How does sex affect your period?

Sex while on your period doesn't have to be a no-go. (Getty Images)
Sex while on your period doesn't have to be a no-go. (Getty Images)

Whether or not you feel like having sex during your period, we asked the experts your pressing questions and discovered some good news... sex can not only help with PMT but may also help to ease period pain.

Can you have sex on your period?

The answer is a resounding YES! As long as you use protection against STIs and birth control, if you're not planning to get pregnant. "This is because STIs like HIV, hepatitis B and C can be found at higher levels in menstrual blood than in other vaginal fluids," says Dr Adiele Hoffman, Medical Advisor at Flo Health.

"So if you have one of these infections, the risk of transmitting it to your partner if you have oral or vaginal sex is higher when on your period." Also because your cervix is more open when you’re menstruating to allow the blood to flow out, it doesn’t have the usual mucus that helps protect you from STIs.

Dr Deborah Lee, Dr Fox Online Pharmacy raises another risk. She says, "There is some recent evidence that sex during a period could increase the chance of endometriosis due to the fact it causes retrograde menstruation – this is period blood flowing backwards into the pelvic cavity instead of out through the cervix.

Read more: 7 sex hygiene habits you really shouldn't skip

Woman resting arm on head on her sofa.
Sex might be the last thing you feel like during your period, but some will carry on as normal. (Getty Images)

"As for pregnancy, whilst there’s often a lower risk of getting pregnant whilst on your period, for women with short menstrual cycles, it’s more possible," Lee explains.

"If you have a 21-day cycle, this means you ovulate on day seven. If you have sex at any time during a period, that may last for seven days, and as sperm live in the pelvis for up to seven days, you could become pregnant."

She also points out the various pros for period sex. “Blood is a good natural lubricant, plus you may have a higher libido during your period as this is the start of a new cycle and oestrogen levels are rising rapidly."

Can having sex delay your period?

There’s no scientific evidence that sex can delay your period for any other reason than if you are pregnant, so if your period is delayed the first thing to do is a pregnancy test.

"There are other factors that can delay the onset, regularity and length of the period," says Lee. "But having sex is not one of them. These include age, BMI, stress, sudden weight gain or loss, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), excessive exercise and peri/post-menopause.

"If you miss three periods in a row and are not pregnant, you should see your GP or go to the Sexual Health clinic."

Image of calendar on blue background. (Getty Images)
We asked our experts whether sex can make your period come early or late. (Getty Images)

Can sex make your period come early?

"Unless your period is literally due to start in the next 12-24 hours then having sex is unlikely to have an impact," says Dr Verity Biggs, Women’s Health Lead at H3 Health.

However, there is some research to say that having an orgasm could help to 'push' the blood out of the womb early.

Hoffman explains: "It’s theoretically possible that an orgasm could trigger mild uterine contractions and it’s this that might hasten the lining breakdown."

It’s also important to draw a distinction between your period and bleeding after sex (post-coital bleeding or PCB) since the latter could indicate a problem.

"Bleeding after sex could be due to other causes, such as cervical ectropion (a benign condition of the cervix), polyps, a cervical infection, or gynaecological cancers such as ovarian and cervical cancer," says Biggs.

Up to 9% of women have post-coital bleeding so it is not uncommon. If this happens, you should always report it to your GP or go to the Sexual Health clinic.

Does your period affect your chances of orgasm?

"During sex, there is increased blood flow to the pelvis," says Lee, "Plus levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin (those lovely feel-good hormones) rise rapidly in the brain."

The great news is that having a period will not change any of these natural responses – phew!

Plus, Hoffman adds that “whilst having a period doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher chance of having an orgasm, some research has found increased arousal and sensitivity during menstruation,” which of course, could up your chances of reaching the big O.

On top of that, the extra lubrication from period blood can also make sex more enjoyable.

"On the downside, cramps, bloating or even the taboo of period sex in some cultures… could instead reduce your chances of an orgasm," says Hoffman.

Read more: How a woman can enjoy sex whatever her age

Couple having sex (Getty Images)
The effect of your period on the chances of having an orgasm is rarely discussed. (Getty Images)

Does your period affect your sex drive?

Your libido rises and falls naturally during the menstrual cycle, which is why you might be feeling aroused one minute but can think of nothing worse the next.

"In general libido tends to be low in the second half of the cycle – the two weeks before a period," says Lee. "This may be because progesterone levels are at their highest. Progesterone levels fall abruptly at the end of the cycle and this precipitates the start of menstrual bleeding – day one of bleeding marks the beginning of the new cycle."

“In a new menstrual cycle, the first two weeks are called the follicular phase. Oestrogen levels rise as a new follicle grows and develops, ready for ovulation around day 14. As oestrogen levels rise, libido often increases to peak around the time of ovulation," she says.

Which is as nature intended, since you are at your most fertile.

Read more: Why is my sex drive so high?

Can sex help with PMT?

"Sex and exercise can all help with PMT, as it releases the endorphins, those feel-good chemicals. This can help with cramps and pain too," says Biggs.

Plus vaginal stimulation (in the form of penetration leading to orgasm) can produce effective pain relief due to pressure to the vagina, and has been shown to increase pain threshold by 75%.

By its very definition however, PMT is premenstrual tension – this a condition in which a variety of premenstrual symptoms (such as mood swings, irritability, bloating, breast tenderness and headaches) are experienced in the run-up to a period, but get better and disappear as soon as the period gets underway.

Do any sex positions help ease period pain?

Woman clutching tummy in bed. (Getty Images)
Certain sexual positions may even help to ease menstrual pain. (Getty Images)

An expert from &SISTERS, a plastic-free period care company, suggests the following positions for helping to ease period pain.

1. Spooning

Both of you lie down on your side facing in the same direction with the penetrating partner behind you. You can then lift your knee towards their chest to aid the partner behind for better access.

This position is comfortable for both parties as it doesn’t put pressure on the knees and involves lying down for the most part which, when a period cramp strikes, is a godsend. The penetrating partner can put their hand against the receiving partner’s abdomen to allow their natural body heat to ease the menstrual pain.

2. Spread doggy

Assume a child’s pose position, folding forward, and then spread your knees, lowering your chest and shoulders to be as flat on the bed as comfortable. The penetrating partner is then stationed behind, holding onto your hips. You can then place a heated blanket over a cushion under your stomach to soothe the cramp further.

Since this position is a recovery pose in yoga practices, it stimulates and massages the abdominal area while allowing the menstruating partner to relax in a comfortable position.