Sex doesn't have to be off-limits during your period. When you’re in the right mood (AKA, not curled up watching reruns of The Office while you deal with your cramps), sex on your period can be awesome. But can period sex still get you pregnant? It’s highly unlikely, but doctors say it could happen — so don’t ditch your contraception during that time of the month. Here’s everything you need to know about safe sex when you’re menstruating.
“Getting pregnant on one's period is unlikely, but not impossible,” explains Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine. For context, let’s get into the nitty gritty of your monthly cycle. It begins with your period, which lasts between four to eight days for most people. Then, your body enters the follicular or proliferative phase, where it’s making estrogen and preparing for the release of the egg. Midway through the cycle (around day 14 in a 28-day cycle), ovulation occurs. This is the 12-24 hour window when the egg is released from the ovary and ready to be fertilized. (It’s also when your likelihood of getting pregnant is highest.)
The egg then continues down the fallopian tubes in the luteal or secretory phase, and your progesterone levels increase as your body prepares for a possible pregnancy. If no fertilization occurs, the excess uterine lining is shed out of the body during your period, and the cycle starts over again. Technically, since there’s no egg ready for fertilization during your period, your chances of getting pregnant while you’re menstruating are pretty much zero. But — and this is a major but! — it’s not exactly that simple.
When asked whether it’s possible to get pregnant on your period, Dr. Lauren Streicher tells Elite Daily, “The answer is yes, and it gets a little bit complicated.” Streicher, a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, explains that just because you’re bleeding doesn’t necessarily mean Aunt Flo has arrived. “Most women, whenever they see blood, they call it their period,” she says. “There are a lot of different reasons people might bleed. Sometimes people bleed mid-cycle when they’re ovulating, which would be a terrible time to have [unprotected] sex if you’re trying not to get pregnant. Sometimes people will have prolonged bleeding that they assume is just a long period, but they might be bleeding for another reason — fibroids or a polyp or something like that.” Spotting between periods, especially if you have an irregular cycle, is fairly common, and it can indicate anything from a hormonal imbalance to stress to a bacterial infection.
If your period comes every 28 days by clockwork, and you’re 100% certain that bleeding indicates menstruation, you’re still not out of the woods when it comes to a possible pregnancy. “While it is extremely unlikely to get pregnant during a period, it’s possible, and the reason is that sperm can live for up to 72 hours,” Streicher explains. So, if your period is fairly long and you tend to ovulate early, the sperm could still be alive when the new egg is released.
Say you have sex on day eight of your cycle. You’re still bleeding from your period, so you think there’s no chance of getting pregnant. But if you ovulate early that month, around day 11, the sperm could still be alive to fertilize the egg. Streicher explains that ovulating this early is unlikely if your period actually lasted for eight full days… but it’s not impossible.
The shorter your typical menstrual cycle, the more likely you are to get pregnant from period sex, explains Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of She-ology and She-ology, The She-quel. “If you have 21 days between day one of your last period to day one of your next period, you probably ovulate on day 10 of your cycle,” she tells Elite Daily. Thus, having sex on day seven of your cycle could still result in pregnancy. And if you have an unpredictable cycle, the risk goes up even more. Ross explains that using contraception is crucial to minimize the likelihood of unexpected pregnancy. “If your periods come monthly without 100% consistency, finding the safe window to avoid pregnancy can be too risky to take a chance,” she says.
Period sex isn’t an excuse to forgo your usual methods of contraception. “Essentially, what I tell people is, if getting pregnant would be catastrophic, then you need to use contraception even if you have your period,” Streicher suggests. “And particularly if you don’t have regular clockwork periods, just because there’s bleeding does not mean that you cannot conceive.”
Knowledge is power when it comes to your sexual health. If you’re looking to learn more about your menstrual cycle, Minkin recommends using an ovulation predictor kit (which you can usually pick up at the drugstore). “If you do those for a couple of months, you will know more about your particular cycle and when you ovulate in general,” she tells Elite Daily. But no matter what, you should use contraception every time you have sex to minimize the risk of pregnancy. Period sex can be safe and fun (and surprisingly mess-free!) as long as you’re responsible about it.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine
Dr. Lauren Streicher, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine
Your Menstrual Cycle. (2018, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle.
Ovulation — Understanding Ovulation Cycles. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/understanding-ovulation/.