If you have a vagina and are sleeping with someone who can get you pregnant, you probably know the basics of birth control: Take the pill or get an IUD, use a condom, et cetera. But you still may be wondering: Can period sex get you pregnant? Although everyone’s opinion about it differs, let’s get one thing straight: period sex is normal and natural. In a 2016 survey from The Flex Company (which posed questions to cis and trans people identifying as female, male, intersex, and genderqueer), more than 83 percent of respondents said they’ve “totally” had period sex.
And yet there’s conflicting answers to the question of whether you can get pregnant — and other pressing questions about period sex. For starters, Dr. Sherry A. Ross, an OB-GYN, women’s health expert, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., wants you to know that you can get pregnant from having sex on your period.
Period sex definitely has its perks. For one, your vagina is a natural slip and slide because of the blood, according to Dr. Felice Gersh, an OB-GYN and founder of the Integrative Medical Group. So, traditional lube might not be needed as much, even though your natural vaginal and cervical lubricants are lowered due to hormones. Second, your body releases oxytocin and dopamine when you get off — meaning, according to Gersh, orgasms can relieve the pain from menstrual cramps. And anecdotally, periods are known to make some people feel horny (if not tired or irritable or icky). If period sex is something you want to try or continue to do with your partner, there are a couple things to keep in mind to do so safely.
“It is harder to get pregnant on your period, but you still can! Women with shorter period intervals — 21 days between each period, for example — are more likely to get pregnant during the end of their period,” Ross says. It mainly has to do with your ovulation: the 24-hour window when the egg is released and ready to be fertilized by the sperm. People typically have periods every 28 days and ovulate 14 days before their next period.
“Given that eggs are viable for approximately 12 to 24 hours and that sperm are viable for up to five days, a pregnancy should only be able to occur five days before and up to five days after the egg is expected to be released,” says Dr. Enrique Soto, a fertility specialist and fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So if you have a “typical” 28-day cycle, no, you probably won’t get pregnant. But, Soto says, “A problem with this assumption is that the actual day of the cycle when ovulation occurs can vary from month to month.”
Irregular menstrual cycles are common, so it is “very difficult” to calculate the exact day of ovulation, Soto says. Going back to Ross’ example: If you only have 21 days between day one of your last period and day one of your next, Ross explains, “You probably ovulate on day 10 of your cycle. If your period lasts seven days and you have sex on day seven, it’s possible to become pregnant on day 10 — since sperm lives for three days.” So it truly just depends on that tricky window of fertility, when it opens up for you, and the day you have penetrative sex.
Instead of leaving it up to chance, use contraceptives. Both Ross and Soto emphasize practicing safe sex. Dr. Laura Alsina-Sanchez, an OB-GYN at Partners in Women’s Health, says that two types of birth control would be ideal for period sex. “The only way to reliably prevent pregnancy is consistent condom use and hormonal contraception,” Alsina says.
And as it turns out, pregnancy isn’t the only reason your partner should wrap up during period sex: The risk of transmitting sexual diseases is higher during this time. “Period blood is the perfect petri dish for spreading disease. Blood-borne STIs, such as HIV and hepatitis, love the nutrients that a period has to offer,” Ross says. Your cervix is more open, too, allowing viruses more readily into your uterus and fallopian tubes. And there’s also the matter of your vagina’s pH balance during your period.
“The pH balance of the vagina is less acidic and more alkaline, which also makes it easier for these viruses to infect and spread in the body,” Ross says. “The normal acidic pH has a protective effect in preventing the passage of certain STIs.” It’s for the disease risk, too, that Alsina-Sanchez recommends two types of birth control. “Condoms should be used to prevent STIs, as hormonal birth control does not protect against STIs,” Alsina-Sanchez says. She also adds that “consistent use of condoms and reliable hormonal birth control” is best in the long run. Using two types is a foolproof way to ensure virtually no slip-ups or pregnancy scares.
Apart from the idea you can’t get pregnant on your period, Ross also wants to debunk the myth that period sex shortens the time you’ll spend bleeding. The idea is that since the uterus contracts during an orgasm, it will push out blood and tissue in the process — and boom, your period will end sooner. Ross says this isn’t quite true.
“Having period sex usually does not affect the length of period bleeding,” Ross tells Elite Daily. “Nor does it affect the amount of blood flow.” For the most part, Ross says, the orgasms and uterine contractions are best for relieving the cramping pain that comes with periods.
Safe to say, stock up on your usual array of period snacks as well as condoms if you and your partner are about that period sex life. As you’re making your CVS or Target run, you also might want to snag some Summer’s Eve vaginal wipes($20.03 for a three-pack) or a Lunette brand menstrual cup ($39.99), per Ross’ recommendation. Menstrual cups are particularly clutch for period sex. They prevent you from bloodying the sheets and, as Ross puts it, you can “enjoy oral sex to its fullest, blood-free, while your vulva is sensitive and primed for orgasm.”
Period sex can continue to be a fun, slippery endeavor for you and your partner — just be sure to lay down a towel and keep using birth control so you can bang with utter peace of mind.