Menstrual Cycle and Libido: Exploring the Connection Between Hormones and Sexuality

During the menstrual cycle, menstruators experience hormonal fluctuations that can influence different aspects of their health. One notable area affected by these changes is sexual desire.

Hormones, particularly oestrogen and progesterone, shift throughout the cycle, often altering mood, physical comfort levels, and libido.

The cyclical nature of these hormones means that, at certain times in the cycle, some may feel an increased sexual desire while others may notice a decrease.

If you are a menstruator, understanding those hormonal changes can shed light on fluctuations in your sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction throughout your cycle. It can also help you navigate your menstrual cycle more effectively, fostering a brighter sense of well-being, while adding to your personal and intimate relationships.

In this guide, we explore the intricate relationship between the menstrual cycle and libido. Let’s examine how shifting hormone levels can influence sexual desire and experiences during the different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Key Takeaways

  • The menstrual cycle has distinct phases, each having an impact on sexual desire and libido.

  • The menstrual phase may see varied responses, with some experiencing increased sexual arousal.

  • The follicular phase is associated with heightened sexual desire, thanks to rising oestrogen levels.

  • Ovulation marks the peak of sexual desire due to hormonal fluctuations and evolutionary factors.

  • The luteal phase may lead to a decrease in sexual desire, primarily attributed to elevated progesterone levels.

  • Communication, use of proper protection, and self-care are crucial for maintaining a satisfying sex life throughout the menstrual cycle.

Understanding Hormones: Their Influence on Libido Throughout the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is a central aspect of many people’s reproductive health. It usually involves three to five days of menstruation, or bleeding, once every cycle. With healthy cycles being consistent every 25-35 days.

This cyclical body process is regulated by different hormones that work together.

The key hormone players include:

  • Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone (GnRH): GnRH is produced in the hypothalamus and controls the release of FSH and LH from the pituitary gland, orchestrating ovulation and menstruation.

  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): FSH, released from the pituitary gland, supports the growth of ovarian follicles, leading to ovulation during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

  • Luteinizing Hormone (LH): LH, released alongside FSH, triggers ovulation and promotes the formation of the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone.

  • Oestrogen: Oestrogen influences uterine lining growth and follicular development, impacting sexual development and various physiological processes.

  • Progesterone: Produced by the corpus luteum, progesterone prepares the uterus for pregnancy, modulating mood, metabolism, and sexual behaviour.

  • Testosterone: Testosterone, produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, regulates libido, muscle mass, and bone density.  For menstruators this peaks during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

The levels of the hormones mentioned above fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, impacting sexual desire and libido. 

Oestrogen and testosterone, in particular, play critical roles in increasing sexual interest and arousal, while progesterone can have the opposite effect.

Phase 1: The Menstrual Phase

The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the menstrual phase, typically lasting 3 to 5 days. During this time, menstruators experience menstrual bleeding.

When it comes to sexual desire during the menstrual phase, the research varies. In an interview published on Time, Tara Ford, a physician assistant at the Medical Center for Female Sexuality, stated that each menstruator experiences a different level of sexual desire during their period.

Some experience a decrease in interest in sex due to discomfort and the annoyances associated with their period. Others, however, experience an increase in their sexual arousal during this time as a result of rising oestrogen levels.

If you fall into the latter category, you may wonder whether you can or should engage in sexual activity during this phase. The answer is yes, if you feel called too.

According to Ford, if you feel comfortable about it, you may continue having sex during that time of your cycle. You may even experience an increase in pleasure with period sex as your menstrual flow can act as a natural lubricant.

Beyond that, engaging in sexual activity during menstruation can bring about other benefits, including the following:

Benefits of Sex During Menstruation

Explanation

Pain relief and relaxation

Orgasms release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. Engaging in sexual activity can help alleviate menstrual cramps and promote relaxation.

Shortened menstruation duration

Muscle contractions during orgasm may help expel menstrual blood more efficiently, potentially leading to a shorter period.

Improved mood and reduced stress

Sexual activity triggers the release of endorphins and reduces stress hormones, contributing to improved mood and emotional well-being.

Enhanced intimacy and bonding

Sharing this experience with your partner can strengthen emotional connections and foster a more profound sense of intimacy.

Relief from cycle signs and menstrual symptoms

Engaging in sexual activity can temporarily distract from menstrual discomfort and provide a pleasurable diversion.

 

To further enhance sexual desire during the menstrual phase and practise safe sex, take these considerations in mind:

  • Communication: Having open and honest communication with your partner about your desires and comfort levels is essential during this phase. As Ford pointed out, you shouldn’t presume that your partner will find your period unpleasant. Discussing it with your intimate partner well before engaging in sexual activity can be wildly beneficial.
  • Hygiene: Maintaining good hygiene can help reduce concerns related to menstrual blood and encourage intimacy. Using items like Splash Blankets for free bleeding, towels, or even having sexual intimacy in the shower can support all of this.
  • Menstrual Discomfort: Increased oxytocin and cervical stimulation with sexual activity can support reducing menstrual discomfort.
  • Protection: Although the chance of conceiving during a period is low, it is possible. Similarly, you are still susceptible to acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Certain viruses, like hepatitis, are blood-borne and can be spread by coming in contact with contaminated menstrual blood. Therefore, take precautions to lessen your chances of becoming pregnant and obtaining or transmitting an STI.

Phase 2: The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase follows menstruation, leading up to ovulation. During this phase, the body prepares for potential pregnancy by developing follicles in the ovaries, and oestrogen levels rise.

Research suggests that the follicular phase is associated with increased sexual desire and libido. Oestrogen, a hormone that surges during this phase, plays a significant role in heightening arousal and sexual interest.

A study published in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior found that menstruators tended to initiate sex more and showed greater interest in sex just before ovulation, which aligns with the rising oestrogen levels during the follicular phase.

Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Human Nature showed how a menstruator’s perception of kissing changes depending on the phase of their cycle. It was found that participants in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle seem to place more importance on kissing when starting a relationship.

Conversely, menstruators in the luteal phase, which occurs after ovulation, don’t rate kissing as highly in the early stages of romance.

This insight suggests that during the follicular phase, some women use kissing to evaluate a potential partner. It’s like a natural tool for assessing mate suitability when the likelihood of conceiving is high.

With increased sexual desire during the follicular phase, this is an ideal time to explore new sexual experiences and fantasies with your partner. However, note that this phase is the fertile window in the menstrual cycle, which means conception is highly potential and is more likely to occur.

If you’re not looking to conceive, ensure you’re using appropriate natural contraception methods.

Phase 3: Ovulation

Ovulation, the peak of the cycle, is when the mature follicle releases an egg, making it the most fertile phase of the cycle. Ovulation is marked by a luteinising hormone (LH) surge and a temporary increase in body temperature.

Ovulation is often referred to as the peak of sexual desire within the menstrual cycle. Several factors contribute to this heightened libido, including hormonal changes and the evolutionary drive for reproduction.

A 2004 study has observed that females, especially mated participants, tend to exhibit an increased desire to have sex and experience heightened sexual arousal during this phase — likely as a result of these hormonal fluctuations.

If you are trying to conceive, having sex during ovulation increases your chances of conception. Conversely, if you’re not planning to conceive, ensure you’re practising safe sex practices, as this phase carries the highest risk of conception.

Phase 4: The Luteal Phase

Following ovulation, the luteal phase lasts for approximately 11-14 days. During this time, the body starts producing more progesterone compared to oestrogen. However, both these hormone levels gradually decrease as the body prepares for menstruation, marking the transition towards a new cycle.

A decrease in sexual desire and libido in many menstruators characterises the luteal phase. Many people also experience fatigue and mood swings, potentially impacting their interest in sex.

As one study pointed out, during the late-luteal phase, menstruators experience increased sadness and reduced amusement, associated with reduced levels of sex hormones.

To cope with the changes in libido during the luteal phase, follow these tips:

  • Self-Care: Engage in self-care activities to alleviate cycle signs and PMS symptoms and enhance overall well-being. These include exercising, consuming a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, hydration, pampering yourself, and taking supplements.

  • Communication: Maintain open communication with your partner about your changing desires and comfort levels.

Conclusion

Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormone levels fluctuate, impacting sexual desire and libido.

Oestrogen and testosterone, in particular, play critical roles in increasing sexual interest and arousal. At the same time, progesterone can have the opposite effect.

While scientific research provides valuable insights, it’s essential to remember that individual experiences may vary widely. Some people may find their sexual desire remains consistent throughout their menstrual cycle, while others may notice pronounced fluctuations. 

Understanding your body’s unique responses and communicating openly with your partner can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying sex life.

If you are intrigued about your libido during your menstrual period, consider reaching out to a Menstrual Cycle Coach. These professional coaches specialise in understanding the intricacies of the menstrual cycle and can offer guidance tailored to your specific needs.

Join us to learn more about the relationship between menstruation and libido and even develop the skills to support other menstruators in this area!

Frequently Asked Questions

The menstrual cycle consists of four different phases, each with its influence on sexual desire. For instance, the follicular phase is associated with heightened sexual desire due to increased oestrogen levels. Conversely, the luteal phase often sees a decrease in libido due to elevated progesterone levels.

Engaging in sexual activity during menstruation may lead to increased sexual arousal for some individuals. The reason for it are hormonal changes that may lead to increased comfort with their bodies during this phase. However, experiences can vary widely.

Certain sex positions may be more comfortable during menstruation, such as those that minimise pressure on the abdomen. Try experimenting with positions and techniques to find those that work best for you and your partner.

Yes, for some people, sexual activity can provide relief from menstrual cramps. Orgasms release endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers and can temporarily alleviate discomfort.

Some studies suggest that muscle contractions during orgasm may help expel menstrual blood more efficiently, potentially leading to a shorter period. However, the extent of this effect varies among individuals.

While sex during menstruation is generally safe, it's essential to practise safe sex to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Additionally, some people may experience increased sensitivity or discomfort during this time, so stay attentive to each other's comfort.

Yes, it is entirely normal for sexual desire to fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.

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