BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.
I heard a great joke this week: Jokes about PMS aren’t funny. Period.
[He, he, he! Giggle. Giggle.]
After hearing this joke, I started thinking about sex and periods. Depending on the group of women surveyed and the way the question is asked, research has found that somewhere between 3 percent and 30 percent of women have had sexual intercourse while menstruating.
In the U.S., the average age of menarche (the first time a girl gets her period) is just under 13. The average age of menopause is just over 50. That means that the average woman spends close to four decades bleeding, five out of every 28 days. That’s a whole lot of time!
So what happens to women’s sex lives during their period?
American researchers, Devon Hensel, Dennis Fortenberry, and Donald Orr (2004), sought to answer this question by tracking a group of 191 sexually active women between the ages of 14 and 21 for nine months. They asked them to fill out daily surveys and indicate whether they were menstruating and/or sexual intercourse that day. According to these diaries, although 11 percent of young adult women had sex at least once while they had their period, this was less than the percentage who reported having sex during times of no menstruation. In fact, the participants indicated engaging in sexual intercourse 4.5 percent of the days that they had their period as compared to 13.2 percent of days when they did not. This a bit worrisome because a substantial proportion of women report finding sex while menstruating physically pleasurable. In fact, results from a qualitative study revealed that many women feel more turned on and more physically responsive during their period and that having sex on their period makes them feel accepted, validated, and loved by their partner (Fahs, 2011).
So, since we know sex can lead to all sort of benefits, what factors make it more likely that a woman will have sex on her period?
In a follow-up study, Hensel, Fortenberry, and Orr (2007) found that adolescent women who had sex on their period were more likely to report having engaged in sex more recently, experience with sex on their period in the past, and report higher sexual interest overall. Essentially, the higher the sex drive, the more likely a woman is to have experienced a variety of sexual behaviors (even sex during menstruation), HUGE SHOCKER!
However, one interesting finding that emerged (but not so surprising), was that women who indicated feeling supported by their partner were more likely to report having sexual intercourse during menstruation as compared to those receiving less support. Apparently, the key to engaging in more non-traditional forms sexual behavior (or non-conventional times for sexual behavior) depends greatly on the quality of the relationship. This is consistent with research in other areas, which reveals that close and supportive relationships (as compared to distant and less-supportive relationships) are more likely to lead to positive outcomes when engaging in a range of sexual behaviors (e.g., feelings of intimacy after anal sex; Reynolds, Fisher, & Rogala, 2015).
So what do you do if you are interested in experimenting with sex during menstruation?
If you are worried about things getting messy I have two magic words for you: SHOWER SEX. Prefer dry land? Throw a towel down on the bed. Worried that your partner will not be interested? That is possible, but you never actually know until you ask! So go for it, you never truly know your preferences until you try.