During the first year I had sex I had exactly one orgasm.
But, to be honest, I wasn’t really having sex. Mentally, I was keeping track of how I looked. My partners would do their best, but all I could focus on was sucking in my stomach and whether my thighs jiggled. My own self-consciousness was destroying my sex life.
Study after study has shown that women who are more comfortable with their bodies are more likely to enjoy satisfying sex, initiate sex, experiment with new sex acts, have sex with the lights on—the list goes on. The equation is simple: How we feel about our bodies impacts how often we come. So if we’re self-conscious and up in our heads, we’re going to have a hard as hell time orgasming.
For me, part of the difficulty in understanding this self-consciousness and inability to come came from my queerness. I was having sex with other women—shouldn’t I have escaped the oppressive male gaze that keeps so many women ashamed of their bodies?
Not only is it assumed that women are inherently masters of pleasing each other, but also that queer women have an easier time with body positivity because they aren’t living up to the conventional standards of femininity designed by male lust. After all, how could the patriarchy exist in my bedroom when there were literally no males to be found? When you consider that most on-screen queer women, whether on Netflix or in porn, are very thin, very small, and very white, it’s difficult to argue that there isn’t just as damning a standard of beauty in female queer subculture. But there isn’t much conclusive research on body positivity among queer women. A 2007 study found no difference in the prevalence of eating disorders between queer and straight women. That said, research cited by the National Eating Disorders Association states that, while lesbians may be happier with their bodies than straight women, gay, lesbian and bisexual teens may be at higher risk for binge-eating and purging than their heterosexual peers. Long story short? We have no idea how eating disorders impact queer women.
Being in bed with another woman is hard as hell when you feel uncomfortable with your body. It’s always difficult to be naked with someone else when you’re self-conscious, but it’s very different to be naked with someone whose body is held to a different standard than your own. If you’re a woman who sleeps with women, you literally have someone right in front of you to compare yourself to. It’s hard not to be jealous of another woman’s body, even when you’re attracted to it.
My solution was to turn the whole thing into a big, bloody mess.
When I began having period sex, in my own small-but-also-major way, I felt like I was crushing the patriarchy. I first took the plunge when the woman I was sleeping with at the time said it didn’t make sense that we put our sex life on pause for two weeks out of every month just to avoid it. I was on my period and we both wanted to do it, but neither of us had done it before. We looked at each other, got a towel, and decided to give it a shot. And yes, there were stains, and yes, we ended up with blood in our fingernails, and yes, there was cleanup required afterward. But doesn’t most good sex require cleanup?
From that first sticky rendezvous on, something miraculous happened: I stopped obsessing about being pretty, because menstrual blood isn’t pretty. I stopped worrying about controlling my body, because it’s impossible to control menstrual blood. My blood was flowing freely, but so was I. By letting my body just be a body in all of its ugliness, I was letting myself out of the box formed by the male gaze and carving room for the messiness of myself.
When I was having period sex, I stopped thinking about my thighs, and then my hips, and then on and on, one body part after another. Sex was a wholly bodily experience—and by letting go of the need to be “clean” and sanitized, I was able to fully let myself go. And yes, finally, to orgasm.
Having sex while bleeding feels radical in a world where our main priority as women is still expected to be our own prettiness, our own softness, our own avoidance of basic human things like taking a shit or pissing or even using either of those phrases. We’re never supposed to “let go” of ourselves, lest our partners let go of us. We’re told we’re not supposed to be anything more than a body, and a perfectly pristine one at that.
I’ll admit that, to many people I’ve discussed the act with, period sex is inherently un-sexy. And mainstream media love to joke about how gross periods can be. Despite the fact that sex involves a number of fluids with varying consistencies, blood is a no-go for many sexual partners. Even among queer women there is a taboo against period sex. According to Autostraddle’s 2015 Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey, 37% of respondents were enthusiastically or somewhat in favor, 24% were neutral, and 23% were somewhat or strongly against having sex on their period. When it came to sex during a partner’s period, 42% were enthusiastically or somewhat in favor, 33% were neutral, and 23% were somewhat or strongly against it. Queer or straight, menstrual blood is still taboo.
Women are taught to view our bodies in parts. We are objectified constantly, in the media, by the male gaze and by our own internalized misogyny. According to research by scholars at the American Psychological Association, “many women have come to view themselves through the lens of an external observer, habitually monitoring their own appearance whether in public or private settings.” We really are leaving our bodies—and not in the sexy, entering-the-white-light-of-orgasm way.
My radical solution? Start getting down more when you’re on your period. It worked for me, and there’s a good chance it might also work for you. It’s my dream that someday queer women, or anyone with a period, will normalize period sex, crushing the patriarchy one bloody orgasm at a time. That we keep doing it, and normalizing menstrual blood until it becomes just another fluid we excrete during sex. Only this sex might be the best of your life.
Rachel Charlene Lewis is a freelance writer based in North Carolina.