No matter how many precautions you take, having heterosexual intercourse when you're a woman can still feel like you're rolling the dice, especially if you're prone to nervousness — "Sure, we're using condoms/spermicide/the pill/an IUD/are just waving our genitals at each other from across an empty ice skating rink and not touching in any way, but what if something goes wrong and I GET PREGNANT BY ACCIDENT?" For those of us invested in this kind of reproductive neurosis, there are only a few days a month when we get a respite from these grinding pregnancy fears — the week we have our period. That red smear on our underoos causes us to release a sigh of relief, because it means that we're not currently pregnant, and we can't get pregnant for the next few days... right? RIGHT??!! WHY ARE YOU BEING SO QUIET WHEN I AM ASKING YOU AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT QUESTION???
People, I don't like to be the bearer of bad news. I like to be the bearer of good news, like how you can buy Easter candy all year on the Internet. But I'm also a vajournalist, and as such, I am sworn to tell the truth (the truth as it pertains to vaginas, anyway). And the painful truth here is this: You can get pregnant while you're having your period. And (possibly even worse) you can also get your period even after you are pregnant!
Take a second to regroup/splash water on your face/completely reassess your contraceptive practices; then, let's meet back here and go over the bloody details.
You Can Get Pregnant During Your Period
Have you ever told a partner, "We don't have to use any birth control this time, I'm on my period?" Well, STOP IT. Because you absolutely can get pregnant on your period. Also the decay of our bodies as we age is inevitable, 99.9 percent of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct, and you will never be able to afford to live in an enormous apartment in New York City with your best friend Monica while you work as a waitress, no matter how many adorable chunky highlights you get in your hair. EVERYTHING IS AWFUL! SORRY!
So how exactly can you get pregnant during your period? This is primarily a risk for women with shorter cycles. Ovulation typically comes at the mid-point of your cycle — so, if you're a woman with a 30-day cycle, you'd ovulate 15 days in. The egg only survives for 24 hours following ovulation, so in this scenario, you aren't at risk of getting accidentally pregnant on your period.
However, according to Dr. Michele Hakakha in Parents, if you have a 24-day cycle, for example, you "could have seven days of bleeding, have intercourse on her final day of bleeding, and ovulate three days later...Since sperm live for three to five days, [you] could definitely get pregnant."
This all isn't to say that everyone can or will get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during your period. But know that it's a bigger gamble than you probably thought (especially if your cycles vary in length from month to month) — and using protection is the only way to better ensure that you eggo remains unpreggo.
You Can Get Pregnant And Still Have A Period
OK, so you didn't listen to me in the above section; you had sex without protection, spent the rest of your cycle quietly praying to the deity of your choice, and when you finally got your period, you publicly rejoiced like in the Hall & Oates scene in 500 Days of Summer. But don't start that dance party yet, cowboy: Was this period that you got very light? According to the American Pregnancy Center (who should know such things), "Pregnant women can have some light irregular bleeding during pregnancy." In fact, 25 to 30 percent of women experience some kind of early pregnancy bleeding! It's typically "implantation bleeding," which occurs when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus.
This kind of bleeding isn't an actual period — you can't physically have your period while pregnant — but it can certainly look the same as one. And do you want to know what makes this kind of bleeding especially evil? It "often...can come right around the time [a woman is] expecting her normal period." It won't be enough to fill up your tampons or pads, but it can trickle out over the course of several days, and be mistaken for an extremely light flow — meaning that women who often have light flows and women with very irregular periods are particularly at risk for this one.
I don't say all of this to scare you — OK, that's actually a total lie, I am definitely telling you this to scare you. Because accidental pregnancy is scary as hell! And getting knocked up even though you thought you were kinda, sorta taking precautions is a terrible, terrible feeling. And I'm sure you already have enough things in this life to feel terrible about (if you don't, ask me for some — I've got more than enough to share!).
So don't rely on your period as birth control — unless you're relying on it to make you feel so awful that you can't even have sex, and thus cannot get pregnant. Avoiding physical intimacy because you feel like a sentient pile of garbage: the most effective form of birth control around (unfortunately).
Images: Pexels; Giphy