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What do you want to know about periods and sex?

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Ellie asks:

If you're due to start your period and your boyfriend fingers you, can fingering stop you from coming on your period or make you a little late?

Heather Corinna replies:

When your period is going to happen in a given month is determined through the whole of your fertility cycle, by a fairly complex process of hormones in your body that trigger when you ovulate, how much uterine lining you build up and when, and how, you shed that lining. The only ways that any kind of sex can make your period late or absent are if a pregnancy occurs, if you develop an infection, or if an infection over time (in other words, this happening immediately or within one cycle would be pretty unheard of) causes a complication like pelvic inflammatory disease, or if whatever kid of sex you had got you so stressed out that that stress, or the behaviors you engaged in because of that stress, disrupted your cycle.

Usually, though, if you get very aroused or have an orgasm with fingering, you might find the opposite kind of change if there is any change at all. Because arousal and particularly orgasm can cause uterine contractions, it's not uncommon to find that if that happens around the time a period is due, those contractions don't cause you to see flow earlier than you might otherwise or see slightly heavier flow, or more flow at once, afterwards.

Odd as it may seem, one kind of stress that we know can disrupt cycles is worry about pregnancy. Strange as it may sound, sometimes if a person gets to worried or convinced that they're pregnant, it can "trick" the body into thinking that it is and cause a menstrual delay. If that applies to you, just know that while receptive manual sex -- "fingering" -- can present some risks of infections, it does not carry any risks of pregnancy.

Kevin asks:

Can my girlfriend get pregnant from unprotected sex if she hasn't started her period yet?

The way women find out we have started ovulating is when we find out we have menstruated for the first time. The thing is, that ovulation happens before that first menstruation, so if a woman has unprotected sex -- or has a birth control method fail -- before her first period, she may well be taking big risks without even knowing it. It can also be particularly tricky because usually the way a woman knows to suspect pregnancy is when her period is late: for women who aren't expecting periods yet, it can be easy to wind up not finding out about a pregnancy until several months down the road.

So, yes: your girlfriend most certainly can become pregnant even if she hasn't yet started having periods. She is also at risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection from you, and if she's very young, there are additional risks to her health which are not as great for older women.

While some women start periods later than others, the average age of first menstruation right now is around twelve and a half years old. While it's not very accurate to suggest that there is one age where everyone is ready for partnered sex, it is very unusual for girls or women who are 11, 12, 13 or 14 to have the support and resources they need -- not just sexual healthcare and birth control methods, but also things like a good level of assertiveness and comfort with boundary-setting -- and partners who also have those resources and a good measure of emotional maturity (or who aren't considerably older and exploiting them) which are all needed for partnered sex to be healthy, physically and emotionally, especially for the partner at the highest risks, who would be her, not you. And it's often a good indicator that one or both partners are not likely ready for sex and all that comes with it when they're considering starting their sexual lives by talking big risks of pregnancy or infections.

I don't know how old you and your partner are. If your girlfriend is over 16 and has not yet started menstruating, it'd be a good idea for her to just check in wit her doc to be sure everything is okay. If she is under that age, I'd just consider some of what I'm telling you here when it comes to sex together. And no matter her age, if she or you want to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, it's really important that you avoid unprotected sex, and that you use condoms consistently and properly, and, if she wants extra protection from pregnancy, that she backs up condoms with a second method of contraception.

Confused asks:

Me and my boyfriend were both virgins when we met and we recently started having sex (4-5 times) and it took a while to get used to because the first couple of times really hurt. After that though it was fine and then the last time we had sex it really hurt, exactly like the first time and we stopped. Is there a connection between the timing of period and sex? Is there something that we are doing wrong?

There can be a connection between periods and sex in terms of times in your cycle some kinds of sex can feel better, as well as times in your cycle that can influence how aroused you are.

For instance, during some parts of each menstrual cycle, the vagina is drier, due to a lack of discharges or thicker, less fluid discharges. For a few days after your period ends, and then for around a week or so before your next period starts, for instance, are times when most women will have what we call "dry days" -- times when discharges are so scanty that we don't really even see anything on our underpants -- or days when cervical mucus, and thus, vaginal discharges, are very thick. Fertile mucus -- which happens around the time you ovulate -- and menstrual flow can provide extra lubrication that we don't get during those other times.

Too, because our hormone levels change during each menstrual cycle, for some women, that will have an impact on how aroused we get. When estrogen levels are highest, that can put a damper on our testosterone, the sex hormone both men and women have which is a heavy hitter when it comes to how aroused, or sexually excited, we get. Coincidentally, those times tend to be the opposite times described above. If you're not feeling highly aroused, you're not going to self-lubricate as much, and your vaginal opening and canal also aren't going to loosen as much, either or both of which can have an impact on what sex feels like.

Without enough lubrication and without enough loosening, sex with vaginal entry -- like vaginal intercourse or entry with fingers -- will not only not feel so great, but if you're dry enough or "tight" enough it can even cause some small wounds to your vagina or vulva, which of course make it all feel even worse, and can also cause bleeding or spotting, particularly if you're also using condoms or your partner is circumcised.

This may or may not have anything to do with our period. If none of those things above seem applicable, then I'd suggest taking a look at other issues, like if you're engaging in enough other sexual activities before and during intercourse to get and keep you aroused or if you're using lubricant as needed. You can see a good roundup of reasons why intercourse or other vaginal sex might be painful here.

kindhearted asks:

My boyfriend has been fingering me for a little while now, and ever since then my period has been coming like the last part of the month, and it usually would come around the first or the middle of the month. So by him doing that could that cause my period to come later in the month, or is this happening because my period is not regular, like being the same time each month?

Actually, as I explain here, if you find that over many, many months, your period is coming on the exact same date or the same week of the month, then it's probably irregular. Because a regular period will happen every certain number of days -- for example, every 29 days -- but the number of days in a month aren't static, and because even regular periods will sometimes vary by a day or two, it's normal for a regular cycle to do what yours is.

If I have a regular, 29 day cycle, and I got a period on March 4th of this year, then on April 1st, my next six periods would happen on April 29th, May 27th, June 24th, July 22nd, August 18th and then Septmember 15th. So, see how within a very short period of time, I went from having a period that started around the beginning of the month, then went to the ends of a few months, then landed in the middle?

As I said at the top of this page, manual sex isn't going to change your cycle. And it sounds to me like what you have is a totally normal cycle that's probably pretty regular, and you noticing this change is probably coincidental when it comes to the fingering.

Ben asks:

Can swallowing period blood make you sick or be harmful to your body?

Even though blood is only part of what menstrual flow actually is, since it does contain blood, sharing that fluid genitally or orally does present extra risks of sexually-transmitted infections, because you're then dealing with the possibility of, or increased possibility of, bloodborne infections like HIV or Hepatitis.

So, if you're engaging in something like oral sex with a partner who is menstruating, be sure that before you engage in that fluid-sharing -- as is the case when it comes to a partner swallowing your semen as well, or sharing other genital fluids -- both of you have been practicing safer sex for six months, including latex barrier use (which for cunnilingus -- oral sex for women -- would mean using a dental dam, a condom cut to be a dental dam or saran wrap as a barrier) and tests for sexually transmitted infections for both of you. When you have those six months and two full screens each with negative results under your belts, if you've both also remained and continue to remain sexually monogamous, then you can consider going without those barriers, including during menstruation, much more safely.

nay-nay17 asks:

My boyfriend and I had sex (unprotected) for our 5th time yesterday and I was bleeding in my underwear...but why am I still bleeding on my 5th time having sex? Is this my period? Is it being unprotected having anything to do with it?

If your period isn't due about this same time -- in which case that may be what that bleeding is -- and if none of the issues I described in my answers to the questions above, or here, apply to you, then it's time to go see your healthcare provider to get looked at and tested for infections. That's important when you're sexually active even with using latex barriers, but it's even more critical when you haven't been, since your risks of infections have been so high.

One of the most common sexually transmitted infections, especially among young women, is Chlamydia, and while it can often be present without any symptoms, unexplained vaginal bleeding is one common symptoms some women experience. Bleeding or no, you need to be sure you're staying up-to-date with your sexual healthcare, okay? So, now that you're sexually active, and also taking so many risks with the sex you're having, get started with that soon. As well, if you want to reduce your risks or both infections and pregnancy, you and your boyfriend are going to need to start having sex more safely.

Britt-Britt-Luvz-Ya asks:

My period has been irregular. It was coming on sometimes for months in a row and sometimes it skipped a month. Then it just completely went off and its been several months. This has happened before: it had went off for a long time then it eventually came on. But now I'm worried because I've been sexually active and the boy....you knows in me. Should I be worried I might be pregnant? Or could there just be something wrong with me for missing periods?

If your boyfriend ejaculates inside you -- or really, if you have unprotected intercourse, even without full ejaculation -- without using any method of birth control, then there is a very good reason to be worried about pregnancy, because you have been taking high risks of becoming pregnant. Please know that young women who have intercourse without any method of birth control being used -- be that condoms, the birth control pill or other reliable methods -- has as much as a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within one year of doing so. In other words, if you keep this up, you're almost guaranteed to become pregnant.

While it sounds like you do have a history of irregular periods, since you have both been sexually active and have not been using any birth control or safer sex, it's past time to get or take both a pregnancy test and to also get screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Too, if you have had your period for several years and it just won't become regular, it's usually a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider, no matter what, to be sure you're in sound health.

MollyB asks:

I had unprotected sex April 25. April 27th I went to the bathroom too pee and when I wiped myself there was a little blood on the tissue. I thought I might be coming on my period so I put a pad on but here it is the 30th of April and still no period! The worst part is I can't remember the date of my last period so I really don't know when to expect it. Might this blood two days after I had sex be a sign of pregnancy and if I don't get my period when would be the earliest I could take a home pregnancy and it would come out accurate?

While some women do experience light spotting when an egg implants unto the uterine wall, that part of the process of pregnancy doesn't happen two days after a risk, so that's not likely what this blood was.

But since you did have unprotected sex, if you don't get your period by May 8th -- around 2 weeks after your risk -- go ahead and take that pregnancy test. As I suggested to someone else above, since you've had sex unprotected, you'll also want to schedule testing for sexually transmitted infections as well.

And for future reference, it can be really helpful to chart your periods, even if all you do is put a red dot on your calendar when it starts. That way, you can have a better idea of when you expect your periods and save yourself some stress.

Jayla asks:

I had sex with my boyfriend yesterday unprotected, but he pulled out. I started my period today. That means I'm not pregnant right or is there still a chance?

Pregnancy isn't something that happens instantly: it's a process which takes around a week to complete. However, because a period has you shedding the lining needed for a fertilized egg to implant in, and because around the time a period starts, there usually is not an egg available to be fertilized, it would be very unusual to become pregnant with timing like this. When you get your period after a risk -- so long as it comes around the time you expected it and looks and feels like your usual period -- it's usually safe to assume pregnancy did not or is not going to occur from that risk.

As a reminder to you, Molly, Britt and nay-nay, though, if any of you have partners that just refuse to use condoms and play a part in being responsible about sex, it's time to rethink what's going on here. You can insist that any partner steps up and uses condoms. When you do, you'll find that it's probably a lot easier than you think to get them to do that: if you make clear it's sex with a condom or no sex at all, your partner is very likely to agree to use condoms without any problems. But if you've either already tried that and they still won't, or if, you don't feel able to set safe limits with a given partner, then it's time to kick that guy to the curb and only choose partners who will cooperate with you in being safe and protecting yourselves. Don't assume that because you have a partner who won't do that that that's the case with most guys: it's not. Most men are glad to do their part in keeping everyone safe and healthy and in preventing unwanted pregnancy.

If this isn't about your partner's refusal, but about you choosing not to protect yourself? Make a better choice.There's just no sense in gambling with this stuff -- and withdrawal generally is not a very effective or goofproof method of birth control, especially for younger people -- taking risks that carry consequences you don't want or aren't ready for, and worrying, when all you've got to be doing is adding a couple things to make sure the sex you're having is also in line with sound health and with what you want for your life as a whole.

Here are some additional links on these issues and more when it comes to sex and periods:

written 30 Apr 2008 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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