Did you know that the phases of your menstrual cycle can influence not only your desire for sex but also the type of attraction you feel? Each person’s cycle uniquely impacts their body and mind throughout the month.
People keep track of their menstrual cycle for many different reasons. You might be tracking fertility to try to become pregnant. You may track your cycle if you’ve ever had irregular periods or pelvic pain. For some, tracking may simply mean knowing approximately when you need some extra tampons in your office drawer.
Another reason to track your cycle is to deepen your connection to your own sexuality. Though many people intuitively know that their cycle impacts their sex drive, research is beginning to show just how the different phases of our cycle are related to arousal and desire.
Sex Drive and Your Cycle
Getting to know your cycle is the first step in creating more sexual awareness throughout the month. The average cycle lasts 29 days. However, it’s normal for any given cycle to be between 21-35 days. This can also fluctuate month to month. There are four phases of your cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal.
Your cycle starts on the first day of your period. Though the week of your period is not typically understood to be a time of heightened sexual desire, sex during your period can still be incredibly enjoyable. In fact, having an orgasm during your period can calm cramps and brighten your mood.
Once you stop bleeding, you enter the follicular phase. This is the phase of the cycle where you might feel a sexy, abundant glow. During this time, your uterine lining begins to thicken and each of your ovaries works on maturing an egg to be released during ovulation. You’re moving into that fuller, fertile phase when your body is preparing for hypothetical pregnancy.
We are often told that women experience the highest desire for sex during ovulation. However, recent research indicates that you’re most likely to feel a consistently high level of arousal during the mid to late follicular phase of your cycle. From a reproductive perspective, this could be because sperm can remain in your uterus for up to six days after vaginal intercourse. The follicular phase is (surprise!) the six days before you ovulate. Having a higher sex drive during this time could result in more sex and, hypothetically, a build-up of healthy sperm in the uterus in the critical days before ovulation.
Aside from your period, the other phase you may be able to monitor without assistance is ovulation. Ovulation begins when your egg is released into your fallopian tubes. This is a powerful moment in the cycle which lasts only a few days. Ovulation tends to happen two weeks before you get your period. It is sometimes accompanied by extra vaginal discharge that is often compared to slippery egg-whites. You may also experience some cramping or back pain around ovulation. If you know how long your average personal cycle is, you should be able to estimate ovulation. You can then track your body for associated physical changes around that time.
Though you and others may not be able to consciously identify when ovulation is happening, it can impact attraction, flirtation, and dating/mating behaviors.
Have you ever found that you suddenly have an eye for every handsome guy with a beard for about a week a month? Well, ovulation can affect which traits attract you to a partner. During ovulation, a woman is more likely to fantasize about individuals who are not her primary partner. Women also tend to develop short term attraction for partners who demonstrate a confident social presence and some competitiveness.
On the contrary, your long term partner is likely to be more focused on you while you’re ovulating. Many women notice that their romantic partners are more attentive but also more territorial close to ovulation.
Curiously enough, many people experience an increase in sexual desire at the very end of the luteal phase, even though it is considered a non-fertile part of the cycle. The luteal phase is a transitional phase. It begins when your follicles produce a hormone meant to support a fertilized egg in the uterus. However, if there is no fertilized egg, the luteal phase ends with the breaking down of your thick uterine lining as your body prepares for your next period. Though there’s no clear biological reasoning for a heightened sex drive during this time, we can take advantage of it to lift our spirits during premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Hormonal Birth Control and Your Cycle
Hormonal forms of birth control such as non-copper IUDs, the implant, and the Pill, all rely on synthetic progestin and estrogen that eliminate ovulation and suppress the thickening of your uterine lining. Since these forms of birth control disrupt your natural cycle, it’s likely that you won’t experience the rise and fall of sexual desire in the same way as someone who is not using hormonal birth control does. However, 62 percent of women report an increased sex drive after starting hormonal birth control. Noticing when and how that increased sex drive shows up for you will probably require a little personal observation of your own body.
Tracking Desire Throughout Your Cycle
Tracking the length of your cycle is easy—simply record the first day of each period. The time between the first day of your periods is your cycle. Knowing precisely where each of the four phases begin and end is much more difficult to track without the help of a professional like an OB-GYN or fertility specialist. In general, the menstrual and follicular phases are around six days long each. Ovulation lasts between two and three days. The luteal phase is the longest, as it can last up to 16 days.
Once you have a good sense of where menstruation and ovulation tend to fall on the average month for you, begin to pay attention to how your desire for sex, fantasies, and flirtations fluctuate through these phases. Is there a certain part of your cycle where you feel deeply sexy in your own skin? How can you take advantage of that glowing feeling? Conversely, are there phases of your cycle that leave you feeling low-energy and drab? How can you practice more self-compassion and acceptance in these moments knowing that they are a natural part of your flow through each month?
Science can give us some guidance on the connection between our cycles and our sexuality. However, each body is different. By becoming more aware of how desire, arousal, and attraction map onto your own cycle month after month, you build a personal wisdom that will allow you to grow more connected to your own sexual expression.