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Libido and the menstrual cycle

Libido and the menstrual cycle

If you’re a person who ovulates, you may have noticed that your libido fluctuates at different stages of your cycle. You might feel increasingly horny at the two-week mark and much less so just before your period. Or you might find that you get increasingly aroused on the days leading up to your period. 

So what’s going on in your body, and why is this change in arousal so noticeable? By checking in with the biological processes that occur during our menstrual cycles, we can gain a deeper understanding of our bodies and our sexual desires. Let’s start from the beginning:

Follicular Phase 

This is the first phase of the menstrual cycle, starting from day one (the first day of menstruation) and finishing at around day 14 (when ovulation usually commences). During this phase, the ovaries produce around five to 20 follicles that each contain an immature egg. The growth of these follicles also stimulates the thickening of the uterus lining, in preparation for possible pregnancy. 

Some people report feeling more aroused during this half of the cycle. This may be because the developing follicles cause higher levels of oestrogen, which promotes vaginal lubrication and increased sexual desire. In turn, there are lower levels of progesterone, which can reduce sexual desire.

Ovulation 

Ovulation marks the end of the follicular phase, which usually occurs about 14 days before the next period in an average 28-day cycle. During ovulation, mature eggs are released from the follicles on the surface of the ovary and funneled through the fallopian tubes. 

Many people don’t have a ‘regular’ 28-day cycle, so you can figure out when you’re ovulating by keeping a menstrual calendar. You might also notice an increase in vaginal discharge around this time (elastic, stretchy and white). 

Those who track their monthly cycles are likely to discover that increased arousal occurs just before ovulation. Since ovulation is a time of high fertility and our bodies are biologically inclined to procreate, many people often experience a heightened libido during this period. It is also the time when oestrogen and testosterone levels are at their peak, which can trigger increased stimulation and vaginal lubrication.  

Obviously, ovulation improves the chances of getting pregnant. If this is something you’re aiming for, increased sexual activity around this time is a go. If you’re not looking to get pregnant, it’s important to use protection (really important). 

Luteal phase 

The luteal phase is the second phase of your cycle, following ovulation. The ruptured follicles that remain on the surface of the ovary begin to release progesterone and small amounts of oestrogen. The decreasing level of oestrogen and the increasing level of progesterone can contribute to a loss of libido. The likelihood of conceiving starts to decrease, which can also add to a reduced desire for sex (although we recommend the use of protection, as you can still get pregnant).

Menstruation 

If pregnancy has not occurred, menstruation begins (usually at around day 22). This process is the elimination of the thickened uterus lining (endometrium) through the vagina. 

Since menstruation marks the beginning of a new cycle, it can also mark an increase in sexual arousal. This may be due to heightened sensitivity and lubrication in the genital area, or pre-period bloating that puts pressure on the G-spot. For some, the knowledge that pregnancy is less likely might also be a motivator for increased sexual desire. Sex or masturbation can also provide pain relief to those who suffer from menstrual cramps, fatigue or other PMS symptoms. 

Of course, fluctuating libidos are not reducible to hormones, and there are a range of other factors that might influence changes in arousal. Your stress levels, diet and health, past traumas, relationship satisfaction, to name a few. 

Of course, there is no standard fit when it comes to just about anything to do with our bodies, arousal being no exception. From a hormonal perspective, it can be enlightening to know why we’re feeling horny - but nothing in our bodies runs like clockwork. Our advice? If you’re feeling it, don’t question it! Lean in and have fun.

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