First, let’s get the obvious question out of the way: what the heck is “menstrubation”? For the uninitiated – which probably includes most of us – the term combines the words menstruation and masturbation. To menstrubate is to masturbate when you’re in the throes of PMS and your period.
As far as the portmanteau goes, it’s clunky and could use some work – I don’t imagine I’ll be plugging the perks of “menstrubation” at brunch any time soon! – but as a practice, it’s pretty magical, especially if you’re someone who has painful periods.
The term was coined last year when sexual wellness company Womanizer and menstrual cup brand Lunette partnered to carry out a small study on “menstrubation.”
They found that of the 341 period-having participants, 43% of them said over-the-counter period pain relief medication addressed period pain best, while 42% said masturbation was the most effective pain-killing method. Overall, 90% said they’d vouch for solo sex to combat period pain.
Yes, this survey was conducted by a sex toy company with a vested interest in keeping people masturbating with their toys – but science backs up the suggestion: orgasms can relieve cramps and the cluster headaches so many menstruators experience on their periods, one 2013 study found.
“You might experience the best orgasm of your life, solo or with a partner, during your period.”
– Lisa Masterson, OB-GYN
Orgasms increase blood flow to your uterus, which can increase your tolerance for cramping, explains Kate White, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Boston University School of Medicine.
“Plus, orgasms can trigger the release of chemicals oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and even endorphins,” says White, author of the upcoming Your Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss. “These feel-good chemicals and hormones are linked to relaxation and improved mood so your body and your mind may feel better after orgasm.”
Menstrubation won’t change your periods – if your flow is heavy, it’s very likely going to stay heavy – and the effects may be limited to the hours after orgasm. But still, White says, a little solo play is a great way to combat monthly cramps without medication.
Orgasms in general are actually a powerful pain-killer, says Jennifer Lincoln, obstetrician-gynaecologist and author of Let’s Talk About Down There: An OB-GYN Answers All Your Burning Questions…without Making You Feel Embarrassed for Asking.
“One study showed that women who were masturbating had higher pain thresholds compared to when they weren’t masturbating, meaning you might not care so much about your period cramps if you’re showing yourself self-love,” she says.
Plus, some people experience a surge in their sex drive while on their periods, so why not capitalise on that? Many menstruators report the internal sensations are different during menstruation because their natural lubricant is mixing with period blood, said sex and relationship coach Keeley Rankin.
“If you notice the sensations are not as pleasant, consider adding some lubricant,” she says.
As obstetrician-gynaecologist Lisa Masterson sees it, masturbating at the height of your period is also a good way to promote positivity about periods and get rid of ideas of uncleanliness or shame with periods.
“If you’re not already masturbating during your period, it might be time to take advantage of the change in hormones,” says Masterson, the host of the podcast and YouTube series Health in Heels with Dr. Lisa. “You might experience the best orgasm of your life, solo or with a partner, during your period.”
All this said, if touching yourself during your period is the last thing you want to do, that is of course fine, too. One last health benefit, though. I you’re prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs), masturbating comes with another hidden perk: masturbation can help prevent cervical infections and UTIs through the process of ‘tenting,’ which is the opening of the cervix that occurs as part of the arousal process, said Jacques Moritz, the New York City medical director of Tia, a nationwide women’s health care startup.
“Tenting stretches the cervix, and thus the cervical mucus,” he explained. “This enables fluid circulation, allowing cervical fluids full of bacteria to be flushed out.”
6 expert-backed tips on making the most of solo sex during your period
Get down to business as soon as you start feeling crummy
Like with any pain reliever, the sooner you use it, the more effective it is.
“Consider masturbating as soon as your menstrual cramps begin, and not waiting until they’re severe,” White said.
If you want to keep it a little less messy, do these things
You can keep your tampon or menstrual cup in and focus on clitoral stimulation with your hand or vibrator, says Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist.
If you’re worried about staining the sheets, a towel can help contain any mess you might experience.
“Some clients have a period throw or blanket, like they have period underwear – something that’s easy to throw in the wash,” she said. “Others prefer the shower or tub. Bring lube, too.”
Also, Lincoln says that emptying your bladder beforehand can also help expel any blood or clots sitting in the vagina prior to masturbating.
If you want to bring a dildo into play, consider using a condom on it for easier clean-up, White says.
Or try the shower
If you’re still worried about the mess, the shower or bath is also a great place to menstrubate because you can easily wash up when you’re done.
“You may want to bring lube with you into the shower, as the water will wash away your normal lubrication,” White says.
If your partner is involved, practise safe sex
If your partner is involved, be sure to use separate toys, use condoms to protect the toys, or wash the toys if you’re sharing them.
“Blood-borne viruses like hepatitis and HIV can spread via period blood, so just be sure to use extra precautions if this is a concern for you.”
Remember: pleasure is your right, whether you’re on your period or not
To return to the point one of the experts made above, there’s no reason for you to put pleasure – with a partner or on your own – on the back burner just because you have your (incredibly inconsiderate) monthly visitor.
“Some women feel like they can’t or are not allowed sexual pleasure during their menstruation cycle,” Rankin says.
“I often remind clients there are no right or wrong times to lean into your pleasure,” she says. “You menstruate every month, and unless you don’t want to be sexual, there is no reason to not explore what feels good to you.”