In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a menstruating woman, or “niddah,” must be away from her husband seven days from the first day of her period. Before a married couple can have sexual relations, the wife must take a ritual bath, or “mikveh.” In India, it’s taboo for girls and women to discuss menstruation, and some students miss school at least once a month because of their period. In the West, “menstrala,” or menstrual art, has been popularized: Artists photograph their periods, and some even use period blood as paint.
No matter the public or private nature of a person’s relationship with their period, it’s a typically monthly affair that may affect how people engage with their bodies, sex, and other people. To explore the relationship between intimacy and menstruation, we surveyed 800 heterosexual women and 200 heterosexual men in relationships. Our findings detail how sex is experienced during menstruation, how comfortable people are discussing periods, and the health impacts of menstrual cycles. Read on as we shed light on this natural process.
Quality of Sleep While Menstruating
Although some women reported sleeping off period discomfort, 1 in 4 had trouble sleeping while menstruating and lost an average of over eight hours of sleep per month because of it. Abdominal pain was the No. 1 culprit. More than 3 in 4 women reported experiencing abdominal pain while on their period, and 53.6% lost sleep due to cramps.
Less than 49% of women reported experiencing back pain when on their period, but 30.2% had sleep disruption due to back pain, followed by headaches and muscle aches.
Because women spend a great deal of their life dealing with menstruation, and the discomfort that comes with this monthly affair, the pain is often normalized. But women lose productivity and, as our study shows, sleep as a result of painful periods. When women were not on their period, they slept 7.2 hours, on average, compared to 5.6 hours when menstruating. That’s 1.6 hours of sleep loss, on top of the painful symptoms associated with having a period.
Comfort Discussing Menstruation
Open and honest communication is one sign of a healthy relationship. When partners communicate, whether it’s about how to deal with family traditions or period sex, they strengthen their bond. Partners will likely find more joy in each other than a couple who fears discussing the uncomfortable.
Most women (61.2%) in our study reported being very comfortable talking to their partner about menstruation, compared to 38.3% of men. Of women who were satisfied with their relationship, 60.6% were comfortable discussing menstruation with their partner. The same was true for women who were satisfied with their sex life.
We’ve all heard of the horror some men experience when a partner asks them to head to the pharmacy for emergency menstrual hygiene products. Does it hurt the relationship if they don’t go? A bit. Nearly 46% of women whose partner turned down their request to buy menstrual hygiene products said they were dissatisfied with their relationship, and 32.5% were dissatisfied with their sex life.
Desire Period Sex?
Although it can get messy, period sex has its benefits. To start, having an orgasm while menstruating will likely lessen abdominal pain associated with menstruation. Period sex may also help women get through those painful, sleepless nights. However, the majority (64.4%) of couples in our study rarely or never had period sex. Nearly 13% said they had period sex always or most of the time, but they were in the minority.
So, who’s prepared to have period sex? Mostly men. Fourteen percent of men expressed being extremely willing to have period sex, but about 1 in 4 men were somewhat willing to have period sex. Surprisingly, though, more women (34.1%) were not at all willing to have sex on their period. Only 9% of women were extremely willing to engage in period sex, and 23.1% were somewhat willing.
Some men are uncomfortable with period sex, but most men in our study were open to having sex with a menstruating partner. However, more than 4 in 5 women reported turning down period sex. Of the one-fifth of women who got down and messy, 71.1% said it was easy or easier to have an orgasm while on their period. This might be due to the fact that the vagina is extra lubricated during menstruation.
Beyond the desire to have sex while menstruating, women desired period sex because it helps alleviate cramps, according to our study.
For 61% of people who were sexually active during their period, missionary was the go-to position, followed by doggy style (43.4%). Perhaps these positions help partners keep in control, meaning less mess. The standing wheelbarrow (6.8%) and lotus (8.3%) were the least popular sex positions during menstruation.
Alleviating Menstrual Pain
Periods may not seem like a big deal, but for many people, menstruation can be painful. Medical News Today reports that period migraines sometimes accompany other PMS symptoms like swollen breasts, irritability, and sleep disturbances.
Menstrual symptoms are no different than any other medical condition. More than 64% of women said they take over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate period symptoms. Following pain medication, 44.6% of women reported using a heating pad, and 35.2% slept off the discomfort.
Fortunately, periods and the pain they can bring are generally predictable. Thirty-four percent of women reported tracking their menstrual cycle, and 54.5% of those who tracked said it helps manage their symptoms – likely because they can prepare for them. While some women used a calendar to track, the majority who tracked their period used an app (35.2%).
Relationship With Menstruation
Conversations around menstruation are evolving, and it’s becoming more common for people to discuss periods openly. A 25-minute documentary, “Period. End of Sentence,” which aimed to bring global attention to women and girls’ struggle to access menstrual hygiene products, won an Academy Award in 2019. And transgender people are working to bring their voices to period talks. All this discussion about menstruation is good because our findings show that the more comfortable people are conversing about periods, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their relationships.
Whether menstruation goes public or not, period symptoms stand to trouble women with loss of sleep. Finding a comfortable resting position while dealing with abdominal and back pain is enough to deal with – don’t add an uncomfortable mattress to the mix. Visit TheSleepJudge.com and explore our mattress and sleep product insights. Our team takes the time to read online reviews and test sleep products, so you don’t have to worry about any additional sleep loss.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,030 women and men in heterosexual relationships to explore how women navigate their periods in relationships. Eight hundred and twenty-one of our respondents were women, and 209 were men. We qualified only women currently menstruate, and men dating women who currently menstruate. Ages ranged from 18 to 68, with an average age of 35 for women and 36 for men. There was a standard deviation of eight years for women and nine years for men. We did not have validated scales of sexual and relationship satisfaction, so we created our own using 1-to-5 scales, with being 1 being “not at all satisfied” and 5 being “very satisfied.” Survey data have certain limitations from self-reporting, such as exaggeration and telescoping. Hypotheses were not statistically tested, and data were not weighted. This project is an exploratory look at periods and intimacy.
Fair Use Statement
Join the period conversation and share our research freely. All we ask is that it be for noncommercial reuse and you link back to this page, so people can access the complete study and read our methodology.