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Yes, You Should Wear a Condom During Period Sex, Too

Bad news, period sex raw doggers: You should be wearing a condom even if you have sex with a woman during menstruation because of the risk of pregnancy or STIs. A new survey of condom use and periods from the Kinsey Institute and the fertility app Clue found that condom use drops 15 percent during sex when Aunt Flo comes to town. This happens because some people still believe that you can’t knock a woman up (or catch anything) when she’s menstruating, but that’s just not how fertility, or sexually transmitted infections, work.

Clue writes on the study results:

This finding is significant and concerning, because rates of STI transmission and acquisition are higher at certain times of the menstrual cycle, including during menstruation. While condoms prevent pregnancy, they are also hugely significant in reducing STI transmission. It is possible to get pregnant during your period, although the day-specific risk is variable and depends on your cycle, age and health.

This is as good a time as any to explain how fertility works in relation to menstruation. Most of us are still operating on myths or half-truths vis a vis whatever we learned in high school about pregnancy. I’m from the South, which means I was told even thinking about having sex will get you pregnant. Also, even a little naked crotch grinding could result in sperm that could travel, if it believed in God and really wanted to. Also, when my friend Leanne wrote a note to me in 8th grade biology asking if you could get pregnant from frog sperm if you swam in a lake and some of it “swam up inside you,” my teacher took up the note and read it out loud, but never technically answered the question. To this day I believe the answer to this question is absolutely, which is why I refuse to swim in lakes.

My point is this: Most of what we learn as children and teens and young adults about pregnancy is so fear-mongering, so cartoonishly exaggerated, that you end up thinking it’s much easier or much harder to get pregnant than it really is.

The truth is, it’s both really easy to get pregnant and also super hard. Once you understand what’s actually necessary to get knocked up, it’s both insane it doesn’t happen every single time you have sex, and insane it happens at all. In a piece at the Daily Beast about baby-making myths written for people who actually want babies, psychologist Jean Twenge puts it this way: “Overall, getting pregnant is an annoyingly inexact science, and there’s still so much we don’t know.”

Here’s what we do know: Generally speaking, a still-menstruating woman has a monthly cycle that lasts from 28 to 35 days, though it can be shorter, and is most likely to get pregnant about two weeks in. That’s because somewhere between day 11 and day 21 of the cycle — with day 1 being the first day of her period, or day one of the bloodletting — she ovulates, releasing an egg. But the egg that’s released has to be fertilized within 24 hours or it dissolves into a cloud of smoke like an unrealized frog baby in a muddy lake. But here’s the crazy kicker: Sperm can live inside a woman’s body for three to five days. Dundundun!

People often think that ovulation day is when a woman is most fertile, but it’s actually one or two days before ovulation when you’re most likely to be juiced up right. In total, a woman is only potentially fertile for about five or six days out of the month — the five days leading up to ovulation, and the ovulation day itself.

Think about it. There’s really a five or six day span, which is really like 48 hours, that a woman can get pregnant. And yet many women are told, likely as a scare tactic as girls, that they can get pregnant at literally any time. So in theory, it makes sense that while she’s bleeding — after the unfertilized egg was released, and the nutrient lining of the uterus flushes itself out because there’s no baby — that a woman would not be physically capable of getting pregnant.

It’s perfectly logical, it just isn’t correct. While some women have very regular cycles, stress, diet changes, illness, hormones and other factors can make some women have unpredictable cycles, meaning you can’t be exactly sure when she is really ovulating, and it might change from month to month. Women who have shorter cycles than normal (less than 28 or 30 days), are particularly at risk, though. If you have sex at the end of her period, because she would be ovulating sooner, the surviving sperm could still be in there and fertilize the egg when she ovulates a few days later. This is why women’s health experts note again and again: Getting knocked up while period-ing is not likely, but it’s not impossible.

Interestingly, modern women who don’t want to become pregnant are increasingly turning to the same methods women use to chart fertility for ages who are trying to conceive. Fertility apps and period trackers help them track ovulation, monitor their body’s temperature and measure the cervical mucus discharge for signs of fertility expressly for the purpose of figuring out more natural ways to avoid pregnancy, not cause it. The European Union recently approved one such app, called Natural Cycles, as an actual legitimate form of birth control. At 93 percent effective (compared with the Pill, at 99.9 percent) an OB-GYN tells NPR that the app is about as effective as someone who doesn’t take the Pill consistently. (That’s not very effective, but still, it’s a useful way of understanding risk.)

But back to period sex and condoms. While the Clue/Kinsey survey found that condom use drops 15 percent while a woman is on her period, only 15 percent of women surveyed said they even had sex still while on their period in the first place. A whopping 49 percent of women said they had no sexual activity at all during the red rain because of fears about hygiene or staining sheets or clothes or just a general stigma. Given that period sex, we thought, by now, was no big deal and understood to be great even, this seems to be the more pressing problem. So get to having period sex already. Just be sure to wear a condom.