5th April, 202213 min read

Your period questions answered: from smell to having sex

Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Periods. They’re a normal part of life for millions of people worldwide from

puberty
to
menopause
.

From your first period – or your daughter’s first period – to your last period, new questions about menstruation will be always popping up.

Whether your question is about wearing tampons to bed, sex on your period, swimming with a tampon in or personal hygiene, this page is for you.

Read on for tips and tricks to help you stay healthy and comfortable regardless of the time of the month.

You can also check out

our period overview
for more information and advice on managing menstruation.

Answered: questions about sex, pregnancy and periods

Can I have sex during my period?

Yes. It’s completely up to you.

There are a few things you need to think about, though, including:

  • remembering to take out your tampon
  • managing blood flow. Sex in the shower or bath is often a good workaround if you’re worried about messiness
  • you might want to let your partner know you’re on your period so they won’t be surprised or worried if they see blood

On the upside, having an orgasm can help relieve period pain. Sex can also be more enjoyable when you have your period because the blood acts as a natural lubricant.

We have

more on this, plus some tips and tricks to help manage having sex on your period
.

Can I get pregnant if I have sex when I’m on my period?

Yes, you can get pregnant whenever sperm comes into contact with your vagina, including when you’re on your period.
You’re less likely to get pregnant from sex on your period than at other times of the month, but it can happen.

For example, the length of a menstrual cycle varies from person to person. Bearing in mind that sperm can survive in your vagina for up to 7 days, it’s possible that it could fertilise an egg from your next cycle if you have a short menstrual cycle one month and then

ovulate
early the next.

It’s important to always use birth control if you don’t want to get pregnant. Read more about

why it’s possible to get pregnant at any time of the month
. See also our
contraception section
for more information on preventing unwanted pregnancy.

How do I skip a period without getting pregnant?

Skipping periods is possible – and common – for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you don’t want to be on your period while you’re on holiday or your periods are usually long, painful or heavy.

There are a number of ways to skip one or more periods using different types of hormonal birth control. The method you choose really comes down to your individual circumstances, medical history and lifestyle – such as how often you’d like to have a period.

There are also ways of just delaying your period, as well as options for skipping one or more periods altogether. Read more about

how you can delay your period
.

If you’re missing or skipping periods without wanting to, see our overviews of

irregular periods
and
absent periods
in case they are relevant to you.

Answered: questions about period symptoms

How can I manage period pain?

There’s a question without an easy answer! Period pain affects more than 1 in 2 women.

Managing period pain (or cramps) is as personal as periods themselves and it may take some trial and error to find out what works for you.

Luckily, you have lots of options to try. There’s a long list of proven self-care options, as well as some you can speak with your doctor or pharmacist about.

Read

everything you need to know about how to manage period pain here
– from hot water bottles to painkillers.

Why do I feel bloated when I’m on my period?

May women feel ‘overfull’ or bloated a few days before their period.

It’s a common

premenstrual symptom
caused by hormonal changes that lead to water retention. It may also be related to your diet.

There are a few things you can do to try and manage bloating before your periods.

For example:

Is my diarrhoea related to my periods?

It might be – many women report bowel problems like diarrhoea around period time.

As your prostaglandin hormonal levels increase at the start of your period, the muscles around your womb (uterus) relax so it can shed its lining. The prostaglandins can also relax the muscles around your bowels, which may mean you need to poo more often.

For most people, this is manageable with these

self-care tips
.

However, if you have an existing bowel problem like

inflammatory bowel disease
(IBD), you may find your changing hormones make your IBD symptoms worse around your period.

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, try the Healthily

Smart Symptom Checker
.
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist if:

  • your diarrhoea is proving too difficult to manage at home
  • you’re getting diarrhoea at times other than during your period
  • you notice blood in your poo

Is my constipation related to my periods?

It may be – as with diarrhoea (see above), some women experience

constipation
as with diarrhoea (see above), some women experience around the time of their periods.

This is usually caused by a rise in the progesterone hormone in the days before you get your period, but some women report constipation before, during and after they bleed.

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, try the

Healthily Smart Symptom Checker
.
You may find laxatives help ease the pain and make it easier to poo. You can speak to a pharmacist about options.

Why do I crave junk food before my period?

Like most other premenstrual symptoms, food cravings are caused by changes in your hormones during your cycle.

Noticing when you reach for junk food is a good first step toward managing it.

Why not keep a record of when the cravings set in – and what you crave – so you can ensure you have healthier options in the house instead?

Download the Healthily app
to start tracking your cravings and sign up to the 28 day plan to eat healthier.

Should my periods smell?

Period blood can sometimes produce an odour.

You can reduce odour by changing your pads more often to cut the time your blood’s exposed to the air. Also, change your underwear in case you’ve had a leak.

Wearing tampons or menstrual cups can also help keep smells at bay because the blood is absorbed into tampons or caught in the cups and held within your body until you change them.

Note that a smelly vaginal discharge outside of your period days can be a sign of infection. You can

read more about what’s normal (and what’s not) here
.

Are heavy periods normal

It really depends on what's causing the heavy flow.

For some people, a heavier flow for a few days is normal, especially in the middle of a period. What’s not normal is for your period to have a negative impact on your day-to-day life.

If you’re finding that you need to change your pad or tampon every 1 or 2 hours, then head over here for more information about

heavy periods
.

Should I bleed between periods?

If you bleed between periods and don’t know why, it’s best to see a doctor. There are lots of potential causes of irregular bleeding between periods. Your doctor will be able to check what’s causing it.

Possible causes may include:

Read more about

bleeding in between periods and when to worry about it.

Questions about hygiene and periods

How often should I wash during my period?

Washing every day is a normal part of life – even if you’re not on your period.

There’s no need to wash inside your vagina, as it cleans itself with natural discharge. Washing inside can actually disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria and lead to irritation or infections like

thrush
.

You should wash around your genitals and your bottom at least once a day with warm water. That includes around your vagina (vulva), around your anus and the area in between (perineum).

When you’re on your period, you might want to wash more often than once a day – for example, morning and night if this helps you to feel more comfortable. It can also help to manage any period blood odour.

Washing and changing your underwear can also help you to feel more comfortable.

Should I use wipes or washes during my period?

Feminine wipes and washes can upset your vagina’s healthy balance of bacteria. This is especially true if the wipes and washes contain perfumes.

If there are times when you need to use wipes – such as if you’re out and you don’t have access to running water – look for products without any fragrance or alcohol. This can minimise the chance of irritation.

In general, washing with warm water is the best way to keep clean during your period. Just wash the area around and outside your vagina, and remember that the inside cleans itself.

Can I have a bath during my period?

Yes – there’s no reason to avoid having a bath during your period. Baths are a great way to relax – and to wash – during your period. They can also help ease period pain.

You won’t usually bleed much during a bath because the pressure from the water slows the flow. You may just need to have a towel and a tampon or pad ready for when you get out.

If you’re worried about period blood from earlier in the day making the water ‘dirty’, you could always quickly wash around your genital area before hopping in.

Can I go swimming during my period?

As with having a bath (above), there’s no reason why you can’t go swimming on your period.

What’s more, swimming (and exercise generally) can help to ease period pain.

You may not bleed much into water while you’re swimming because the water pressure helps to reduce blood flow. You may still bleed a little – even if you can’t see it, so it’s best to wear a tampon or a menstrual cup. You can also now buy waterproof period pants.

Oh, and those stories about period blood attracting sharks if you swim in the ocean? They’re not true – it’s only a myth! It’s right that sharks are attracted to blood, but they can also sniff our other bodily fluids, like urine. So you’re at no more risk of a shark attack with your period than without.

Do I really need to wash my hands before and after changing a tampon or pad? What if there’s no water?

It’s important to wash your hands before changing any sanitary product. This is especially true if it’s a

tampon
or a
menstrual cup
because your fingers come into contact with your vagina.

Using clean hands can reduce the risk of introducing germs to your vagina that could increase your risk of rare infections like TSS.

Washing your hands when you’ve finished is also important to avoid transferring bacteria from your genitals or the toilet to anything you touch afterwards – including your mouth and objects that other people might touch.

It can be a good idea to carry some antibacterial gel or wipes with you if you’re out and about and you think you might get caught without water to wash your hands.

Questions about period products

Can I use a tampon and a pad at the same time?

You can do whatever makes you feel comfortable – it’s your body.

If your blood flow is heavy or you’re worried about leaks, you can wear a tampon plus a pad as a backup. Or you could try combining a tampon or menstrual cup with a panty liner for added protection.

If your bleeding is so heavy that you need to use 2 products at the same time to absorb the blood (rather than for peace of mind), it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.

You may also want to alternate between tampons (or menstrual cups) and pads if you’re worried about

toxic shock syndrome
(TSS).

We have lots more info about using tampons over here.

Do extra-absorbent tampons or pads work?

You might want to try extra-absorbent period products if you have heavy periods.

Extra-absorbent pads can also be a good idea at night to prevent having to get up and change your pad.

You should always use a product that has an absorbency level best matched to your flow. Extra-absorbent tampons, for example, can increase the risk of TSS. They can also soak up more of your natural vaginal fluids and affect your vagina’s bacteria balance.

Regardless of their absorbency level, tampons should be changed every 4-8 hours to reduce TSS risk.

Should I change my tampon or pad during the night?

You can wear a tampon for up to 8 hours, so if you don’t sleep for longer than this you can wear one overnight. It’s best to insert one just before you go to bed and replace it as soon as you wake up. To reduce TSS risk, you may also want to set an alarm for just before 8 hours so you don’t oversleep.

Pads can also be great overnight, especially as your blood flow slows while you sleep. Some people prefer to use a pad at night to avoid having to get up to change a tampon.

Menstrual cups are also safe to use overnight for up to 12 hours.

When to see a doctor

Periods are a regular part of life for millions of people, but they affect everyone differently.

If you find your periods are affecting your day-to-day life or if you have questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle, then chat to your doctor.

It’s also important to check out any changes, such as:

  • periods that become more painful (or if the type of pain changes)
  • periods that get heavier or if you’re missing periods
  • bleeding in between periods or after sex
  • PMS symptoms that become difficult to manage either physically or emotionally
  • Why not also try our
    Smart Symptom Checker
    if you’re worried about a particular symptom?

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.