Dear Brunch Bunch,
My partner is turned off by blood and hence isn’t a fan of period sex. I understand the discomfort at blood but to me a bloody vagina is just like any other fear/apprehension that one can desensitise to by dealing with it head on. I probably have this mentality because I myself never had the opportunity to run from my bleeding body, and also have openly explored blowjobs long before I was thrilled because I wanted to eventually tap on the potential pleasure it can give.
I would appreciate my boyfriend trying harder to be less grossed out by my menstrual blood rather than avoiding any thought/sight of it, but at the same time I don’t want him to feel like I’m pressuring him into sex when he’s not in the mood. How do I find the balance between respecting and accepting his preferences/boundaries and feeling like a natural part of me I can’t change is not being accepted? Being rejected while my hormones are raging makes me feel unsexy and unvalued, even though I know rationally that’s not true.
Dear Raging Hormones,
Thank you for reaching out to us! Sex, menstruation and period sex are all topics that should be discussed more, especially since it is a normal part of our everyday lives. But keep in mind that even if it’s normal for you, it may not be perceived as so by your boyfriend who does not deal with it on a regular basis. And this is why we need to first talk about boundaries.
You already seem to be aware that boundaries, or rather different expectations of each other’s boundaries, seem to be the main source of conflict between you and your partner. But what you may not realise is that boundaries are actually beneficial in a relationship. Though boundaries may often have a negative connotation associated with being closed-off or even selfish, they are an integral part of relationships to ensure that both you and your partner’s well-being and comfort levels are being protected. A relationship only works if both individuals in it respect each other’s preferences and opinions. Additionally, we would like to emphasise that healthy boundaries are a personal reflection of one’s principles, rules, and guidelines that they have set for themselves, so what you are comfortable with may differ from what your partner is comfortable with and does not, in any way, have to reflect their feelings towards you. Communicating as well as learning and establishing those boundaries between each other can help both of you have a deeper understanding of what to expect in the relationship.
Another part of the conflict also appears to come from the supposed clash between your partner’s discomfort with menstrual blood and your wish to feel wanted and accepted. However, it is essential to understand that this should not be perceived as an all-or-nothing situation; your boyfriend’s discomfort in having period sex does not necessarily translate into him perceiving you to be unsexy and unvalued. Though it is important to feel wanted and accepted in a relationship, observing your partner’s boundaries should not be taken as secondary to it. Instead, striving to find a solution that satisfies both you and your partner should be the main priority. Furthermore, just because someone sticks to their boundaries does not mean they do not accept you. We understand it may feel frustrating that your sexual needs aren’t being met, yet this should not be seen as a reason for your partner to participate in acts that he may not be willing to do. Remember, consent is key when it comes to sex (or anything in general)!
Negotiating and Reconciling Boundaries
It seems to us that what you need to do is sit down and have a conversation about what you just told us. Though it is frustrating that your partner’s behaviour does not align with your expectations of him, it is also important to remember that he is an individual with his own comfort zone. Hence, as with any other member of the human species, his fears and preferences should not be seen as something that should be changed, but a part of him that makes him…him! Understanding your boyfriend’s reasoning on why he is so turned off by blood and period sex may allow you to be more willing to accept his preferences and boundaries. It may also help to clarify with your boyfriend about what is it that he is so turned off by: is it specifically period sex, the process of menstruation, or blood in general?
Depending on which of these it is, you may have to take a different approach to broach the topic of period sex.
By having a more detailed understanding of what your partner is uncomfortable with, it is easier to know what needs to be done in order to ease such discomfort. For instance, perhaps your boyfriend is uncomfortable with the thought of menstruation as he has never had to experience it. If so, a discussion about the topic can help him become more comfortable with what is a normal biological process. Asking him what he feels about the topic can help him feel heard, and can also help you know what would help him be more comfortable with such natural bodily functions. Moreover, having such discussions may also help reassure you that your partner’s aversion to menstrual blood has nothing to do with him rejecting a “natural part of you that can’t be changed.” If it may not be easy or convenient to have a proper ‘discussion’ about this topic, you can try bringing it up casually in conversations to make the topic more accessible to him. Something as small as talking about your cramps or asking him to buy you tampons can help make the topic less alien-ish to him. However, perhaps your boyfriend is resistant to the idea of period sex specifically due to the abundance of blood in such an act. If this is the case, perhaps finding a way to have sex during your period with minimal mess and blood would make him more keen on the idea.
An open conversation about boundaries, acceptance, and intimacy, will allow both you and your partner to figure out what can be done to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and secure within the relationship. Be sure to mention how his reluctance to have sex with you during your period makes you feel unwanted. It may be that he has no idea of the impacts of his decision on your emotions, and thus is completely unaware that refusing to be sexually intimate during your period affects you so badly.
But as important as intimacy is in a relationship, remember there are multiple ways where mutual intimacy and affection can be expressed. Your partner may express intimacy in a different way from what you expect. Sex isn’t the only means by which intimacy and affection can be expressed—nor are those other ways an inferior means to building such intimacy! To be accepted and valued in a romantic relationship is something which doesn’t have to be expressed sexually; there are couples who choose not to be sexually intimate for various personal reasons, yet are no less devoted to each other. Thus, talking about how you show intimacy and how you wish to be shown intimacy is an important step to ensuring that both of you are on the same page. Additionally, sometimes one partner may want sexual intimacy at a time, or in a manner, in which the other is uncomfortable with. In fact, accepting each other, wanting this relationship with your partner, and building an intimate trust between both of you come hand in hand with accepting each other’s boundaries and learning how to show your love with them in mind. Furthermore, learning about each other’s boundaries, then respecting and honouring them, is often a major contribution to intimacy in itself!
It could be that when you are on your period, your partner prefers to be emotionally intimate with you rather than sexually. It could be something as simple as brewing you hot tea, or a heat pack for your cramps, but these are all signs that he cares for you. Observe his attitude towards you and try to get an understanding of how he might be expressing the very same affection and acceptance of you that he always has, but just in a different way. That said, if you do begin to have doubts about being valued within the relationship, we urge you once more to openly communicate with your partner and hear his side of the story.
Overcoming Your Fear
One thing that stood out to us in your query was your feelings on overcoming fear and apprehension. It seems to us that you think a force of will will help you overcome your fears, and that you must face them. For some fears, this may be true. But that doesn’t mean that all fears need to be overcome, nor that desensitizing yourself to them is a healthy mechanism.
Furthermore, you mentioned that you explored blowjobs “long before you were thrilled.” Is it possible that you expect a similar concession to be made by your boyfriend simply because you had made it yourself previously? But the difference between the two circumstances is that your decision was one you had made yourself after acknowledging the potential pleasure it could give your partner. However, in this situation, if your boyfriend concedes, it may be because he feels pressured to do so by you. And this may lead to future resentments, or a breakdown of trust, and so must be carefully navigated.
We definitely understand that it can be frustrating when a partner is resistant to something which they and/or you would enjoy, out of apprehension. However, we need to be careful about forcefully “helping” others to overcome their fears if it crosses their boundaries, especially when such things are of a sexual nature. There are indeed cases where one partner in a relationship forces or pressurizes the other into sexual acts despite the other partner’s discomfort, and to be frank, this isn’t the kind of behavior we should see in healthy relationships at all. It’s unkind of partners (of either gender) to pressure the other party into sexual acts that they are uncomfortable with, let alone are fearful of (if he does indeed have a phobia), and this remains true even if there is resultant physical pleasure.
Whether regarding sexual acts or anything else that might induce fear or consternation, fears are a valid part of who we are. Fear is a natural part of the human psyche, and being able to healthily process fear is an important process in a relationship and in maturing. Healthy processing of fear, however, isn’t always achieved by overcoming fear; neither does “powering through” fear mean properly processing it, especially when doing so crosses one’s emotional and physical boundaries. As we shared earlier, boundaries aren’t just important to have in a relationship; boundaries help to improve the relationship by helping you show love and affection for one another in the best and healthiest ways, and respecting those boundaries engenders further trust and intimacy. Yes, a certain sexual act might indeed bring physical pleasure and excitement. But if it comes at the cost of compromising one’s own boundaries, is it worth compromising the overall health of the relationship?
To sum up, we encourage you to consider the above points carefully and we hope that our advice can be useful in helping you navigate this relationship conundrum with your partner.
Wishing you all the best,
The Brunch Bunch
The Brunch Bunch is a student-led advice column for information and entertainment. The column is in no way meant to or supposed to substitute professional help. Questions regarding medical conditions or requiring professional help must always be sought from professionals.