Illustration by Kissi Ussuki
by Reina Gattuso
Marie Kondo taught America how to clean out objects that don’t spark joy. But who can you turn to when you need to clean semen and menstrual blood off your couch after a hot romp and you only have an hour before your family arrives for dinner? Never fear: I’m here to help you tidy up all things messy and sexual.
Most of us, especially if we’re queer, trans, or have vaginas, have been taught that our bodies are dirty and must be tamed or disciplined. Our desires, we are told—by commercials, our families, our schools, even our doctors—are shamefully messy, our genitals smelly and embarrassing. From scented tampons to body-shaming diet products, purifying this supposed dirtiness is big business. Women and femmes bear the brunt of the pressure.
But human bodies, like human hearts, will always be messy, and the physical and emotional excess of intimacy is precisely its beauty. The delicious evidence of bodies sweating, secreting, and staining their way to ecstasy is not, however, always something we want immortalized on our sheets.
That’s where this handy set of tips comes in. From the discharge stains on your favorite lingerie to getting rid of a used condom the right way, here’s your handy, feminist guide to loving both your messy body and your linens.
Cleanup for Everybody, Everywhere
If you want to test whether a partner is a keeper, try accidentally menstruating on their sheets. I’m only half-joking. Accepting our bodies’ normal foibles, and not being squeamish about the cleanup, is a sign of mutuality and respect.
Because too often, while most people have sex, it’s women and folks with vaginas who disproportionately deal with the difficult consequences, like unplanned pregnancy. Add this to the fact that women spend, on average, ten more hours a week than men doing unpaid domestic labor, and sex cleanup becomes another space of potential inequality.
It’s up to men and masculine folks to make sure this labor gap doesn’t apply in the bedroom as well. If someone ejaculates on it, bleeds on it, spits on it, or sweats on it, it’s not automatically a woman’s job to clean it. A shared sexual experience means shared risk, shared consent, shared pleasure, and shared cleanup. Egalitarianism makes everyone feel more valued—and more orgasmic.
Moisture is a fundamental fact of vaginas. While a genital waterfall can be ideal during sex, it can also stain your favorite panties. This is because your amazing, self-cleaning vagina is actually slightly acidic—a blessing in helping regulate bacteria, but a curse when combined with fabric dye.
Human bodies will always be messy, and the physical and emotional excess of intimacy is precisely its beauty.
The trick to saving your undies is quick washing. For maximum stain prevention, run those suckers under water right after you take them off so your juice doesn’t have time to settle, or bring them into the shower with you to rinse. (An unnamed relative of mine whose laundromat is very far away sometimes uses the dishwasher, presumably not with the salad plates.)
An enzymatic stain treater, like OxiClean or Resolve, will also help get the job done. Or you could go as au naturel as your pubic hair and rub the stain with a little salt to lighten it before washing.
As far as personal cleanup, you may smell vaginal fluid on your hands, face, and/or body for a while afterward. We’re taught to feel ashamed of how vaginas smell, but this is totally normal and, in my humble opinion, delicious. If eau de vagina is not your favorite flavor, however, a shower should be all it takes to feel fresh. If you are feeling extra self-conscious or about to be in a high-stakes situation where someone is sniffing your hands, some corners of the internet suggest soaking them in lemon juice.
Semen is the fluid that transports sperm when people with penises ejaculate. It’s filled with fun, and also proteins. These are what mess up your sheets, or your couch, if left long enough.
Prevent cum stains on fabric or upholstery by dabbing excess semen with a paper towel or washcloth first, then spraying the area with hydrogen peroxide-containing laundry spray. You can machine wash linens/clothes, or, if the stain is on furniture, blot with water. Bleach interacts with semen to set stains rather than eliminate them, so whatever you do, don’t try to bleach cum—unless you want to turn it into beautiful tie dye.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how to clean cum in or on your body. If you like that sticky on-your-skin or drippy between-your-legs-and-buttcheeks feeling, rock on. That said, some gynos do recommend letting semen drip out of your vagina if someone does ejaculate in you during sex, so it doesn’t mess up your vaginal PH. You can let it drip into the toilet during your requisite post-sex, UTI-preventing pee, or give it a good wipe (front to back!) to facilitate the process.
We don’t have to be neat or palatable. We don’t have to apologize for our fluids.
If you want easy cleanup, keep a designated towel or some handy moist towelettes by the bed. If you’re not into cum at all for personal preference or pregnancy and STI prevention reasons, it is your absolute right to request penis-owning partners to wear condoms or spill their seed elsewhere.
Your best bet for worry-free menstrual shenanigans is to designate a sheet set to stain as much as you please. But for those times when the moment is hot and linens be damned, you can run the fresh bloodstain under cold water for a few minutes and watch the red tinge flow down the drain.
That, however, requires a lot of energy, and you’re likely exhausted from all that hot period sex. If you don’t want to worry about laundry until tomorrow morning or next week, try pretreating. Like semen, blood is protein-rich, meaning you’ll want an enzymatic stain remover like OxiClean. You can also DIY treat the stain by applying salt, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, a paste of baking soda and water, or even—weird but true!—contact solution, then letting it sit for 30 minutes or so before hitting the wash.
For blood stains on non-machine-washable items, like your couch, it’s all about dabbing. I do not mean the mid-2010s dance trend. I mean take a wet soapy cloth and use it to repeatedly pat the stain, as though it is a cute bootie, until the blood lifts off. Resist the urge to rub vigorously; with this, too, all hinges on a loving touch.
Period sex often means that blood will get on bodies, too. It’s a great idea to have a convo about STI risk before doing the old body fluid switcheroo. If you want easy clean-up, keep a handy pack of wipes near your chosen sex nook. Do not make the mistake I did and use hand sanitizer to clean period blood from your hands between sex sessions. It’s inefficient, stings like hell, and turns out rubbing alcohol + vagina is not a winning taste combination.
Do not flush condoms down the toilet! Latex kills septic tanks and is just not what we need in our water. For the love of all things holy (and your plumbing), dispose of condoms the proper way: fold ‘em up in a tissue, place them in a garbage can, and high five your sexual partner for being both sexy and responsible.
The heart, alas, can also sometimes use some tidying. There come times when we want to clear out feelings or partners that aren’t serving us. Give your space some love to bring more pleasure into your life and order into your soul.
Begin the old fashioned way: Get rid of the things you’re still keeping from past lovers whose negative traces you want out. Wash the shirt you kept because it smelled like him—or toss it. Give away the fancy pan she left, and put some money aside to get one for yourself. Burn the love notes in a backyard bonfire and singe burgers over the smoke.
Invest that longing, loving energy into your own life by nurturing objects and experiences that give you pleasure. Light a candle. Grow a plant from a seed. Wash your linens and make your bed with the sheets tucked tight like your grandma did. Windex the hell out of your bedroom window and linger a moment longer in the morning, looking at the light.
Isn’t, after all, the mess of sex ultimately a way of embracing more light? We don’t have to be neat or palatable, we don’t have to apologize for our fluids or our fucking, our courage or our cum, to touch and be touched, to love and be loved. Be as messy as you want. Because when you do find yourself bloody, whether from a broken heart or your period on the couch, all it takes is gentle, persistent attention—sometimes with a wet, soapy washcloth—to start fresh.