To give you a sense of the impact of periods on those who menstruate, let’s take a quick look at the numbers:
- On average people who menstruate spend about 10 years of their life doing so
- The average menstruating person has 450 periods in their lifetime
- On average, menstruating people spend $35 per month on their periods – which comes to a whopping $15,944 over a lifetime
- According to recent studies, as high as 91% of the world’s menstruators deal with dysmenorrhea (really painful periods) and other menstrual disorders at some point in their life.
This is all to say that periods are about as normal as fluctuations in the market. What’s not normal? Periods cause significant or life interrupting pain. Conditions like endometriosis, for example, often go undiagnosed because of the widespread belief (by the medical system and general public) that menstrual pain is normal. When it comes to period sex? Well, thanks to the patriarchy, shame and embarrassment around periods being the norm, period sex is often seen as equally “dirty” and “gross”.
If you don’t already know by now, at Flossy, we’re fixated on creating a space where all topics related to sexual wellness can be explored and later experienced, sans shame. We love finding information, tools and the people who are actively working to destigmatise aspects of sex and reproductive health for people with vulvas.
It’s also important to note that oftentimes sex is assumed to = penetration. Shame, however, can permeate many aspects of intimacy beyond just penetration. Not only is it heteronormative, but this narrow view of sex can actually reinforce shame by overlooking the many amazing aspects of sex that don’t include penetration and that may either feel more enjoyable or be helpful to explore in the context of period sex. Sex can be anything you damn well want it to be as long as it’s consensual!
This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Maxine Orange, founder of Tap. Health. who, along with her fiancé, Jaron, has set out to change the experience for those who experience painful periods. What started as a personal search for a solution to alleviate her own painful periods, is now an international mission to help menstruators around the world. We also asked Maxine why shame still impacts periods and period sex and how we can create space for open conversations and confidence when it comes to sex at any time, period or not.
flossy: What made you decide to start Tap Health?
Maxine: The decision to start Tap. was so easy! I had stumbled upon a solution that worked for my pelvic pain and with a bit of kind encouragement from Jaron, knew it needed to be shared with other people struggling with discomfort during their menstrual cycle. We believe you can’t just sit on innovation without sharing it with people who would really benefit!
flossy: How does Tap Heath contribute to sexual wellness?
Maxine: Tap. is a discreet, modern, wearable solution for period cramps. Stick Tap. on your lower abdomen or back to administer small electro pulses. Stimulation from the devise confuses your nerves, reducing their ability to send pain signals to the brain. Tap. allows people who menstruate to experience less pain during their menstrual cycle. It empowers the user to discover for themselves what tools allow them to feel better during their cycle and I believe this has a ripple effect into the sexual wellness space.
Of course, there is a connection between libido and pain, but there is also a connection between reaching for tools that bring you wellness and knowing you deserve a life of pleasure.
flossy: Let’s start by addressing painful periods. How does managing period pain contribute to sexual wellbeing?
Maxine: Ouch! Painful periods are typically not a turn-on to the person experiencing them. Part of sexual wellness is exploring when you would like to consent (be it with yourself or with another) to sexual acts and when you would like to say ‘no’. If masturbation or sex helps relieve your pain- that’s great. If the thought of anything but watching Netflix and eating cereal worries you, then it’s a time to advocate for yourself by saying – ‘no’, or ‘maybe later.’
Being in tune with your desires at different times in your cycle can lead to greater self-awareness and an overall sense of sexual wellness.
flossy: Now let’s talk about period sex. Is it normal? Is it safe? What are some specific tools you might suggest for those wanting to have sex on their period?
Maxine: Hell yes, period sex is normal, and so long as everyone involved consents and feels good, then it's completely safe.
If you’re wanting to have sex whilst bleeding, I don’t think you need any specific tools unless they help you to feel more confident or sexy. Some people might like to have period sex in the shower or on a towel. Some people might like to try period sex alone before bringing a partner in so they know how their body responds during their menstruation. I think the most important tool is an open mind and a loving space.
flossy: What are some myths about period sex?
- That it's unhygienic. Any type of sex requires a bit of clean up and consideration of good self-care when it comes to hygiene. Period sex is no different.
- That it’s a blood bath. Most of the time there isn’t a chance of blood squirting across the room - in fact, in many cases, the menstruating person bleeds less during sex as they begin to feel aroused and their natural lubrication takes over.
flossy: Why does our society make people feel shameful for having sex on their periods?
Maxine: We have been taught to be quiet about our periods for so long that the thought of speaking about period sex or bringing up the idea to a partner may feel revolutionary for some. As teens, we are taught to ask a friend for a pad or tampon in secret and try our hardest to hide the fact that we may be menstruating and that is only going to breed adults that are confused about how to approach feeling pleasure during our periods. The shame only comes from actually speaking about period pleasure and getting shut down by people who aren’t ready to hear. Behind closed doors, I would say there are plenty of people enjoying completely shame-free menstruation and loving it! I say talk to your friends about it and if it interests you, talk to your partner(s) about trying it to break the stigma. If it doesn’t align with you or others you talk to, just know this doesn’t make YOU wrong- we are all entitled to shame-free desires.
flossy: What’s one thing you think everyone should be taught about sex in Sex-Ed?
Maxine: A big one for us, that we always seem to be advocating for, is the awareness around the monthly cycle. There is so much more than bleeding and not bleeding. Learning about the follicular, ovulation, luteal and menstruation phases in a person’s cycle would be so beneficial for growing teens who will otherwise spend the rest of their reproductive life wondering why they feel so different from one week to the next. Someone who is aware of what to expect within their cycle is more likely to be in tune with what feels good sexually and express their needs with a partner.
flossy: Lastly, in your own words, how would you define shame-free pleasure?
Maxine: Shame free pleasure is a recognition in an individual that their desires and what feels good to them is right! Pleasure is not one size fits all but a celebration of unique perceptions and ways of experiencing joy.