Here’s How the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle May Affect Your Sex Life

Have you ever noticed that, along with your energy and mood, your libido changes throughout your menstrual cycle? I remember discovering this phenomenon in college, one of those profound, “oh it’s not just me?!” moments. 

Thanks to the lack of medically accurate and inclusive sex education in the U.S., many folx who bleed get to adulthood without knowing much about their cycle at all—nevermind how it impacts other parts of their life—and especially not their sex life.

The impact of your menstrual cycle on your sex drive is more than just physical

The four phases of your cycle also impact how you feel: How nervous you may be for a meeting at work, how a friend’s snide comment affects you, or how excited you are for an intense workout can all drastically vary based on where you are in your cycle. And all of these life experiences and reactions can, of course, impact your sex drive. Remember: the context in which you have sex is as important—if not more so—than the sex itself. And context includes biology and so much more.

Your experience matters

Below we’ve outlined the hormonal and libido changes you can expect throughout your cycle. Use this guide as a rough outline for what to expect, as well as to help normalize your experience. But remember: every body is different and there are many confounding factors like stress, illness, medication, etc. If something doesn’t match up or feels opposite to your experience, that’s OK! You know your body best and here’s what the research says—having both, together, makes you unstoppable. 

Glossary

Luteinizing hormone (LH): a Hormone produced in the brain that causes the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation)

Follicular stimulating hormone (FSH): a hormone produced during your period that tells the ovaries to prepare an egg for ovulation

Progesterone: a hormone produced by the corpus luteum (sac that the follicle grew in) that signals menstruate if the egg isn’t fertilized 

Estrogen: a hormone produced by a growing follicle (egg) in your ovary that is involved in thickening the uterine lining. It also impacts your libido and metabolism.

Testosterone: typically thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is also produced in the ovaries and supports your libido, muscle mass, and energy 

Pheromones: chemical messengers that send out signals to attract sexual partners to you

Menstrual Phase

What’s going on with your hormones?

LH, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone are at their lowest levels. FSH begins to rise, preparing the body for another cycle.

What’s going on with your libido?

Most menstruators fall into one of two categories: totally turned on or don’t even think about it.  For everyone who finds that their interest in sex goes missing on their period, there’s someone who craves more sexual intimacy than at any other time in their cycle. 

It’s worth noting that how you feel about your period, as well as how you feel physically, can impact your libido. The reduced risk of pregnancy, extra lubrication, and potential for your orgasm to reduce cramping can be total turn-ons for some folx who bleed. On the other hand, the fatigue, pain, nausea, squick factor, and blood might make the idea of period sex unbearable.

Follicular Phase

What’s going on with your hormones?

Estrogen and testosterone begin rising. 

What’s going on with your libido?

You likely feel more energized, confident, and flirty—and with that, more turned on. Your interest in sex begins rising and you might find yourself initiating sex or taking charge in the bedroom more. 

Ovulatory Phase

What’s going on with your hormones?

Your estrogen levels peak a few days before ovulation occurs and plummet immediately after. LH and FSH peak right before ovulation as well, but have a slower decline after the egg is released from the ovary. Testosterone also peaks and begins to drop. 

What’s going on with your libido?

You may find that your desire increases in the days leading up to and during ovulation. You might mastrubate, fantasize, and consume erotica (written or visual) more. One small study even showed that heterosexual, cisgender women preferred penis in vagina sex over oral around the time of ovulation. There’s also more vaginal discharge, which can heighten sensation and keep sex on your mind, both of which can help turn you on.

Luteal Phase

What’s going on with your hormones?

Progesterone rises during this phase, then peaks about halfway through, and falls if no pregnancy occurs. Estrogen rebounds slightly before dropping again in the days before your bleed. LH, FSH, and testosterone continue dropping. 

What’s going on with your libido?

It’s likely beginning to fall. This is especially true if you deal with PMS symptoms that impact your energy, mood, and body image. Progesterone is known to make you moodier and more anxious. Given that stress is a turn off for many people, having that heightened isn’t exactly going to do wonders for your libido.

Track to learn your cyclic changes

Tracking your cycle—whether you’re on hormonal birth control or not—helps you understand your body’s changes and desires. Knowing what feels better when means you get more of what you want—and makes it easier to more freedom in pleasure.

Want to learn more about how the four phases of the menstrual cycle affect different parts of your life?

Download Your Guide to a Better Period

 

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One Comment

  • Hello, I was reading an article in which you mentioned that pheromones are: “chemical messengers that send out signals to attract sexual partners to you.” While this is true for some species, the existence of pheromones in humans is based on speculation. Research done on pheromones are often not conducted well methodologically. The problem is that due to butchered research techniques there are companies who sell “pheromone perfume” (which is a virtual scam) to unknowing individuals. I would advise you to remove this statement on pheromones as it is not fact but speculation. If you would like to read more I suggest you read this article by the American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/pheromones.

    Thank you.

    Reply

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