Fifty Shades of Red

“There Will Be Blood” photo series by Emma Arvida Bystrom

He withdrew his fingers and stared at the blood smeared on them, his lips pursed in a slight frown.

“Ah yeah, I’m on Depo, the birth control shot,” I explained, hoping to assuage his concern, “it causes spotting sometimes.”

He holds his fingers out from his body like they’re radioactive, then gets up off the bed with surprising urgency, marches straight to the bathroom and slams the door. I can hear him furiously washing for about three or four minutes. He comes back in to his room.

“So, it’s fine… we can…” I try to start again.

He cuts me off, “Yeah I’m kinda tired, I have to teach tomorrow.”

“Okay…”

“Yeah so you know how to get back to BART right?”

“Right…”

This man working overtime to drive this third date in to the ground was a PhD finishing up his dissertation at the nearby university, an otherwise intelligent and worldly guy in his early 30s who had taken the time to convince me that he could handle whatever “challenging ideas” about femdom and relationships I could throw at him. He had been so rapt with attention over our first few dates as I told him about my BDSM experiences, engaging me with his very pointed questions.

“But if you’re topping someone the way they want to be topped, doesn’t that mean you’re servicing them, which would then make you the bottom?” he asked before taking a long sip of his cocktail, clearly feeling pleased with himself.

“Okay Doctor of Philosophy we get it,” I chuckled back at him. “It’s relative to what make each person feel dominant or submissive, whether the individual connects that feeling to which body is acting on the other.”

I second-guessed myself the entire BART ride back, the train screeching in my ears and causing my brain to skip to the beginning of my humiliation loop over and over. My body had acted on this man in such a way as to wrong and disgust him so thoroughly that he kicked me out of his house at 10pm and sent me and my misbehaving uterus home. I cross my legs and bite my lip, shutting my eyes tight with a renewed shudder of embarrassment.

I don’t feel any hangups about my period or the spotting that could happen around it, so how could this person suddenly make me feel so bad about it in so few words?

I thought again of this long-gone fling, who barely survived a few drops of spotting, several years later as I climbed up off my bound and chained partner now soaked in a red pool that denoted the start of my period, its onset triggered by a particularly intense and Hitachi-aided orgasm.

“Oops,” I punctuate as he smiles up at me good-naturedly from his helpless position, wrists clipped to my bed over his head, his ankles lashed to the other end of the frame. I wipe the Hitachi lazily on a towel before opting to continue using the combination of the vibrator and his erection to pursue a second and equally-messy orgasm. These days I see no reason to stop just because of my period, and yet the public response to another kinky portrayal of period sex would have you believe that what I had just done was a thing to be universally reviled.

I know we might be nearly sick to death of people talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, but of all the many controversies this novel generated, one of the more notable ones was over a particularly scandalous scene in which Christian pulls a tampon out of Ana before boning.

For all of our sakes I’ve re-pasted the excerpt here, from Chapter 23:

His breathing is ragged, matching mine.
“When did you start your period, Anastasia?” he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me.
“Err… yesterday,” I mumble in my highly aroused state.
“Good.” He releases me and turns me around.
“Hold on to the sink,” he orders and pulls my hips back again, like he did in the playroom, so I’m bending down.
He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what! And… gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy f***. Sweet mother of all… Jeez. And then he’s inside me… ah! Skin against skin… moving slowly at first… easily, testing me, pushing me… oh my. I grip on to the sink, panting, forcing myself back on him, feeling him inside me. Oh the sweet agony… his hands clasp my hips. He sets a punishing rhythm — in, out, and he reaches around and finds my clitoris, massaging me… oh jeez. I can feel myself quicken.
“That’s right, baby,” he rasps as he grinds into me, angling his hips, and it’s enough to send me flying, flying high.
Whoa… and I come, loudly, gripping for dear life on to the sink as I spiral down through my orgasm, everything spinning and clenching at once. He follows, clasping me tightly, his front on my back as he climaxes and calls my name like it’s a litany or a prayer.
“Oh, Ana!” His breathing is ragged in my ear, in perfect synergy with mine. “Oh, baby, will I ever get enough of you?” he whispers.
Will it always be like this? So overwhelming, so all-consuming, so bewildering and beguiling. I wanted to talk, but now I’m spent and dazed from his lovemaking and wondering if I will ever get enough of him.

Are we all okay after that? Did we get through all the “oh jeez” abuse without bumping our heads on anything? Just checking.

Anyway, it should say a lot that out of all the BDSM shenanigans in this bestselling book, the thing that most scandalized the public, that most warranted repeated critique and disgust across digital and broadcast media coverage of this novel was a man assisting in the removal of a tampon from a menstruating woman and then having good old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex with her. THE IMPROPRIETY!

Period sex: about 1 in 3 of us do it, about 1 in 4 of us are menstruating at any time, and yet it’s so invisible, so stigmatized that this “particularly crude” scene’s inclusion in the Fifty Shades movie would have apparently changed its rating from a paltry R to an unforgivable NC-17. Lindy West notes in her truly excellent piece on period stigma:

“The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near-universal disgust. The blood is the same — the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”

I’m not going to call out kinky sexual culture as necessarily worse than vanilla sex’s pointed disgust towards menstruation. But the fact that even scat fetish, the poop emoji of kinks, has more visibility as a notable presence in our community should tell us something. I am not going to detail any scientific survey to back this up, but let’s just say I searched both “period fetish” and “scat fetish” across various top porn sites and I’m gonna let you guess which one came up with a larger number of hits.

Are there lots and lots of period sex videos on Pornhub? For sure, but most are homemade as this is a subject nearly entirely ignored by professionally produced porn. A non-trivial percentage of said homemade videos are just a means for a man to brag that his girlfriend “does anal on her period.” There’s that butt stuff edging out bloody vaginas for preference again.

I have ever dated people that are specifically in to periods as a fetish, and more in to the idea that they are continuing to serve me diligently through all parts of my cycle. And I’m not saying that butts are untouchably gross either. I’ve had my hands, toys, and other things inside more than my fair share of asses without feeling like I needed to spray myself down with Lysol afterwards despite the fact that shit is objectively way more disgusting than period blood, don’t @ me.

But the prominence of anal play in kink and its general indifference towards incidental fecal contact versus the often more pronounced stigma of any menstrual blood contact makes it hard to ignore the broader cultural stigma of certain bodies as a possible factor. Everybody poops after all, but only those uterus-having people we treat, as Lindy says, as “off-brand men with defective genitals” are the ones who menstruate.

This stigma was something that like many people on hormonal birth control, I had spent most of my sexually active years able to mostly ignore. My periods tended to be light and short, as synthetic progesterone tends to warrant, and “the issue” could with the slight moving of a date be avoided. But today post-copper IUD insertion, famous for its penchant for causing crampier and heavier periods, I can no longer ignore periods as a required presence in my dating life. Some people may be fine holding up all intimacy for 5–6 days a month, but I have figured out that I am not one of them.

I’m not saying you have to prove yourself so tough that you have to deal with sexual activity on your period if you’re not feeling it. We all feel tired and weird and crampy from time to time, or just don’t dig the extra secondary containment setup and maintenance.

But it’s still worth it from time to time to question why it is that maintaining intimacy through the fairly-frequent state of a healthy reproductive-age body might make us so culturally uncomfortable. Is this something that I have an issue with, or do I fear instead the way my body might be viewed as dirty, messy, or inconvenient?

Either way, just remember towels tend to be cheaper than arbitrary self-denial. The hurling of any removed tampons is of course, purely optional.

Further reading:

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