June 03, 2018

Period Sex Aversion: Yes. It's Personal.

On Intimate Justice and Period-Sex Averse Partners

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called Blow Job Week about the hypocritical expectation that some men have when their female partners are on their periods. Namely, the expectation that they will receive blowjobs as a substitute for sex. If you've read the article you can probably tell that I hold period-sex aversion in the same esteem regarding patriarchal bullshit as I do slut shaming, but when I wrote that article, it was is less about expressing my ideas on period-sex aversion itself and more about the hypocrisy of withholding physical pleasure from an otherwise willing female partner while simultaneously expecting her to provide physical pleasure to the very person denying her. It was a call for intimate justice. It was a strong declaration of, If I have to wait, so can you.

Still, even if one dutifully upholds the demands of intimate justice by responding in kind when one's partner temporarily suspends her sexual privileges, that still doesn't alleviate the inherent feelings of rejection, insecurity, and sexual frustration that result from having one's sexual privileges suspended by one's loving partner in the first place, especially on the grounds that one's own body is temporarily in a state less than ideal for that love making which it never stopped desiring.

Intimate justice is elusive for women, because it isn't as simple as being square on paper. It isn't about keeping score. It isn't about simply having an equitable orgasm ratio. So this time, regarding period-sex, rather than forcing the issue with logic and sarcastically screaming that I'm right (and I am) I'm going to go ahead and say the thing you're not supposed to say. I'm going to admit that yes, actually, I mind it when men are period-sex averse. Not just because I'm a feminist, and not just because it's a patriarchal staple, but because it hurts and because it's much more than a theory when you are, in fact, the woman on the receiving end of such an aversion. And while I recognize that I am required to respect it as a personal sexual preference, in a way that makes me mind it even more, because that personal sexual preference just happens to be in line with classic male sexual entitlement and privilege. Because period-sex aversion is a rejection of the essence of womanhood, it reinforces patriarchal ideas of sexual inequality between the genders, it promotes body shame, and it establishes an undue power dynamic whereby - in a male/female relationship - a man, by virtue of his personal boundaries, has carte blanche to exercise the strategic withholding of sex from the female partner, a practice to which there is no male equivalent, thereby establishing an imbalanced sexual dynamic within the relationship that is reinforced monthly at the woman's expense.

Simply put, being a feminist woman confronted with the idea (let alone the reality) of period-sex aversion is a delicate and confusing line to dance on.

Let me explain...

1. Choice and Consent

No one is entitled to sex. It doesn't matter if you're in a committed relationship or not, or whether you usually fuck like bunnies. Everyone is entitled to say no, if they want, when they want. So regarding choice and consent, it is simply improper for a woman to demand sex on her period if her partner has expressed a disinterest or a discomfort. To do so would be to ignore his autonomy. Thus, if you're a woman - even if you're a card carrying feminist who refuses to hide her menstrual cup on the bathroom line because your body is fantastic all month, not just for the first 21 days - whose partner has expressed an aversion to period sex, you have to respect that boundary just as you would any other boundary or aversion to any other sex act.

Even though...

2. It's Personal 

It's not personal, your partner may explain. It isn't about you. They don't find you gross, no no no. Of course not. It's just the...you know...the blood thing. It's just the mess. It's just the idea of...well...all that blood [insert visible cringe here] but not you, baby. No no no! I love you. You're beautiful. It's just...the fluid coming out of your body and my desire to avoid both that fluid and the place that the fluid is coming from because then I might get that fluid on me or on the sheets and that would be a travesty because it's messy and gross. It. Not you, baby. Even though...it's all happening...inside your body. It has nothing to do with you, baby. It's just...

Yeah...no. When you're a woman, of course it's personal. It's your body. Your body is the one that is bleeding. You are the one experiencing all of your hormones (which, for some of us, make us the horniest when were are indeed menstruating). And then of course, your body is the one that is being temporarily placed on the proverbial no fly list, banished to the island of "not right now" for the one week per month that your partner isn't interested in it in quite the same way as during the other three. Your body is the one responsible for the obstacle blocking the way of your once satisfying sex life. You are the one dutifully checking her feminine products excitedly to see if the "problem" has gone away yet. Yours is the body that is doing the thing that your partner isn't into; yours is the sex life hanging in suspended animation.

How could a woman possibly believe that it isn't that her partner isn't into her, when the very thing he is avoiding literally is her. There are not two versions of us. There is not the version of us on our period and then the version when off. It's just the one woman. And likewise, you are just the one partner to us. There isn't the you that looks at us with unbridled desire and then the you that looks at us with sympathy and patience. There is no solace to take in the guarantee that in just a few days, when we aren't "going through" this anymore, you will transform back into the person that cannot get enough, when right now you are the person to whom the trouble isn't worth it. It doesn't take away the sting of...well...

Rejection.

3. Rejection Hurts

Rejection is such a powerful emotion, and to be rejected by one's partner at any time, for any reason, is difficult, even when they are loving and well-meaning. However, to be consistently rejected by one's partner. In fact, to have that rejection be scheduled. That is a lot to handle. There are four weeks in a month. The average period lasts 5-7 days. That's 25% of the month. That means that if you are a woman in a relationship with a period-sex averse partner, you are going to be rejected by your partner, for certain, at least 25% of your relationship. At least! Not to mention that the rejection will occur multiple times over an extended, consecutive period. It isn't as though a woman on her period experiences "no" once for the entire week. No, we experience it every time we desire sex with the partner that, "right now", does not desire us back. Depending on your drive and the effect your period has on it, that may mean several times a day for seven days. And that doesn't count the compounded effect if other things occasionally result in rejection, such as busy schedules, headaches, injuries, etc.

It is easy to say that it's "just" a week when you are the one making the choice. But to a woman who isn't period-sex averse, this isn't a choice at all. It's a punishment. For being...a woman.

4. Inequality 

This isn't about an orgasm ratio. "If you won't have sex with me when I'm on my period, that's fine. But don't ask me for a blowjob," is a valid stance that, yes, I still subscribe to. I will not give a blowjob on my period in lieu of sex because my partner is averse to it. That just doesn't seem fair.

But the thing is, even if you don't give the blowjob, it's still not fair. It will never be fair.

It will never be fair because, unless your period-sex averse partner is a woman, and unless you yourself are also period-sex averse, your partner will never understand what it feels like to be looked over and told "no, thank you" by the person they love every three weeks. They will never know what it is like to anticipate this certain rejection with dread, to carry it around for a week, or to eagerly await that first day "back in business" when your beloved partner will desire you again. They will never know what it is like to perceive the temporary suspension of their sexual privileges as a punishment for a bodily function they cannot themselves control. They will never feel the sadness of inherent body shame that comes with feeling intermittently unwanted. They will never know how disingenuous and detached the word beautiful can sound from the person who is patiently waiting for you to be fuckable again.

So even if you don't partake in non-reciprocal sex, it doesn't make it fair. It doesn't make it equal. Yes, it is worse when you get in the shower with the taste of semen still tingling in your mouth as you quietly try to relieve the overwhelming pressure of your own unrelenting arousal. It's definitely worse that way, and definitely provokes the negative thought cycle of this isn't fair or this is bullshit. Still, that shower is shitty tingle or no tingle. Men don't know that feeling; they never will. And yet they are entitled to impose it.

Blow him or blow him off. Either way you slice it, it's not fair.

5. Programming 

Period-sex aversion feels different than aversions to other sorts of bedtime activities. It feels different than your partner saying, "Yeah, I get that there's a prostate but I'm not really comfortable with the idea of a finger up my butt." Cool, you say. Just a thought. No pressure.

The difference is that period-sex aversion is part of a bigger gender issue. It is reflective of patriarchy and misogyny and a disheartening double standard in which women are hyper-sexualized and treated like objects for male pleasure most of the time, and then taught to feel shame and disgust for our own bodies while on our periods as a result of men not finding our bodies sexy during that time.

As a feminist, while I don't feel that this is fair and I definitely feel that most men that exhibit period-sex aversion are both being influenced by and reinforcing patriarchal ideals, I also strongly believe in consent and feel that even if a man's feelings on that matter were informed by patriarchal values, even if I don't agree, there is no alternative that does not somehow border on pressuring an unwilling partner into an unwanted sex act and that is simply unacceptable. As a feminist, though, it definitely puts me in a double bind of sorts. A discussion of the "issue" past a clear point of disinterest is subtle pressure bordering on coercion and I couldn't do that to a partner. To refuse to participate (to refuse to date a person who is period-sex averse) is discriminatory and functions as an ultimatum that is as unfair as it is unacceptable. Yet to participate I can't help but feel complicit. To find myself getting excited that I finally get to have sex again, even though I was never against it in the first place, even though I wasn't onboard with my vaginal quarantine because menstruation isn't the flu...

If you're a woman, a feminist, and your partner is period-sex averse, how can you simultaneously respect their boundaries and avoid participating in an inequality you find unjust? How do you respect their wishes while refusing to endorse the idea that your body is only acceptable for fucking 75% of the time? And how do you reconcile the implications of this predicament with respect to...

6. Unhealthy Power Dynamics 

Most people would agree that the strategic withholding of sex/dangling sex to leverage it into a free meal/relationship/engagement ring is an unfair and manipulative tactic that they would not want to be subjected to.

While a period-sex averse partner may not be withholding for its own sake and while there may be no manipulation in play, the fact is that the resulting behavior is still the strategic - indeed, the scheduled - withholding of sex from one's intimate partner. The woman on the receiving end of the behavior still has the experience of only being engaged sexually on someone else's terms. She still has the experience of whether or not sex is "a go" decided for her regardless of her personal feelings on the matter.

Indeed, while the woman's period is not an inherent problem, it certainly becomes a problem when it interrupts the woman's sex life. And when the dread she feels for "period week" isn't about the bleeding itself but about the dread of the suspension of sex. When the sadness she feels during that week is not about her uterine walls contracting but of not feeling quite as beautiful, not quite as sexy, not quite as significant as she once did because her partner doesn't want her...right now. When the anticipation she feels for Aunt Flow to leave town isn't because Aunt Flow is super annoying (because nowadays with pain killers and soft menstrual cups it really isn't all that bad) but rather because she's eagerly awaiting the return of sexual intimacy with her partner...

At that point the weight of one's period has more to do with the physical and emotional impact of your partner's reaction to it than of the period itself.

So what's really going on is not:

I hate my period because I'm bleeding. 

Really, what's going on is:

I hate my period because my partner won't fuck me when I'm bleeding. 

And the feminist in me will take it one step further and say:

I don't hate my period; I hate that my partner won't fuck me when I'm bleeding. 

But how the hell do you reconcile that with consent, love and acceptance of your partner (even if, in a very real way, it feels like they don't fully accept that very female part of you)?

For me, it's like hating an unjust war but continuing to support the soldiers. I hate the idea of period-sex aversion. For social/political reasons and for personal reasons. But a loving, period-averse partner is still an individual with a personal preference in bed that should not be bulldozed over with the words intimate justice unless or until they are complicit. To be fair, their aversion may have nothing whatsoever to do with patriarchy despite running parallel to it; despite the result of said preference coming at a woman's expense, in deference to a man's sexual preference.

To women in this position, my best advice - and I wish I could do better - is to encourage talking about it. Let your partner know how it makes you feel, not to change his mind, but perhaps to allow him to ease some of the negative emotions associated with what, to you, may very well feel like a scheduled, monthly rejection. Allow him alternative ways to express his love and reassure you of his desire for you. Discuss different ways to be physically intimate together, or if the anticipation is literally too painful, discuss the need to avoid physical play past a certain point.

Unfortunately, as we know very well, womanhood tends to impose an undue burden on women. Especially in the bedroom, and this is no exception. And while - short of genetically engineering men to get periods - we can never make it truly fair, we can certainly try.

In the meantime, I guess....

Fair enough.

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