I cannot recall the season or the lover but I remember the moment—like a photograph stopped in time. It ended up changing the course of my professional life yet it was far more intimate than you might imagine: I was menstruating and I wanted to have sex.
As I opened the laundry-closet door in my New York City apartment looking for something to protect the sheets, a wave of unease hit my belly. I paused, exploring the sensation with curiosity . . . it was tinged with embarrassment. But not for the reasons you might expect.
Decades earlier—in a state of mild euphoria—I had prayed to get my first period. Yep, I prayed. To get my period.
At the time, I was 12 and living with my dad (whom my mother had recently divorced). One late summer day, he had driven me to his friend’s house in rural Louisiana. While they visited, I wandered outside alone.
You see, as a child of hippies, I truly believed that menarche (the onset of menstruation) would initiate me into the powerful woman I was told I could become. So after my mom moved to California with my two older siblings, I was left trying to grow up—fast. After fervently praying behind the house, my first blood miraculously appeared. I felt empowered and ecstatic.
In the car on the way home, I proudly told my father the news. His response is etched in my memory too. He looked at me with an expression of pain mixed with anger and almost hissed, “So, you’re a woman now.” As his bitterness from the divorce dampened my joy, I turned inward and became silent.
Falling in love and having sex for the first time a few years later did bring a greater sense of empowerment, only it was still too soon for full flowering. What followed were years of struggling to get one step ahead of a strong sex drive and my body’s relentless, procreative potential. Making love during my period had come naturally to me. I didn’t have a problem with it and, luckily, I never dated a man who did either.
So back in NYC it wasn’t simply embarrassment that made me pause as I searched for an old towel, it was something more. On the surface, it was perplexing that in our ever-expanding marketplace, no one had designed a product specifically to protect the bedding during period sex. Sure you could use an old towel (which isn't leak proof) or a disposable hospital pad (which doesn't set the mood) . . . but wasn’t the occasion deserving of something more elegant?
I was even more intrigued by something deeper—hidden underneath the surface loomed a shadowy sense of shame. It was only years later, while launching my business, Venus Matters, that I began to understand the full extent of the shame I sensed that day.
It’s a shame that has infected cultures through the ages. A mental poison fueling old taboos that claim periods are impure, even dangerously dirty, and must, at the very least, be hidden. At worst, menstruating women were—and, sadly, sometimes still are—punished.
Yet at any moment, millions of women are quietly menstruating around the world.
It was painful to realize that menstruation had been so denigrated or simply ignored that a seemingly obvious need had become, in fact, invisible. Surely ancient matriarchal societies had created ceremonial cloths for the important rites of birth, menstruation, and death—but that was time immemorial.
Now it is way past time to bring female biology out of the dark ages and into the light. Menstruation is nothing to be ashamed about. There’s nothing evil, gross or wrong about it. Menstrual blood is kind of amazing and incredibly rare in the animal kingdom.* It has sustained evolution for millennia. Indeed, all of human life arises on the great red tide of menstrual blood.
And it’s nice lube.
It turns out there’s a clear biological underpinning to a woman’s desire for period sex: after an egg fails at insemination, the sex hormone testosterone kicks it up a notch, often making women feel more sexually aroused leading up to and during their periods.
But some religions have a different agenda, claiming women are untouchable during menstruation—making sex completely out of the question. In India, parts of Islam, Nepal and some orthodox Jewish communities (among others), women can be expelled from their partner’s beds or prohibited from entering temples or fasting or even reciting prayers out loud—simply because they’re menstruating.
The belief that periods make women untouchable can creep into our relatively secular world too. The other day, a customer confessed that her ex-husband wouldn’t kiss her during her cycle. She then proudly told me they ended up divorcing and she was happily reclaiming her self-acceptance and embracing her body.
Of course, some women experience painful periods and sex may be the last thing on their minds. Venus Matters salutes women’s sovereignty and their power to choose what happens in relation to their bodies at all times. It is also worth noting that orgasms have been proven to reduce cramps by releasing oxytocin—a powerful pain inhibitor.
Still, even some of my sex-positive friends are reluctant to publicly talk about period sex or that other taboo, female ejaculation. And I understand. It hasn’t been easy for me to pull back the veils on my personal or pleasurable experiences either. The first few conversations I had as CEO of Venus Matters (especially with men) were a bit awkward and oddly humorous. I could almost feel them blushing over the phone as I mentioned menarche, period sex, or “Amrita”—the term for what Tantra considers a sacred fluid that some women emit during sex (and no, it's not just pee).
With each conversation I have become more committed to uplifting women’s biology and supporting expanded pleasure. Venus Matters because the human body is a temple, and desire—unfettered by cultural or religious constraints—is holy.
The spiritual and physical realms, so often seen in opposition, beautifully interplay in the etymology of the word “bless.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “bless” originally meant “To make 'sacred' or 'holy' with blood.” Bless was also influenced by the Latin benedicere, meaning “to praise, worship,” and later by its association with “bliss.” Clearly, the mystery of blood is integral to spirits having a human experience.
Maybe Descartes got it wrong. It’s not “I think, therefore I am.” But rather, “I bleed, therefore I am.”
The wounds of my father left him unable to bless that exultant 12-year-old girl but in my bones, I knew menstruation to be a kind of magic.
We are tender and we bleed. We are powerful and we bleed. So bleed in bliss, without shame, dear sisters. And dear brothers, join us in uncovering and truly honoring the blood mysteries.
Venus Matters donates a portion of net profits to supporting women’s reproductive health and happiness worldwide.
*Only five other animals are known to menstruate: monkeys, apes, bats, the spiny mouse and possibly elephant shrews. Ted Ed, http://ed.ted.com/lessons/why-do-women-have-periods; and the recent Spiny Mouse discovery: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/nature/a-human-like-menstrual-cycle-has-been-discovered-in-the-spiny-mouse/
Painting by William Blake Richmond, “Venus and Anchises.”