Chances are, ever since you first started getting your period, you've had it drilled into your brain to seek relief from ibuprofen, a heating pad, and maybe a pint of your favorite ice cream. But you might want to try reaching for your vibrator.
Sexual wellness company Womanizer and menstrual cup brand Lunette partnered last year to conduct a small study on "menstrubation" aka a clever portmanteau that blends "menstruation" with "masturbation." They found that of the 341 participants, 43% of the participants said medication addressed period pain best while 42% said solo sex did the trick. And overall, 90% recommended masturbation to combat period pain.
Here, what science says about menstrubation as a pain reliever and tips for trying it on the regular.
How Masturbation Can Combat Period Pain
It's true: Period sex or masturbating during your monthly flow can offer relief from period-related aching and pain — and might even lighten and shorten your period, says Aviva Romm, M.D., midwife, herbalist, and author of Hormone Intelligence. Though researchers are still investigating the "how" of it all, Dr. Romm says the benefit appears to be attributable to the following combination of factors:
- Pressure from vaginal penetration (fingers, vibrator, penis) may increase our pain threshold.
- Feel-good hormones including dopamine, oxytocin, and noradrenaline are released during and after orgasm. They reduce pain and improve sense of well-being, effects that may last for as long as an hour after you climax.
- Increase blood flow to the uterus, which helps relieve the pain that comes along with uterine contractions during your period that’s often worse for women with a heavy flow.
Although we don't usually associate our periods with being turned-on, your body could, in fact, be primed for masturbation when you're menstruating, notes Dr. Romm. "As we get close to our periods, we have more engorgement and fullness in our uterus, pelvic, and genital areas," she explains. "That increased pressure may actually lead to an increased local stimulation that activates our desire to 'relieve' that pressure and may increase our sense of desire."
Hormones can also be at play. "During your period, estrogen and progesterone drop, and there can be an increase in testosterone in women, which can lead to a spike in sexual arousal and increased libido," notes Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., sex and intimacy therapist and founder of Modern Intimacy.
Expert-Backed Menstrubation Techniques to Try
It's possible that getting down solo or with a partner during your period just isn't for you, points out Dr. Romm. But if it is something you want to explore, there are a variety of techniques you can try to get comfortable and enjoy the benefits of menstrubation.
Set the stage. You can lay the groundwork for a pleasurable session by getting supplies to help you feel comfortable in your body and expedite clean-up, says Shannon Chavez, Psy.D., a psychologist and sex therapist in Los Angeles. She recommends a towel, condoms that you can put over internal toys, lubricant, pillows, and blankets for getting comfy.
Experiment with different positions. Maybe lying on your back isn't as relaxing as it is when you're not crampy, but resting in child's pose feels comforting. It's worth exploring poses to see what is most conducive to letting go, says Chavez. "You might even try your favorite yoga positions to help stretch and relax the body and increase genital blood flow and arousal," she notes.
Use a clitoral vibe. Although penetration definitely doesn't have to be off the table while you're flowing, you might want to focus on external stimulation. "If you are a fan of light to medium vibrations, I recommend a smaller bullet style vibe, and if you like stronger vibrations, try a wand-style vibe," advises Amy Baldwin, sex educator, sex and relationship coach and co-host of the Shameless Sex Podcast.
Baldwin personally loves newer suction technology featured in toys like the Satisfyer Pro 2 and the Womanizer Pro 40. Another one to try: LELO's SONA Cruise. "They suction and vibrate on and around the clitoris in such a way that feels amazing and doesn't oversensitize me, so I can often have orgasm after orgasm," she notes.
Get it on in the shower. Using a handheld showerhead on the clitoris and vulva can be extremely pleasurable — whether you have your period or not, notes Balestrieri. It's also one way you can sidestep post-pleasure clean-up. That said, one word of caution: "It is generally not recommended to insert water or the showerhead into the vagina, as that can disrupt pH levels or lead to infection," says Balestrieri.
Focus on other parts of the body. "If you prefer to steer clear of the vaginal canal, period masturbation can be a wonderful time to focus on exploring and loving other parts of your body, such as the clitoris, vulva, anus and nipples," says Balestrieri. "Given the added nipple sensitivity that many people experience during their period, try stimulating the nipples and working toward a nipple orgasm," she suggests. "Sex accessories like the Trojan Willa Vibrator offer a precision tip, to provide gentle and precise nipple stimulation."
Make a point to play at bedtime. Some women struggle with insomnia before or during their period, says Jolene Brighten, NMD, a naturopathic physician and author of Beyond the Pill. "Orgasms can help with sleep, so it can be a quite lovely way to wind down your day," she notes.
Read books that empower you to own your self-pleasure sessions. Dr. Romm says reading certain titles can help you feel more comfortable and confident as well as figure out what you enjoy in terms of solo or partnered play. She recommends checking out Women's Anatomy of Arousal by Sherrie Winston and Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski.
Think about it as taking care of yourself. If you think about solo play as an act of self-love, then masturbation is a form of nurturance, says Balestrieri. And during moments of pain, discomfort, or irritability, she says a little self-nurturing goes a long way.
"Many women have been fed a lie that they can't be sexual on their period, so they fight the urge to sexually express themselves during that part of their cycle," she points out. "However, sex and periods are a natural part of the human experience and require no justification and no shame. It's your body, and you get to experience pleasure in it, on your terms."
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