I’d always assumed that fluctuations in a person’s sex drive are due to external influences—exhaustion stemming from an over-scheduled lifestyle, for example, or having a fight with your S.O. However, after a recent alcohol-fueled conversation with girlfriends, we discovered that we were all kind of on the same sex schedule, and after a big of digging I discovered why: Your period actually has a huge impact on your libido, and most women feel more or less turned on depending on where they are in their cycle.
Dr. Shannon Chavez is a sex therapist, a licensed clinical psychologist, and an expert in all things libido-related. She explained to me there are “physiological, psychological, and hormonal changes” impacting why you might be feeling more—or less—turned on at any given time. Specifically, we’re more likely to want sex on the days around ovulation, which occurs around 12 or 14 days before your period starts. “A woman’s libido is highest during what I describe as her fertility window, which can vary by a couple of days here and there. This usually starts anywhere from two to four days before ovulation and several days after, and is caused by a surge of the hormones that can lead to a stronger desire, especially testosterone,” Dr. Chavez explained.
This all comes back to basic biology, and the fact that we’re all wired and built for one (admittedly prehistoric) goal: Have sex, make babies, ensure survival of our species. “A surge in hormones during ovulation along with pheromones, which are chemical messengers that send out signals to attract a mate, will increase a woman’s drive for sex and desirability for a partner,” Dr Chavez said. And yes, having sex while ovulating increases your changes of getting pregnant.
The reverse is also true—right before and during your period (when you also happen to be less fertile), you’re less likely to want sex. “Right before menstruation and the week of is when women would most commonly feel a dip in their libido. A woman’s testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are all at their lowest during this time, which can make you feel a dip in your sex drive,” Dr Chavez said, adding that physical changes in your body can also make women feel undesirable around this time and impact sexual desire. Bloating and cramps could be likely culprits.
There are a couple of other things that can impact your libido throughout the month, and the first one is actually avoiding sex—Dr Chavez said that by not getting busy during your period, you could experience a higher sex drive later in the month.
If you’re on the pill, that could also affect the natural dip and rise in desire. One German study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that the birth control pill is a complete sex-drive neutralizer for some women. Dr. Chavez explained that by “controlling the natural influx or hormones during the ovulation period that lead to higher sex drive,” the pill could “interfere with genital blood flow” and actually make it harder to achieve an orgasm, or even feel turned on.
So, when your hormones aren’t conducive to enjoyable sexy-times, what can you do to get in the mood? Chavez suggests exploring other forms of intimacy to try and switch-up your mood. “Connection through touch, sensual play, and fantasy can all lead to an increase in the sexual drive. It’s also important to think about sex. Use your fantasy to imagine a past sexual experience that was pleasurable. Think of novel and unique ways in which you want to explore your sexuality,” she said.
Her second recommendation: self-stimulation. “It is a great way to get in touch with your body and engage your sexual response and desire. Masturbation can alleviate symptoms of PMS including cramps and moodiness and is also connected with improved body image and sexual functioning. It’s important for women to remember that arousal can precede desire.”