Riding the Red River: Safely Navigating Your Way Through Period Sex

Illustration for article titled Riding the Red River: Safely Navigating Your Way Through Period Sex
Illustration: Angelica Alzona (GMG)

“Everyone has laid down the dark towel before.”

That is how my sister explained period sex to me a long time ago, and that phrase has always stuck in my head. I’ve heard it called “running the red light,” “riding the red river,” “fighting a bloody battle” and “earning your red badge of courage,” but no matter what you call it, period sex is and has always been a thing.

People engage in both oral sex and penetration with their female partners who are menstruating.

It’s not for everyone. I don’t engage in it, because I am a moody bitch who does not want to be bothered, much less touched, during my period. The crazy part is that I am also the horniest during my period, and I can’t be the only one this happens to, so that could explain why this is a thing.


There are a lot of factors to consider when engaging in period sex. There are safety, comfort and cleanliness issues to take into consideration, but as long as you go into it armed with useful information, you can create a pleasurable experience for both partners.

Safety is key.

The No. 1 thing to consider when having period sex is the safety and health of you and your partner. Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal and Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, both gynecologists, caution that menstrual blood can carry infections like HIV and hepatitis B.

“The cervix is slightly more open during your period, so it may make it easier to get an STI [sexually transmitted infection],” Crystal said.

“If a person is trying to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted infection, it’s important to use barrier methods [condoms, dental dams] ALL the time, including during menstruation. It’s also important to note that menstruation isn’t a contraceptive method. While it’s unlikely that someone could become pregnant during a period, it’s not impossible. and care should be taken if pregnancy isn’t desired,” Horvath-Cosper said.


Once you have taken all the necessary safety precautions, getting down to the actual act can also take some preparation.

The logistics of period sex.

Obviously, we all know that period sex can be very messy. No one wants to mess up their sheets, bedding or mattress, so at the minimum, it is advised that you put a dark towel down to prevent staining.


Sexologist and founder of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network Bianca Laureano suggests using tampons for other sorts of play and removing them for penetrative action.

For oral sex, she suggests using plastic wrap.

“Cut off a big piece and lay the center on top of the vulva and let it sit there, taking in some of the body heat,” she said. “Slowly, with one finger or something else, start at the mons where the hair grows under the belly button and gently bring the finger down the center of the vulva to hold the [plastic] wrap in place, then gently allow it to go into the folds and layers of the vulva for fuller and more enjoyable use.”


Laureano says that the great thing about plastic wrap “is you can use it whenever you want, and since it’s not latex, you can put things that are oil-based on it without issue, such as hot fudge, massage oil, etc. This will elevate your safer-sex game.”

She also suggests using gloves.

“If you purchase them at tattoo suppliers, they are in various forms of rubber for those who have latex allergies,” she said. “They also come in different colors, and for some of us, nothing is hotter than a black glove being put on and the snap of the latex at the wrist! Give it a try. If all else fails, go to the beauty-supply store or dollar store and get gloves there; even the ones that come in the hair-dye box work.”


Finally, she cautions about the aesthetics of scent and the heaviness of the menstrual flow.

“Be aware of your flow and your scent and be honest,” she said. “Sometimes you may not be aware of your scent, and you got to be open to your partners sharing if they are into it or not. If they are not, be ready to consider ways to remedy the situation for optimal outcomes, like showering—together or solo; being ‘cleaned up’ by your lover, etc. Scent is a big thing for many of us who have this sensation, and we got to be ready to discuss this so if it does occur, we don’t feel more hurt than need be. Sex is messy and smelly!”


Some suggest that there are benefits to period sex.

I’ve heard that period sex can actually lessen the pain of cramps, and this was corroborated by sexpert Michelle Hope of the O School. She had the following to say on the topic:

There are actually some benefits to period sex! For starters, there is some connection between orgasm and cramp relief. When we orgasm, our brain releases endorphins, which have been proven to change your mood and take you to a happy place! It is super cool that period sex can help with those pesky cramps because when we climax, our uterine muscles release chemicals to the brain that brings about natural pain relief. Additionally, during our periods, there is an increase in blood flow to the nether regions. That increased blood flow naturally happens when we are aroused, so being on your period is kinda like being a couple steps closer to orgasm even before you start getting frisky!


Are there any reasons a woman shouldn’t have sex on her period?

I asked Horvath-Cosper if there was any reason a woman shouldn’t have sex during her period. The short answer was no.


She said, “The only reason to refrain from sex during a period is if you don’t feel like having sex during your period. There’s nothing weird, wrong or gross about period sex.

“Some people ... notice increased sex drive and better lubrication. All the other things that can make oral, vaginal and anal sex enjoyable—closeness with your partner, pleasurable physical sensations, post-orgasm relaxation—are still there during a period. I think there’s a stigma about sex during menstruation that originates in misogynistic cultural narratives about women’s bodies being ‘unclean’ or unhygienic during that time, but the fact is that menstrual blood is just blood, and isn’t any different from the blood anywhere else in the body.”


The experts have weighed in and given great advice on how to have safe and happy sex during your period.

If you and your partner are so inclined, I encourage you to go ahead and run that red light. There’s nothing stopping you but you.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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So, not to brag or anything (because it honestly perplexes me more than anything, and neither of us can figure it out), but when my ladyfriend is, um, having the painters in, and we want to get down to business, her body seems to have this ability to temporarily stop for the duration of gettin’ busy time. She says it’s never happened with anybody else, only with me. I only bring this up to ask, has this ever happened to anyone else?