I was in high school when it first occurred to me that everyone has different experiences with menstruation.
While I was one of those lucky people who had virtually no aches and complaints during my period, my classmates weren’t always so lucky. Some of my classmates would get incredibly sick when they menstruated. They sometimes had to take time off school or sit out in PE class. It was jarring – I always thought stories about PMS and rough periods were exaggerated, but they weren’t.
This experience caused me to realize that everyone is affected by menstruation differently. Mainstream feminist spaces need to remember this, too.
One of my pet peeves is the idea that people who don’t have period sex aren’t feminists – or at least, that those of us who aren’t into period sex are somehow backward and not progressive.
Nowadays, nearly all feminist publications have some personal essays about having awesome sex while menstruating. The topic of period sex is often discussed on social media and in feminist spaces offline. And I get it – many people love having sex while menstruating, and the stigma shouldn’t hold them back.
However, some feminists go so far as to suggest that people who don’t have period sex are anti-feminist, patriarchal, or closed-minded. I’ve read essays that argue that period sex is something every person should enjoy. At a feminist meet-up, I was struck by the fact that someone said they refuse to date someone who doesn’t like period sex. On Twitter, I’ve seen people tweet that people who don’t like sex while menstruating are ‘backwards’. This idea is ubiquitous – and it’s super harmful.
During a conversation about period sex with my friends, I mentioned that I don’t usually have period sex. They were surprised since I’m a feminist with progressive views.
“But disliking period sex doesn’t mean I’m not feminist,” I said. “I don’t dislike it because I think menstruation is shameful. I dislike it for other reasons.” I felt compelled to share details of my mental health to defend myself against their judgment.
I’m sure having period sex is wonderful for many people, that they manage to enjoy themselves despite the stigma against menstruation that exists all around the world. I think that that’s a beautiful thing and it’s certainly something worth celebrating.
However, nothing is inherently wrong with not wanting to have sex during your period. There are many people who dislike period sex for valid reasons, and feminism needs to hold space for them too.
Let’s be honest: menstruating can make you hurt all over. Many people experience painful period symptoms, ones which might put them off sex. Cramps. Extreme tenderness. Vaginal dryness. Fatigue. A low sex drive due to fluctuations in hormones. All of these things can be exacerbated by chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia.
My personal experience with periods relates to having post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. After experiencing miscarriage and sexual assault, I’ve come to associate all vaginal blood with trauma. The sight of blood between my legs dizzies me with flashbacks, and my muscles tense up because I still feel like I’m in danger. I often have to sit down and remind myself that I’m safe.
While I’m learning to detach periods from trauma, this association means that menstrual is triggering for me, whether it comes out of my body or someone else’s. As you can imagine, period sex is hard to enjoy when the sight of menstrual blood re-traumatizes you.
Many trans people experience something called gender dysphoria, which is distress caused by identifying as a different gender than the one you were assigned. Because society associates menstruation with women, trans men or non-binary people who menstruate might struggle with period-related dysphoria. Periods could be triggering for them too, meaning that period sex isn’t always an option.
There are plenty of reasons why people don’t like having sex while they or their partner menstruate. It could be physical, it could be emotional, or it could even be practical – because let’s face it, cleaning up after sex during a heavy period is stressful. That’s not even to mention asexual people who might not even want to have sex at all!
When I read about how everyone should enjoy period sex, I feel excluded. More than that, I feel like my trauma is being used against me to invalidate my political beliefs. I know it’s not intentional, but it definitely needs to change. It is not my fault I was assaulted. It is not my fault I have PTSD. It is not my fault I dislike period sex. I refuse to apologize for having a totally normal reaction to a terrifying event.
If you’ve only ever had positive experiences with menstruation, I get why you’d think the stigma is the only thing that holds people back from sex. But if we’re gonna get real about sex ed, we need to remember that there are a lot of people who don’t love having a period. Similarly, we shouldn’t assume that people who dislike period sex are backwards or un-feminist. We need to validate those who love period sex and those who do not. After all, our bodies = our own, right?
I love how the period-positive movement has grown over the past few years. As someone who menstruates, I really value it. The stigma related to menstruation has certainly affected my life badly and I’m glad we’re fighting against it. But I don’t need to enjoy period sex to be on-board with period positivity.
Everybody has different experiences of menstruation. Insinuating that we all should enjoy menstruation, or enjoy sex during menstruation, isn’t fair. Destigmatizing period sex is important, but we shouldn’t harm or misjudge people in the process.