Periods are like Mercury retrogrades—they always come at an inconvenient time and crappy things seem to happen. Stuff like insomnia, cravings, cramping, backaches, headaches and even an increase in sex drive (although, the last one isn’t exactly a bad thing).
Sexual desire is not one dimensional and each person’s experience of it is unique. Some people find that they get in the mood just before or while on their periods, while others have no interest in sex whatsoever during menstruation.
Though there’s not an obvious correlation, many women and menstruating folks have reported feeling an increase in libido during or before their period. It may seem counterintuitive, but there are plenty of reasons you might prefer to rock the boat on the crimson wave. I asked Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Lovehoney sexologist and relationship expert why this happens – and a few other salty questions too.
(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Why do we like sex more during and before our periods?
There’s increased blood flow to the pelvic region. This can make the area more sensitive and simply increase awareness of your genitals, which can put some people in the mood. Some people report feeling more pressure against their bladder and G-zone, which can also lead to arousal (and desire).
There’s also increased desire for closeness with ourselves and/or our partners.
Some feel more emotional just before and during menstruation, and this can result in the desire to connect physically with the body. That can mean masturbation and/or partnered sex, which can be intimate, stress-relieving, relaxing, pleasurable, emotional, meaningful and/or grounding (and of course, there is no universal outcome from sexual pleasure. For some, it is a source of stress and for others, it is a source of stress relief.
And there’s desire for comfort, pleasure and relief. If you experience symptoms related to menstruation (e.g. pain, tiredness, mood changes, discomfort), you may crave pleasure in many forms — including sexual activity.
And there are hormonal shifts. Desire is multifaceted and cannot be boiled down to hormones alone, but you may find that you’re more – or less for that matter – in the mood with fluctuations of hormones. At the start of the cycle (day one of your period), the hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to release FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). Levels of estrogen and progesterone are lower at this point and this could result in higher levels of desire for some people.
Are females less likely to get pregnant having sex during a period?
The chance of pregnancy is lower during a period, but you can still get pregnant while menstruating — especially if you have a shorter cycle or if you have sex near the end of your period, which is closer to ovulation time.
You still want to practice safer sex to reduce the risk of STI [sexually transmitted infections] transmission while on your period.
However, there are some benefits to having sex while on your period. Yes, having increased sex drive during menses may not make sense from a reproductive standpoint, but let’s be real – sex isn’t always about making babies.
What are the benefits of having sex during a period?
The Womanizer’s Menstrubation Report studied the effects of masturbation on symptoms related to menstruation. Key findings include: There’s relief from menstrual pain and discomfort. In fact, 70% reported that masturbation reduced the intensity of period pain, and 42% reported that self-pleasure reduced the frequency of period pain.
Increased levels of oxytocin [the bonding hormone] coupled with the release of endorphins [happy hormones] during sexual activity can alleviate cramps, headaches and other physical pain.
Masturbation was also associated with the reduction of other symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, breast tenderness, leg pain, backaches and bloating.
Sex also improves mood. Also sexual pleasure isn’t only physical — pleasure may be emotional, relational, spiritual and more. And sexual pleasure is associated with a host of practical, personal and health benefits — ranging from improved body image and boosted mood to happier relationships and greater empathy.
The report findings also backed the thought that sexual pleasure can boost mood, improve energy levels and heighten feelings of overall well-being.
Why? Sex promotes restful sleep, and menstruation can interfere with sleep cycles. When you have a good night’s sleep, you may find that your mood, memory, patience and cognitive function are heightened. Restful sleep is associated with better cardiovascular and mental health, too.
What about women who aren’t in the mood? What should they know?
So while shifting hormones definitely rule the show, you may not feel particularly sexy during your time of the month. If this is you, don’t worry: There is nothing—I repeat, nothing—wrong with you.
Vibrators and toys for period play
Yes sex is safe during your period. And yes, some sex toys can be, too. Here are Dr. O’Reilly’s recommendations for period play time based on how you feel at that time of the month.
No intercourse, just outercourse: “When it comes to pleasure during your period… Some people prefer external stimulation of the clitoris while on their period. The Womanizer Premium 2 may be an option, as it stimulates around the head of the clitoris to pleasure the pelvic region.”
Yes, yes, intercourse: “Others may prefer deep external vibrations and rubbing during on their period. The We-Vibe Touch X is the perfect toy for this type of play. It fits neatly into the palm of your hand and is perfect for vibing & grinding externally.”
Don’t go there: Those who feel their periods in their pelvic floor often report they enjoy backend stimulation. A small vibe like the Lovehoney Juno is perfect for releasing tension in the pelvic area. It’s also ideal for vibrator beginners (not just for the behind). Plus, here’s a surprising feature: You can set it to vibe along to your favourite music, and remove the bullet to vibrate across your body.