Due to a time of stress, I once had my period for three weeks. That meant no sex for three weeks. I always cut out sex during this time, not because of any physical discomfort but because having your period is engrained in me as being filthy. This is despite the fact that I do not look, dress or smell any different.

I’m not alone in thinking like this. The idea of women being unclean around their period is universal, and it would seem every belief system weighs in on what is happening when a woman’s lining sheds.

Christianity has such gems as: “And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.” — Leviticus 20:18, Saint James Bible

And in the Quran we read:“Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed.”- 222nd verse of Chapter 2 of the Qur’an.

In Jewish culture, there is the period of Niddah in which a man and woman must limit even passing things between each other, let alone have sex.

There is evidence all round that these beliefs filter into general thinking. A waiter kind enough to answer my ‘off colour’ questions said the reason he was against having sex with a woman during her period was because it was sinful and this heightened sense of guilt was a turn off. His reasoning held that during this time a woman is unclean and it is (spiritually) dirty to be engaging with her sexually. This despite the fact that when she is not menstruating, the taboo of sex seems to lift again and sex before marriage (and other religious rules) are thrown out the window.

#LayATowelDown

The whole idea of keeping away from a woman when she is having her period is based on the idea that menstruation is filthy and most people are averse to having sex during this time. But my research shows that this taboo is beginning to change. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in the team (hashtag) #LayATowelDown movement. After speaking to a range of women I realised that a great number of these hang-ups were internal, with the partners in their lives not being too fussed about the fact that there was blood. As one man put it, “A little blood never killed anyone.” Although some partners may have their hang-ups about sex with a woman on here period, there are those who relish it.

Period sex is something that people are doing and it is not just about sex. This is a direct challenge to ideas linked to women’s purity and cleanliness.

It actually goes a little bit further than most would think, or care to talk about. There seems to be a whole thing around it, with those who enjoy having sex with their partners during their period being called ‘bloodhounds’. There are those who not only tolerate period sex but actually relish it. And given the science behind it, one can understand why.

Research on the topic (through conversations and Google) led me to the notion of ‘earning your red wings’. This is the moment in which a man earns his stripes by performing oral sex on a woman on her period. A sort of Dracula meets traditional rite of passage. According to one woman, ‘the taste is not the same as that of traditional blood’ because it is actually a mix of a host of things.

The health benefits and logistics of period sex

Setting aside the general societal hang-up, women are generally more horny and more sensitive during their period. One woman testified to having a heightened libido during this time, but her insecurities meant that she did not try to have sex with her long-term boyfriend. In fact, she thwarted his efforts.

But for those who dare, having sex on your period actually has health benefits. The first and most important is that the endorphins released can actually alleviate period pains. Furthermore, sex can also help shorten the length of your period because the orgasms will help expel what is in your uterus. In the case of women who experience dryness, there is also a lot less need for lube. And before you run from the fact that there is blood, much of what you see is the shedding of the uterine lining. This is why it tastes different from actual blood.

Some women even testify to the fact that the stem of blood slows during the act of sex. One woman advised taking a cold shower before sex, as this stopped the flow for long enough to get into the act.

But if all else fails, simply put down some old linen.

As much as having sex during your period can be uncomfortable for a number of physical reasons, there are a whole host of social and religious taboos that tie women’s legs together and that need to be broken. Taboo ideas around having sex when you are on your period need to be tackled because they are woven into ideas of what a woman should and should not be. It challenges the idea that a woman is only presentable when she is bald, oiled up, smelling of guava and with a splash of glitter. It challenges the ideas of women being unclean and ‘ill’ during their period. Having sex on your period could be a lot more than easing a few aches and pains and more about easing the constrictions on the bodies of women.