The first time was with a long-term partner, consensual, premised with “I don’t mind!” and the keen lust that occurs in those early years of dating.

The second time was unexpected and somewhat unwanted – a first date that escalated quickly and resulted in me throwing out my bed sheets the next day.

The third worried it was his own blood, “it’s happened before”, then held his bloodied hand up to the light and admired the glisten, not fearful or grossed out, calm and respectful knowing it was natural.

The last time was by myself in an attempt to relieve menstrual cramps, which had gotten worse since getting a copper IUD, it kind of worked but drugs are faster and more effective (for me).

Period sex has been on the menu for a while now, however, it’s only recently getting the airtime it deserves.

Periods remain taboo across cultures, we in the West still associate it with uncleanliness, continue to censor it in sanitary item commercials (periods aren’t blue, guys), and refer to it metaphorically i.e. that time of the month, shark week, Aunt Flo etc. However, dare I say, at least women in countries like Australia have the “privilege” of going to work and school while having their periods, as opposed to being ostracized from their communities, schools, homes and workplaces. This really happens. I understand my privilege as a cis, white woman with a pretty seamless history of menstruation, I understand my privilege allows me to flirt with the idea of period sex and write this article in the first place. In saying that I understand that this article will still crinkle noses and challenge people’s ideas of sexy sex.

Award winning U.S TV show Crazy Ex Girlfriend, created by Rachel Bloom, features a musical ode to period sex, which the network CW actually cut when it originally aired the episode deeming it “too dirty” for TV. Bloom released the full version online and was met with a resounding “YAS!” From women and feminist fans of the show.

You can watch the full version here.

Another show that addresses the societal shift towards optional period sex is Younger, created by Darren Star (Sex & The City). In the episode ‘A Night At The Opera’ the central character Liza (in her 40’s) and her younger boyfriend Josh (20’s) have a conversation about having sex while she has her period, Josh is pro and Liza is uncomfortable and unsure, she says “maybe it’s a generational thing”. Liza then talks to her bff, Maggie, about it and asks if she is into it. Maggie, who is gay, says if she didn’t get down with period sex she’d hardly ever have sex, unless of course her and her girlfriend were fortunate to synch up. Whether or not this is an accurate depiction of people’s perception of period sex, kudos for putting it on the Telly!

What this says to me is that there is a shift towards a more open, progressive and authentic understanding of what sex is like, or at least there are some people out there who are challenging the otherwise very glossy depiction of the kind of sex we’re supposedly having.

Now, period sex is not for everyone, because periods are not the same for everyone. Non binary individuals and men who get periods are less inclined to want to relish in something that has been associated with femaleness and womaness for centuries. Women whose periods are painful due to conditions such as endometriosis, or are negatively effected by birth control may not want to have sex on their period, because during that time the idea of doing anything other than sleeping or lying in the bath seems like hell. Women whose periods are particularly heavy or cause them to bloat may experience feeling self conscious or “unsexy”. However, for a bunch of people, having their period can make them feel sexy as hell. Your progesterone is at an all time low, which means your libido can kick into overdrive. You have an abundance of natural lubrication; which if you’re worried about mess lay a dark towel down or fool around in the shower! Also orgasms can help relieve cramps, so make this a priority if you’re the one in pain.

If you are having sex with one or more persons, you will of course have to get their enthusiastic consent first, please let them know there is a good chance “there will be blood”. If they haven’t had period sex before and they want to try it out but half way through they realize it’s not for them, don’t be offended! Stop, and respect that it’s an individual choice, blood can be scary if you’re not used to it. I’d also like to note there are many ways of having sex that can completely bypass menstrual blood when someone has their period e.g. non penetrative sex where the person who has their period uses a tampon or menstrual cup to conceal any visible bleeding. You don’t have to have sex on your period, and no one can make you have sex with them while on their period, but you can talk about it.

MENSTRUAL BLOOD IS NATURAL, NORMAL AND NOT AT ALL DIRTY AND IT’S TIME WE TALK ABOUT IT AND REPRESENT IT IN THOSE TERMS.

This article was first published for neutral.love

Humour me while I refer to women as butterflies for a moment. Correction, allow me to compare a girl’s transition to womanhood as a chrysalis. Womanhood is a resolution after a state of transition, in addition to that I believe that womanhood itself is also transitional and multifaceted. I liken the transition towards womanhood to that of a butterfly’s chrysalis.

So, what is a chrysalis exactly? Well, caterpillars must shed their skins as they grow and when the caterpillar is large enough to enter its transition into a butterfly or moth, it develops a new skin under its old skin. This is called the chrysalis. When it is first secreted, the chrysalis is soft and sticky but it soon hardens to form a protective outer layer. After a few weeks (sometimes months), the animal inside the chrysalis gradually turns into a butterfly or moth. In a butterfly’s life cycle they are eggs for an average of five days, a caterpillar for ten to fourteen days, a chrysalis for several weeks (sometimes months) and a butterfly, depending on the species, for several days – making the chrysalis, on average, the longest stage in its life cycle.

Chrysalis is defined as a transitional state and most dictionaries provide the following example “she emerged from the chrysalis of self-conscious adolescence” (Oxford). In my opinion, chrysalis says more than “a state of transition”, or what happens between caterpillar and butterfly. The significance of chrysalis, for me, is that the change is mostly unseen. Superficially there is a change but it is a protective facade, allowing those on the outside no opportunity to really know what is going on inside. Hence why I believe chrysalis to be the perfect word to describe what happens during moments of transition – more specifically the transition towards womanhood, and changes within womanhood. The emergence of a butterfly or moth from a chrysalis in itself is a poetic way to look at a woman in the first stages of navigating her new being – sopping, awkward, perhaps a little scared until she is strong enough to shed her protective layer and move with confidence, and often beauty.

When I discuss womanhood, I am referring to a state of being, a feeling, an experience and an identity. A woman to me can possess both feminine and masculine qualities, she is woman whether she is cis, trans or fluid in gender, it is her choice how she identifies. She calls herself woman and therefore she has reached womanhood, regardless of age.

Many debate what it means to be a woman. The Oxford dictionary defines woman as “a human female, a member of the fair/gentle sex”. This is an ideology all too well ingrained in our patriarchal society, and enforces the idea that we need to be fair and gentle (feminine) to be women. And while we give pause for that, human female? The definition is not trans-inclusive in the slightest, and still links gender with sex.

Cis women experience a transition from girlhood to womanhood that society defines almost always according to age, however, I would argue that coming of womanhood is not exclusively linear. I would also like to acknowledge trans women and non-binary people who come of their womanhood differently to cis women. Therefore, coming of womanhood cannot be appointed to an age, rather to what happens following an event or a shift in feeling/experience of being. American author, bell hooks, refers to a coming of womanhood as a “growhood”. Describing it in this way really illustrates how transitional coming of womanhood is and implies progress.

It has become increasingly significant for me to share my coming of womanhood story proudly and publicly, and since doing so I have become more aware of those who deny their womanhood, people who shame women, and the prejudices women face daily. By naming the struggles I have faced trying to navigate girlhood and womanhood, I have felt empowered and more confident in my womanhood. As a cis woman, a lot of my chrysalis happened during adolescence though it was not exclusive to that time. When I consider chrysalis in relation to my development, I am reflecting on times when ‘unseen’ change was occurring in addition to more obvious changes i.e puberty. As my body changed and developed during puberty, I became increasingly aware of my biology and subsequently I began to think about what my new experience of body meant for me as a girl/woman. In addition to this, my socialisation – the culture I grew up in, heavily influenced my experience of coming of womanhood. It was not during adolescence that I first noticed gender inequalities; it was in my family home that I learned that there were certain privileges reserved for boys/men and that girls/women endure new restrictions. Negative ‘unseen’ changes that occured in addition to or alongside more obvious physical changes included the feeling of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and peer pressure. Positive ‘unseen’ changes included confidence, agency, desire, pleasure and self love.

I believe that there is a surge in negative ‘unseen’ changes during chrysalis because girls are being socialised to see their gender as inferior. I believe that celebrating coming of womanhood and educating and socialising girls as equals, as well as sharing stories told by girls and women will contribute to more positive ‘unseen’ changes occurring during chrysalis. We are not all fair and gentle, and we shouldn’t be forced to shield ourselves with protective layers and hide during moments of change and growth. We deserve to be seen.

This article was first published for neutral.love

Can we consider a woman’s sexuality independent from her body? In my case, I find it difficult to discuss one without considering the other. Looking at my personal development story, I came into my sexuality almost simultaneously with coming of womanhood. I also wonder had I not experienced sexualisation as a result of my gender, would I be able to consider my womanhood and sexuality in the same way I do today.

Before I go on, I recognize that my story is not representative of all who identify as women, and I acknowledge that sex and gender are not one in the same. This is an exploration of my sexuality and lived experience in a cis woman’s body.

Historically, women have been limited to being sexual objects for men (virgins, sluts, prostitutes/sex workers, wives, or mothers), and have been prevented from expressing their sexuality in itself and for themselves. Often women’s bodies are considered in terms of what they provide men; from mothers who nursed them to wives who raise their families and run their homes, to sex workers who, well, fuck them. I believe that because women have developed in a world structured by man-centric concepts we have had no way of knowing or representing ourselves separate from men.

When I was young and discovering my body for the first time, I enjoyed it, but struggled to understand it because of the lack of female discourse available, therefore I suppressed it and ignored it. As I have physically developed, so to has my sexuality and as a result of this I cannot separate my body from my sexuality. In the early stages of my development I explored my body for the sheer natural enjoyment of it (and curiosity), in my awkward teen years I remember feeling completely out of control of my own body, lousy with shame, then finally as an adult I was able to reclaim my body and really listen to what it wanted. I believe women need to first learn their bodies and sexual pleasure in order to create their own identity, and consider themselves independent from men.

One of the biggest struggles in navigating my sexuality during the years between puberty and womanhood was maintaining any sense of agency whilst trying to “fit in”. I grew up in a country town – everyone knew everyone, the female to male ratio was about three to one, corresponding in my girl friends and I having dated the same boy at one time or another. The idea that I might want something outside of the hetero-normative, never crossed my mind, because I had no alternative point of reference. I felt pressured to look and act a certain way, seek a certain boy, have a certain kind of sex, none of which was authentic to me.

Even though I tried everything I could to adhere to the prescribed social code during my teen years, I was not exempt from judgment – I don’t know a single girl who was. Being called a slut was detrimental to my sexual development – I thought that it was wrong to desire, but to be desired was ok, just not too much! Walking the fine line between frigid bitch and slut was impossible, and I found myself countlessly slipping into either category, never allowed the freedom to just be.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, living out of home, and had been in a couple of relationships (with people that I didn’t grow up with), that I finally felt like I had a sexuality that was my own. For a long time I only knew what I didn’t want, as opposed to knowing what I did want; being allowed to want something free from shame is a liberation too few women get to experience.

For me, this confusion around sex and sexuality always comes back to the way we are educated and socialised. I know that by celebrating female sexuality and by providing young people (especially girls) with comprehensive and liberal body and sexuality education, inclusive of pleasure and consent discourse, we will see a change in society for the better. There are connections between our bodies, our genders, our sexualities, as much as there are diversities and disconnections. I know that everyone’s intersections are different, which is all the more reason to stop telling the hetero-normative, man-centric narrative. I have had to unlearn and learn my body, my gender and my sexuality as I’ve grown and developed. This has both been a journey and a destination of self.

This article was first published for Neutral.Love