Sex during periods. As a sexual health educator, I am asked about this subject a lot.
“Do other couples do it?” “How does it work?” “Will I get pregnant?”
There are some myths and half-truths floating around about sex during a period, so we are going to try to set the record straight…
Can you have sex on your period?
Yes. But like all issues surrounding sex, communication is critical. This means checking in with your partner. Depending on whether you’re the one menstruating or not, questions might include: “How do you feel during your period? Would you ever want to have sex while you’re menstruating?” or “I’m on my period right now. How do you feel about having sex while I’m menstruating?” For many folks who menstruate, sexual desire changes during different times of the menstrual cycle. For example, a person might experience increased desire during menstruation or ovulation – it all depends on the person. Be sure to talk about desires and feelings to ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
Is having sex on your period bad for you?
No. Having sex while one or more partners are on their period is not harmful. In fact, there are a few ways in which it might be helpful! First, the contractions of orgasm might help relieve menstrual cramping. Second, sex might feel particularly great because the vagina can become super lubricated from menstrual secretions. If you or your partner worry about a mess from the blood, consider spreading out a towel or having sex in the shower to minimize post-coital cleaning.
Can you get pregnant if you have sex while on your period?
The simple answer is yes.
We get a lot of questions about specific situations on this.
If a person whose body ejaculates sperm has sex with a person whose body houses ovaries, then yes, it’s possible to get pregnant at any time during a menstrual cycle. To put that in writing again – if you have unprotected vaginal/penile intercourse during a menstrual period, it IS possible to get pregnant. Pregnancy can happen if you have sex before, during or after your period.
You are most likely to get pregnant if you have penile/vaginal sex around the time of ovulation. Ovulation is when an egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation usually occurs about 14 days after the start of someone’s last period.
Why do some people think that having sex on their period means they can’t get pregnant?
If someone has a perfectly regular, 28 day menstrual cycle where they ovulate every month on day 14 and their monthly bleed begins at day 23 and lasts for 5 days – having penile/vaginal sex during day 23-28, when they are menstruating, has a very small chance of growing a human. However…
- MOST PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE PERFECTLY REGULAR 28 DAY CYCLES. Many people who menstruate have unpredictable periods, or at least slight variations each month, meaning it can be difficult to know when they ovulate. In fact, folks who use the rhythm method / Fertility Awareness where they track their cycles and only have penile/vaginal sex during days they believe are not a risk for pregnancy have a 25% chance of creating a human. That’s a 1 in 4 chance. There are much more reliable ways to avoid pregnancy.
- Some people may experience spotting at the time of ovulation, which could be confused with a period. So if that person thinks that when they bleed is a safe time to not get pregnant but happens to be someone who spots during their ovulation that particular month (or regularly), they have a very high chance of getting pregnant from penile/vaginal intercourse.
- Sperm can live in a vagina for up to five days. Yup, five days. If an egg comes around at any point during that time, pregnancy could happen.
- Some people have sex more regularly than every five days. Each instance of penile/vaginal intercourse extends the timeframe for live sperm to exist in the vagina.
- Many people who have sperm release a small amount of semen prior to ejaculation. While this helps with lubrication and comfort, it makes “pulling out” a less effective method of contraception since sperm can be present prior to ejacuation. Even foreplay with someone with ovaries has a chance of conception due to this pre-ejaculate fluid.
So how do I make it less likely to have a baby?
- Don’t have penile-vaginal sex.
- But if you’re going to have penile-vaginal sex…
- Use barrier contraception such as an external or internal condom, diaphragm or sponge, possibly with spermicide.
- Use a prescription method of contraception such as the pill, patch, ring, implant or IUD.
- Control your and your partner’s behavior:
- Carefully track menstrual cycles to better understand normal cycles and predict ovulation.
- Withdraw the penis from the vagina before ejacuation.
- These methods take a lot of self-control and 100% consistency on the part of both partners. You can’t control your partner’s behavior, so this can be a good backup method, but we don’t recommend using one or both of these behaviors as the primary way to avoid pregnancy.
- Any combination of the above.
I already had sex on my period. Now I’m worried I might be pregnant.
If you already had penile-vaginal sex without contraception and you don’t want to get pregnant, consider Emergency Contraception (such as ella, Plan B One Step or a Copper IUD). Many of these are available at most pharmacies over the counter and are pretty darn effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex. There are more reliable methods of contraception than Emergency Contraception. We encourage you to speak with your pharmacist or medical provider about contraception options that might work for you.
Are other people having sex on their period?
Based on the number of folks who are reading this blog article – yup. But really, it doesn’t matter if other folks are doing it or not. Having sex during menstruation is a personal decision, so we again emphasize that you should talk with your partner to see how they feel. If nothing else it can be another opportunity to get to know your partner and their likes, dislikes and comfort level.
This article has been edited for clarity and updated formatting since it’s original publishing date.
Most recent edit: November 5, 2019