You may be embarrassed when your doctor asks if you are sexually active, but it is important for them to know. That way they can correctly evaluate your risk of pregnancy or STIs and provide appropriate care.
Having sex on your period can be very pleasurable, and in some cases actually improve menstrual symptoms by providing lubrication and the endorphins of orgasms can soothe cramps. However, the risks are high if you do not use protection.
Many people think only sexual activity can lead to an orgasm, but the sensation isn’t limited to penile-vaginal stimulation. Touching, pressing, and massaging the sensitive parts of the body — the clitoris and anus, aka everything “down there” — can also bring on the sensation. Orgasms are a result of sexual arousal, which triggers a rhythmic contraction of the pelvic muscles that create pleasure in the genitals and throughout the body. They also flood the bod with feel-good endorphins, which can relieve pain and make you happy, giddy, flushed, warm or sleepy.
The most powerful orgasms occur during or around ovulation (you know, prime baby-making time). This is due to an increase in the hormone LH, which can cause vaginal secretions to become thicker and more slippery. This makes sex a lot more pleasurable and may also decrease period cramps, says Dr Knopman.
For women who aren’t able to get sex, masturbation is an alternative that can also help alleviate period cramps. Studies have shown that when people masturbate, it improves blood flow to the uterus and can increase arousal. Plus, it also releases the same feel-good chemicals as sex, which can ease menstrual pain and headaches. A study of 20 women who tracked their orgasms for one month found that 43 percent of them reported that masturbation helped ease their menstrual cramps, compared to 42 percent who opted for medication.
Stress is well known for being a killer when it comes to mental health but did you know it can also make your period worse? Studies have shown that women who feel stressed early in their menstrual cycle tend to experience more severe symptoms, such as bloating, cramps, nausea and fatigue. It’s worth noting that the effects of stress can last a long time and it doesn’t necessarily need to have been something specific that happened, such as a hard exam or a busy work deadline.
Sexual activity can reduce feelings of stress and help you relax, especially during orgasms which are full of oxytocin. It can also improve hormone fluctuations that can lead to mood swings and pain. But if you’re not using safe sex (which includes the use of condoms and practicing mouth-to-mouth anal sex) then this can increase your risk of STIs, pregnancy and other health issues.
It’s worth pointing out that a one-off longer or shorter cycle is normal, but if your periods are consistently irregular then this may be a sign of an underlying health condition. For example, if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) your hormone levels are likely to be all over the place and this can lead to irregular periods and PMS symptoms. If this is the case, you should speak to your GP about what you can do to improve your symptoms.
Vasocongestion is the swelling of body tissue that occurs due to increased vascular blood flow and a localized increase in blood pressure. The condition typically affects a specific area of the body and can be triggered by a number of things, including sexual arousal, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, strong emotions, illness or allergic reactions. Typically, vasocongestion is harmless and passes as the arousal fades. However, some people experience pain and discomfort that lasts for a long time or even persists after the arousal has ended.
During the sexual response, physical and psychological stimulation induces emotional and physiological arousal in both men and women. The first stage of the process, called excitement, results in vasodilation and leads to vasocongestion in erectile tissues. In men, this means that the penis becomes hard and firm. In women, the nipples, clitoris and labia enlarge and vaginal secretions are released to lubricate the body for intercourse.
Although vasocongestion isn’t harmful, it can be uncomfortable and lead to cramping. It also may make it harder to reach orgasm, as the engorged pelvic tissue can cause friction and pain that impedes the uterus’s natural contractions. Fortunately, vasocongestion doesn’t last very long and usually passes within minutes once arousal fades or you reach orgasm. Using a sexual lubricant can help alleviate this problem, as can masturbation or resting.
Infections like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or bacterial vaginosis can make your period worse by irritating the vagina and causing pain. Infections can also increase the length of your menstrual cycle, cause a change in the consistency or color of your blood, or lead to pain during and after sexual activity.
Having sex on your period can increase your risk of getting an STI because the infected blood passes from your vagina to your partner through the vaginal canal and down the fallopian tubes. Using a condom and communicating openly with your partner during sex can reduce this risk. Douching — or massaging the vagina with water to ‘feel clean’ — can be harmful because it kills a lot of the good and healthy bacteria that are in your vulva.
Infections can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is when the infection spreads from the uterus or cervix to one of the organs in the reproductive tract, including the fallopian tubes. PID can cause pain and bleeding during and after sex, and it may also affect fertility. To prevent PID, practice safe sex, avoid douches, and use regular drug store lubricant before and during sex. You can also use a reusable vaginal cup or diaphragm for penetrative sex. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying these options.