lily and Terri explain. And, STIs and blood borne viruses such as HIV, HPV, hepatitis and syphilis can be spread in the blood. If you’re unsure of a partner’s STI status, use dental dams (or make your own by cutting a condom down the side) when giving or receiving oral sex.
Period sex isn’t all about genitals
During your period other parts of our body can experience increased sensitivity thanks to our hormones. Breasts can feel more sensitive, so if they’re up for it, try a gentle, light touch on your partner’s breasts and nipples.