“No… just no.”
“If it’s not in my bed, I don’t care.”
“Sure, if she’s into it.”
“If I’m really down bad.”
These were the responses I received after asking a roomful of straight, cis men about their views on period sex. Initially, upon posing the innocent question, there was startled silence. Uncomfortable glances swung my way. But after some prodding (and the assurance that I wouldn’t list any of their names in this article), we launched into one of the liveliest, and frankly most enlightening, conversations about sex that I’ve experienced during my first year at Yale.
Opinions covered a wide range, from the immediate and unrelenting “No” to the hesitant “It depends” to the agreeable “I personally have never cared. If she’s down, I’m down.” A few responses were even aggressively enthusiastic: “Yeah! I like me some ketchup on my fries!” and “What’s a knight without blood on his sword!” These were just a few of the disturbing metaphors that I hope to never hear ever again.
Excluding the few men who expressed distaste for the idea, the general consensus among Yale guys seemed to be that period sex is totally fine, given the girl is comfortable with it. Unsurprisingly, most horny college dudes won’t turn down a sexual encounter simply because of some blood. “Just use a towel!” “Shower sex is underrated!” (This, of course, led us to an entirely new topic about the feasibility of shower sex in Yale’s communal bathrooms. My burning question is: would people still wear shower shoes?)
A few of the men presented caveats, though, saying that their willingness to have period sex would also depend on relationship status. Period sex during a hookup with someone you just met? No. Period sex in a serious relationship with someone you know well? Yeah, of course.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that menstruation shouldn’t present a barrier to casual hookups at all. (It’s just blood! Get over yourself!) But ok, fine. These views are fair too. Consent, communication, and comfort are crucial when engaging in any kind of intimate activity, and everyone should feel empowered to say no to sex. What frustrates me, though, is when men balk at period sex, but still expect their own desires to be met. There seems to be an assumption that menstruating women will fulfill the wants of their sexual partners while receiving nothing in return. Too many women I know have experienced unfulfilling and underwhelming hookups at Yale while on their period due to this internalized expectation. Why should women feel forced to withdraw from hookup culture or prioritize others’ desires over their own whenever their period comes along? Female pleasure certainly doesn’t need to be put on hold for a week every month, nor should women have to apologize or feel ashamed about experiencing sexual desire while menstruating.
After gleaning responses on period sex from countless Yale men, I then turned my attention to the population of students who actually do menstruate. What do Yale women think about period sex? Across the board, the answers were very similar. There were a few “No’s”, but the overwhelming majority of opinions fell into the “Yeah, why not?” category.
Thus, the most striking distinction I noticed between men and women was not in their conclusions about period sex, but rather in the language that they used to describe it. None of the women I interrogated used words such as “gross” or “turn-off” in their descriptions, whereas a few select men had used this stigmatizing language to express their distaste. None of the women had squirmed and evaded my line of questioning, whereas a few select men had shown these signs of obvious discomfort with discussing menstruation. Although I found the pool of Yalies adamantly opposed to period sex to be small, I was still curious to uncover the deeper reasons behind their responses. The unsatisfying “It’s just gross” answers that a few men provided led me to speculate that internalized stigmatization of menstruation is at the core of the issue.
The ongoing narrative that period blood is “disgusting” only perpetuates the harm and deep-seated sense of humiliation felt within the menstruating population. Sex involves countless bodily fluids anyway—why is period blood considered so much filthier and more unsavory than all of the others? (The patriarchy, of course!) As a woman who has menstruated monthly since middle school, I view my period as something completely unremarkable. It is only in these situations, face-to-face with squirming dudes, when I’m reminded that not everyone feels the same way about periods—especially men who have never seen blood spill from their own bodies for days upon end. Clearly, they have never spent hours of their lives scrubbing red stains from underwear, pajamas, jeans, sheets… you name it.
Engaging in open conversations about menstruation and period sex is the first step in breaking these taboos. Instead of treating period sex as “gross,” we need to normalize the subject and refocus the narrative on its many upsides. Sexual activity during menstruation comes with extensive health benefits. Firstly, sex can provide relief from pain and cramping. Orgasms cause the alleviation of uterine muscle tension and the release of chemicals such as endorphins and oxytocin, which diminish pain and boost feelings of pleasure. Menstruation provides natural lubrication and a lowered probability of conception (though not a 0% chance). Furthermore, as many Yale women noted in their responses, it is common to experience an increased sex drive while menstruating. It’s true, we’re just a lot hornier on our periods!
Throughout this past week, I have talked about, thought about, and read about period sex for hours upon end. Not only do I have upwards of ten tabs about menstruation and sex currently open on my computer, but I have also assumed the role of an intrepid investigator, brazenly accosting random Yale students in libraries and butteries to pick their brains about period sex. Discussing the subject with fellow Yalies has only strengthened my own belief that period sex should be a totally normal and encouraged practice. Sure, the breakouts, bloating, and bleeding that accompany menstruation may not be so sexy, but, then again, periods also come with fun health perks and increased libido. Sure, dorm-style living might not be all that accommodating for period sex—it’s messy, bloodstains are a bitch to remove, and worst of all, Yale makes us pay for laundry. To that objection, I respond: lay down some towels, use the showers, find a secret spot outside! And some helpful tips to all of you guys who have never removed bloodstains in your life: hand-wash using cold water (never warm), scrub with soap, and hydrogen peroxide can help you go the extra mile.
Like all the best things in life, period sex can be messy, complicated, and beautiful all at once. Even when blood is involved, physical intimacy should continue to be enjoyable and exciting for both parties. So I say, don’t let menstruation interrupt your sex life. Get out there, break the stigma, and brave the blood—period.