Is It Safe to Have Sex During Your Period?
Find out all you need to know to stay safe while being sexually intimate at that time of the month.
Just because you’re having your period doesn't mean you have to forego sex. For some women, sexual activity during menstruation can be even more pleasurable than at other times of the month.
The need for lubrication lessens during your period, and some studies show that sex can soothe period-related symptoms, such as cramps. And a study published in 2013 in Cephalalgia concluded that sexual activity may reduce migraine and cluster headache pain for some.
“Sex is a normal part of life and should be enjoyed by all women,” says Carrie Coleman, MD, an ob/gyn at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Basically, ensuring you have good contraception and STI (sexually transmitted infection) prevention throughout the menstrual cycle should make it even more safe and enjoyable.”
But before having sex, make sure you understand the risks of STIs, other infections, and pregnancy — even during your period.
Here’s what you need to know about having safe sex during your period.
Infection Risk From Sex During Your Period
It’s crucial to practice safe sex while you’re having your period because you could still get or transmit an STI, like HIV, during this time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus may be present in menstrual blood. Therefore doctors strongly encourage using a condom to decrease this risk.
Lauren Streicher, MD, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says that anecdotally speaking, there are two reasons for this risk. “Any bodily fluid can carry HIV or [other] STIs, and [during your period], the cervix opens slightly, which might allow viruses to pass through,” she says. “My message to women is you’re not off the hook as far as using protection.”
You may also be more prone to some infections in general at this time. Your vagina maintains a pH level of 3.8 to 4.5 throughout the month, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). But during menstruation, that level rises because of the higher pH level of blood, and yeast is able to grow more rapidly.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are more likely to occur the week before your menstrual period, and intercourse during this time can exacerbate symptoms. But clear evidence is lacking for any increased risk of getting a yeast infection if you have sex during your period.
There's also the dreaded UTI. “Some women can be more prone to having urinary tract infections after intercourse,” says Dr. Coleman. “But this is more likely related to bacteria being able to easily travel to the bladder with intercourse, but it may happen at any point during the menstrual cycle.”
Risk of Pregnancy During Your Period
Having sex when you’re menstruating will most likely not result in getting pregnant, because you’re usually several days away from ovulating during menstruation. But there are exceptions. If you have a shorter menstrual cycle (21 to 24 days) and you have sex toward the end of your period, sperm can remain viable in your vagina for up to five days, so pregnancy is possible. But this is not an optimal time to try to get pregnant if you’re hoping for a baby.
Less Need for Vaginal Lubrication
You’re less likely to need lubricants if you engage in intercourse during menstruation, because menstrual discharge tends to provide enough lubrication. If you do need a lubricant, then “water-based lubricants are widely available and safe both for sex and for condoms,” says ob/gyn James Simon, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. “Silicone and hybrid lubricants that are water-based and silicone-based are likewise safe for both sex and condoms. Oil-based lubricants, especially mineral-oil based lubricants, can deteriorate condoms — increasing the risk of breakage — and are not recommended with latex condoms,” he says.
Period Sex as a Pain Reliever
If you experience symptoms such as cramping, feelings of sadness, or depression during your period, having sex at this time may be beneficial. Dr. Streicher says that because orgasms release endorphins — feel good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine — you can theoretically say that they will also decrease some period symptoms. “There’s no harm in trying,” she says.
Sexual Arousal During Your Period
You may feel more sexually aroused and sensitive during this time of the month because of the changes in your hormone levels. Hall says many women experience an increased feeling of congestion in the pelvic area, which can also ramp up your sex drive. But for some women, this extra sensitivity may make it uncomfortable to have sex during this time. The bottom line is to make sure that both you and your partner are comfortable with the situation. “Don’t assume anything,” Dr. Simon says. “Open questions with honest answers beforehand are paramount.”