In the name of ~science~.
May 24, 2018
If you are going to have period sex, there will be blood—duh. Yet for some reason, even though sex involves swapping sweat and semen on the reg, people seem to get far more hung up on menstrual fluid.
Despite the blood, let me just say that period sex is eminently worth having. Orgasms release feel-good hormone oxytocin, which can actually help alleviate pain from menstrual cramps.
Still, stigma persists. Nobody should be embarrassed of blood during sex, or feel the necessity to stem the tide during the act. That said, there’s the specter of blood stains to consider (I don’t know about you, but my access to clean sheets is limited).
So if you’d prefer to do your wallet and sheets a solid, consider the menstrual cup.
Two companies—Intimina and the start-up FLEX—make menstrual products they say are safe for use during sex. Jennifer Conti, M.D., clinical assistant professor at Stanford University in obstetrics and gynecology, says she knows of no risks associated with menstrual cup sex, except the potential for spills.
“Theoretically, the only downside might be things shifting and there suddenly being a huge bloody mess, but whatever, you do you girl,” she says. “Maybe put a towel down first, just in case.”
I didn’t put a towel down, but I did test out both products to answer a few key questions: Would I be able to feel them during sex? Would my partner? Would all that poking cause the cup to runneth over, creating some kind of sexual blood spout? Let’s investigate.
INTIMINA ZIGGY CUP
COURTESY OF INTIMA
The most difficult thing about the Ziggy cup was freeing it from its plastic prison: It comes packaged in a sleek curved box without an intuitive entry point, meaning I spent some time pressing, poking, and prying it with scissors before the shell burst open and my menstrual cup popped out.
COURTESY OF INTIMA
A broad, medium-shallow cup, Ziggy’s hot pink silicone surface is patterned in tiny hexagons, a subtle design feature purported to increase surface area and hold more blood. The cup’s thinness surprised me: Although it does have a double rim, it seemed a little insubstantial to boil regularly (for sanitation), which I fully intended to do between uses. Still, the box promised that Ziggy is “the only reusable cup that can be worn during sex, offering…infinite possibilities for up to 12 hours of non-stop protection.”
Per the instructions, I squeezed Ziggy by her sides and popped her in: You want the cup’s edges to settle around your cervix and seal off the area, keeping the rest of your vagina a flow-free zone.
I wore it around for a day before actually putting it to the true test, to make sure I had a handle on how to use it. After first emptying, I did notice one off-putting thing about Ziggy: The cup smelled like, well, gore is the only way I can think to put it. A relative menstrual cup newb, I didn’t know if this was normal or not (although a subsequent Google search suggested that it is), but the scent did make me a little self-conscious about airing my vagina around another human.
The Sex Test
After I warned him about the potential stench, my consenting partner said he couldn’t really smell anything. He could feel the cup, though, in the sense that my vagina apparently felt smaller, as if someone had lowered its vagina ceiling. He couldn’t discern a rubber wall, per se, but he could feel some kind of barrier cordoning things off. Which is precisely what I had in place, so there we go.
I also immediately noticed that getting wet was difficult. I consider myself lucky that natural lube is rarely a problem for me, so this dryer experience came as a surprise to both me and my partner.
I removed Ziggy soon after sex was over, and things returned to their more typical state—for now, I’m thinking the cup just held back all my fluids. That also means it worked: Zero blood on the condom and zero blood on the sheets, after a solid 10 to 15 minutes of deep penetration. No mess, just some stress (on my end) about the smell.
FLEX FIT DISK
COURTESY OF FLEX
Like the Ziggy, FLEX can purportedly be worn for up to 12 hours. But, unlike Ziggy, it’s not reusable: Although the company says that FLEX still uses less water and creates less trash than tampons, there’s no getting around the waste element. Still, its bendy nature made me hopeful it would have precisely the right amount of give for sex.
Courtesy of FLEX
As originally described to me by a friend, who introduced me to the product, FLEX is a sort of shower cap for your uterus: A semi-stiff black band keeps a plastic bag in place, which expands to accommodate your flow. It’s roughly the same size as Ziggy—palm-sized—and goes in the same way.
But, without the same suction-engineered rim, I was a bit anxious about it staying put. Also, given FLEX’s makeup, I was wondering if sex with FLEX wouldn’t feel like having sex with a plastic bag. If not for me, then for my partner.
The Sex Test
He said it didn’t; indeed, he couldn’t feel anything, and neither could I. Ziggy didn’t feel particularly obtrusive to me, either, but I knew it was there. FLEX, nope. I couldn’t feel a dang thing, nor could my partner. He liked feeling like my vagina hadn’t magically shrunken into, I guess, a different vagina. And we both liked (but I especially appreciated) that I was able to get wet as usual. FLEX posed no problems in that department, and like Ziggy, it held back all the blood. No leaks, no slipping—mission accomplished.
My final assessment? Ziggy wins points for sustainability and being a one-time purchase; loses them for smell. Its moisture retention capacity is impressive, but there are two sides to that coin: It made natural lubricant a major issue.
That said, when I later reached out to the brand, their customer service department told me it’s totally fine to use “water-based lubricant or even something like coconut oil” with Ziggy (noted!).
FLEX’s co-founder Erika Jensen said the same, but, as mentioned, there wasn’t really an issue in that department. For me, FLEX may lose points for being disposable and the restock requirement, but it wins for providing the better sexual experience.
If you’re looking to save on clean-up, though, you can’t go wrong with either.