Los Angeles-based photographer Nolwen Cifuentes has released a powerful series showing three queer couples having sex on their periods. She speaks to PinkNews about her taboo-smashing art, and the benefits of period sex.
Q. What inspired you to create this photography series?
A. I first thought about making these images after a conversation with some friends of mine. They were pretty grossed out by the concept of period sex. When I mentioned that I do it with my partner, they didn’t even realise this was something some couples do. I felt pissed off about it at first and I decided to channel this feeling into a photo series. I wanted to photograph only women as I thought it would feel safer and sweeter somehow. I’ve recently come out and these queer series are a way to express my sexuality.
Q. Why do you think—in 2018—there is still such a stigma against periods?
A. I really don’t understand it. But look, we’re going backwards in many ways [in the US], with birth control becoming harder to access and women’s reproductive rights being decided by right-wing cis men. Periods have always been a shameful thing since I was little. I didn’t get that from my mother who is very open and talked to us about sex and periods from before I could even remember.
Periods were humiliating and you never wanted anyone to know you were on it. When I’d buy tampons at the store, I’d try to buy lots of other items so the cashier wouldn’t notice too much. I’m not sure why, is it some big secret that we all get it every month? My grandmother growing up had to go deep into the woods to bury the cloth she used to contain her menstruation. We’ve been through so many generations of shame involving our periods and not many of us have stopped to question why.
Q. And why do you think that having sex on your period is, arguably, even more of a taboo?
A. I’m not sure. I guess people think periods are gross or smell bad. To me, if you’re having sex with someone with a vagina, a period is something that comes with the territory.
Q. How would you suggest people in new relationships broach the subject of having sex on their periods?
A. It’s maybe a conversation that happens in the heat of the moment. Letting your partner know you are on your period but you don’t want to stop what’s going on. If the reaction is a bad one, maybe it’s a time to start educating your partner on why period sex is natural part of being sexually active.
Q. I watched comedian Cameron Esposito doing a set the other day. She spoke about how, at first, she was hesitant about having sex with her partner when she was on her period—but that now she loves doing it. Are there any benefits from having period sex?
A. Your oestrogen levels are rising when you’re on your period and it’s pretty common to feel really sexual during that time. Period sex can also help alleviate cramps and helps with migraines. You’re often more lubricated down there with the help of a menstrual flow. It also is a great way to bond with your partner and feel safe with them when they accept and support you on your period.
Q. What has the response been like to your photo series?
A. It’s been a mixed bag. I’m so happy to have received several long emails from people telling me how the series positively affected them. Many young girls who said they love having sex on their periods and they’re so happy to see it normalised online. I’ve read some comments from young people who say they still feel uncomfortable with their periods, but the images gave them an outlet to see that there are other ways to feel.
There’s been, of course, plenty of negative comments, which is why I think we’re still a long way from normalising this. I’ve read some comments of lots of people saying it’s gross, that it smells like pennies, or even: ‘Can we see a series on the beauty of smegma?’— which, by the way, we’re all getting our hands and faces in and no one seems to mind. The bad comments make me realise that the stigma is still here and strong.
Q. What else are you up to right now? Any more interesting photography projects coming up?
A. I’m currently working on two personal projects that should be out really soon. One is about biracial people and our experience with identity struggle. Another project is about teenage lesbians. As a bisexual woman, who only started taking ownership of it in my very late 20s, I am so excited to see teen girls out and comfortable in themselves.