How PCOS made me redefine pleasure
Words: Tara Costello
I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which is a common endocrine disorder that means my periods are often unpredictable and hard to deal with. An endocrine disorder is when a gland produces too much or too little of an endocrine hormone. Not only does this cause a hormone imbalance, it also impacts the way the ovaries work. This means those with PCOS often experience irregular cycles, an excess of androgen levels causing hair growth and fail to ovulate on a regular basis. Although diagnosis can be a little tricky if you don’t experience these three main symptoms, it is thought that PCOS affects 1 in 10 in the UK.
In an ideal world, those without any complications should menstruate every 21-35 days and experience some pain and other PMS symptoms beforehand. As somebody with PCOS, I can go anywhere between 35 - 70 days without a period at any given time. When my period does finally decide to show up I’m often incapacitated; my flow is very heavy and it drains me. Pain is high too. Your period should be an inconvenience at worst, but mine can disrupt my entire week. One thing I’ve found that helps during this time? Period sex.
I don’t know about you but I can get incredibly horny during my period. In my younger, awkward, teen years, I struggled to recognise and come to terms with this. My sex education wasn’t super helpful or pleasure-focused, so feeling this way was confusing to say the least. The first time I had period sex it was totally by accident. It was during a time of my life where I didn’t really pay much attention to my cycle and would often get caught off guard. I was getting hot and heavy with my partner at the time and being penetrated triggered my period to start. I found that having sex not only helped calm me down, it also helped with pain and that insatiable urge. After years of not acting on this, it was kind of a lightbulb moment for me. Unfortunately, my partner was pretty disgusted they came into such close contact with my menstrual blood. Despite seeing the benefits of period sex firsthand, I internalised this negative reaction and deprived myself of this pleasure for years.
Now I’m with a new partner who is wonderfully supportive and could care less about a bit of blood. Rest assured, we definitely made up for lost time before my PCOS symptoms became too much to bear. Those with PCOS have been found to “markedly suffer from sexual dysfunction”; it is different for everyone but for me personally I find penetration painful and near-impossible. As my ovaries are not functioning properly, they are nearly triple the size they should be. This makes the pelvic region quite tender during certain parts of my cycle and during arousal.
Although my partner isn’t entertaining this notion, I found myself guilty of succumbing to this heteronormative idea that sex is pointless if I can’t be penetrated. Living with PCOS and trying to manage symptoms has led me on a journey of undoing everything we’re told about sex and allowed me to really explore the joy of pleasure. Coming to terms with the fact that I suffer with some form of sexual dysfunction has forced me to tune into my body and pay attention to what it's telling me. Some days are harder than others but ultimately my condition has led me on a positive journey. Shedding expectations, alongside the lining of my uterus, has allowed me to explore sexual pleasure like never before; it has pushed me to accept and no longer feel bad about my waning libido (after all most of us are not horny 24/7). With penetration no longer the end goal, I truly cherish the moments I’m intimate with my partner. Sex is supposed to be fun and I have been able to let go of unnecessary pressure many of us can put on ourselves. Not only do I have a much healthier attitude to sexual pleasure, I’m also having the most enjoyable sex of my life.
If you’re reading this and wondering if there are any additional benefits to having sex on your period, there sure are! Often you hear people joke about the extra lubrication but this is definitely a plus in my book. There’s a misconception that it should only be used when experiencing dryness but lube can definitely help you prioritise pleasure, especially nature’s lube! In addition to this, the endorphins released by orgasms can help relieve menstrual cramps for some. That’s right, climaxing can ‘relax’ the uterus depending on the intensity. So the stronger the orgasm, the better chance it’ll have at help relieving pain. (Although it’s important to note that with some conditions, like endometriosis, orgasming can sometimes make pain worse.) The uterus contracts a lot during an orgasm too, which has been known to decrease the length of a period in some cases. Wild, right? Orgasming can increase the rate at which the lining of the uterus sheds from the body as this is what essentially happens during a period anyway. The uterus contracts (which can cause cramps) and an orgasm allows additional contracting that can lead to a period shortening a day or two.
Seeking pleasure, be it through masturbating or being intimate with my partner, on my period has been vital. It has allowed me to reconnect with my body during a time where I can feel negatively about it. If you’ve ever had somebody remind you that you are doing your best when you’re feeling down or encourage you to be kinder to yourself, think of seeking sexual pleasure during a period as a fun way of reaffirming that. I never thought getting a PCOS diagnosis would lead to a journey of unlearning (it really is a lifelong experience!) and self discovery but here we are. Most of all, I feel my experiences make a strong case for recognising self pleasure as a form of self care. This journey has been vital to my growth not only as a sexual being, but as a person too.
Tara is a writer and educator who has been talking frankly and writing about menstruation for more than a decade. Her debut book Red Moon Gang: An Inclusive Guide To Periods is out now. Follow her on Instagram @redmoongang