Should women #LayATowelDown and have sex during their period?

By Kagure Mugo

Full disclosure: My period has been whack in 2016. It’s been a gauge for stress levels, fitness and how much I’m liking what is happening on the news. Basically it’s been a mess.

Further full disclosure: During a particularly stressful work time I had my period for three weeks.

Let that sink in. Three weeks.

I bled for three weeks and didn’t die so it’s me, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant and Dorian Gray killing this immortality game.

This also meant that I wasn’t having sex because I’m, sadly, not a part of team #LayATowelDown. My period has always meant that sex is off the cards and not only sex but all other forms of hanky-panky. I will barely give a little over-the-sweater action. This is not because I have a particularly difficult period. Granted I am a little viler, and hate random strangers wearing scarves on the street (because why not scarves), but generally my life continues. The problem is that I feel particularly filthy during my period. This is despite the fact that I do not look, dress or smell any different. In fact sometimes I upgrade all three during this time because I am convinced that I am a menstruating goblin, because it is ingrained in me that having your period is a filthy thing to happen.

This made me think of the paradigms underpinning ideas of women and their period and how these play out during sex? This was taken further when I stumbled on an incredible article about a woman whose boyfriend loved having sex with her during her period but she had a lot of hang-ups. She described where these reservations came from and all the usual suspects emerged: religion and female standards of beauty. Religious texts have for centuries called one of the most natural occurrences unclean and many of us have internalised this.

Adding onto that we live in a world where one can show gun violence but God forbid we actually have blood in a tampon advert. We instead show women wearing extremely awesome underwear or playing volleyball during their period. I personally cannot stand volleyball or rollerblading and yes I have period underwear cause sometimes time gets away from you and things go from zero-to-Vampire Diaries real quick.

Every woman has been there at least 20 or so times and it’s not pretty.

We’re unable to deal with the fact that a woman can actually have a moment where life is not waxed or oiled up with a hint of glitter. Working within this structure one can only imagine why a woman would not want to expose her already (policed) body to a lover during a time when the world for centuries has said she’s the social version of a swamp monster.

There are ideas (from men and women) about how unclean they or their partner are during this time. Granted no one wants the shock of going down there and coming back with what one friend lovingly called “a placenta or something”. But these hang-ups have more to do with how women’s bodies are viewed in the wider spectrum of things. Keeping a woman’s period a secret is a billion dollar industry outside of tampons and pads. We’re talking douches to make you smell like roses, sprays, scented things and all manner of rubbish to hide the fact that we’re menstruating – for approximately 40 years of our lives. And that is not counting the amount we spend on pain medication and soul food.

The problem with this is we are all left in a very tricky position, and some are tackling it. There are couples out there who are on the #LayATowelDown (a genuine movement) team because as one person said “a little blood never hurt anyone”. We want sex but feel we don’t deserve it or can have it. For one the endorphins that are released during sex are said to ease menstrual pain in some women. Not only that but women interviewed noted that they enjoyed sex during this time as not only were they extremely lubricated but also experienced heightened levels of sensitivity which made sex more pleasurable.

If you’re not having sex because it’s painful or uncomfortable then that makes sense but simply not doing it because of preconceived notions of being unclean should be looked at. It might be time to get out the old sheets and try something new.

Period sex is not an exact science.

Some women will love it some will not, same with partners. However, what needs to be unpacked and explored is the idea that it is inherently dirty because it is not. The ideas of being clean or unclean are ones that need to be tickled and teased out of our psyches and the only reason you should not be having sex on your period is because your uterus feels like it is fighting a small civil war with demons from the depths of hell, wearing annoying scarfs around their annoying faces.

This was first published on Mail and Guardian: Thought Leader.

For another article on having your period read this about speaking about having your period or this awesome piece about the dirty politics of period sex.

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I definitely think that this issue has more to do with sociology, and the way we as women are taught sexuality and less to do with biology and how bodies actually work. I was always very apprehensive with intimacy during period: i wasn’t confortable and I carried a lot of shame. But in my most recent relationship that was never an issue. He was 100% confortable and aware of the singularities of sex during menstruation and he made me feel like it was okay, it’s something natural so there’s no need to avoid contact. I used to avoid even small stuff like cuddling or laying in bed watching a movie which in the end only brought negative energy to the relationship. I’m sure a lot of women go through the same and we need to work on that.

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