A reader submitted the following question:
“I have read several blogs and magazines saying that having sex during menstruation can help to alleviate cramps. Is there any truth to this? Is there any research? Also is there any risk in having sex in those moments?”
Thanks for these great questions! With respect to the idea that sex reduces cramping and pain during menstruation, you’re right—there are a TON of websites out there making this claim. I did a quick search and saw it mentioned on WebMD, Kinsey Confidential, Medical Daily, and ABC News, among many, many others.
However, not a single one pointed to a specific study or source to back this idea up. This is interesting, considering that several of the articles I saw used the specific phrasing “studies show” or “research shows” when talking about the benefits of menstrual sex. Wouldn’t it be nice if media reports actually included citations or linked to the scientific sources they mention?
Beyond vague claims about research, a few articles relied on quotes from sexuality experts who talked about how neurotransmitters and hormones released during orgasm are likely to result in a pain-reducing effect, as well as how uterine contractions during orgasm can provide relief from cramping. I corresponded with a few of these experts over email while writing this post, and they stand by their claims.
In theory, I think their claims make a lot of sense and I suspect that they're probably correct. However, no one could point me to any specific studies showing an association between sexual activity during menstruation and reduced cramping/pain. I searched on my own, but couldn't find any such studies either.
Because I can’t readily point to an empirical source that backs this idea up, I would advise caution when it comes to accepting the claim that sex reduces menstrual cramping. It could very well be that it does (and there are very good theoretical reasons to suspect that it does--and to think that masturbation could yield similar benefits), but I’m concerned that we’re putting the cart before the horse here by making such claims in the absence of evidence.
Ideally, I'd like to see a prospective study in which a group of women are recruited to report on both their sexual activities and the amount of cramping/pain experienced during their next menstruation. Until we have such a study, all I can say is that, speculatively, there may be pain-relieving benefits of menstrual sex; however, we lack established evidence at this time.
Regarding risks, I’m not aware of any research suggesting that having sex during menstruation is a particularly risky activity for one’s health beyond the typical risks that accompany having vaginal intercourse.
Specifically, there is a risk of unintended pregnancy, given that sperm can potentially live inside portions of the female reproductive tract for days; however, the risk of pregnancy is actually much, much lower at this time compared to other stages of the menstrual cycle.
There’s also the risk of STI transmission, just as there always is during sex. However, some research suggests that menstrual sex might potentially increase risk of transmitting some (but not all) STIs, such as HIV, due to potential contact with menstrual blood. Thus, engaging in safer-sexual practices is still very important during this time.
In short, we don’t currently have much evidence that sex during menstruation is either a particularly beneficial or risky activity (assuming you’re practicing safe sex, of course). It’s definitely not something you need to avoid by any stretch of the imagination—if you want to do it, go for it. However, if your primary reason for doing it is because you’ve been told it offers symptom relief, just be advised that the evidence isn't as established as many websites have claimed.
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here.
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