Sex And Your Cycle: How Your Libido Changes Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle
Your sex drive changes throughout your menstrual cycle with your naturally fluctuating hormone levels, and the physical changes your body goes through each cycle affecting not only if and when you’re in the mood to get it on, but exactly what kind of sex you might be most up for.
Your period and hormones might seem like an unpredictable mystery at times, but they’re actually super easy to track and hack - by which we mean, once you get to know your cycle, you also get a better understanding of how to harness your hormones to make them work for you. Yep, even the worst bouts of PMS can be mitigated! Whether you want to stick it to your cramps, combat hormone-induced mood swings, or go up against your PMS-induced stress, here are some of our top tips for working with your menstrual cycle to get the most out of your sex life. Added bonus? We’re giving you a sex toy recommendation for each stage of the cycle, so you can get frisky in style whether you’re flying solo or partnered up.
At ohne, we refer to the different phases of the menstrual cycle as ‘seasons’, with your period being winter, the follicular phase being spring, ovulatory phase being summer, and the luteal phase being autumn. These categories help us to understand and visualise the different characteristics of each phase - think hibernation vibes in winter vs an emphasis on socialising and vibrancy in summer.
Phase one: the bleeding bit
Your menstrual cycle starts the day your period drops into town. The first phase of your menstrual cycle, which we refer to as winter, lasts only as long as your period does. Think of it like winter - your hormone levels are all at their lowest, your body wants to retreat into itself and get some much needed downtime as it sheds your uterine lining ready for the new cycle.
In order to shed the lining of the uterus, the uterus muscles aggressively contract to compress the blood vessels lining your womb. While contracting muscles can be a source of pain in and of themselves, this process also prevents oxygen from reaching the uterus, which contains tissues that release chemicals that trigger pain when they are deprived of oxygen.
But we promised to chat about sex. So what exactly is happening with your sex drive while your uterus gets on with that? Well, this is actually a pretty hot debate. At the beginning of your period, you have low levels of all the sex hormones; the lack of oestrogen can mean your sex drive isn’t very high, but for many people, as your PMS symptoms start to abate with the dip in progesterone (AKA the sedating hormone), this could be a time in which you start to feel your sex drive returning after a lull.
Whether or not you feel turned on while menstruating has a lot to do with your social or interpersonal feelings about period sex - the subject is laden with taboos - which we mostly think are utter bull here at ohne, but we know it can be pretty hard to shake a lifetime’s worth of stigma. If you’re of the opinion that period sex is a bit icky or if you suffer from bad period symptoms such as aggressive cramps, it’s unlikely you’ll have a high sex drive during phase one.
However - and here’s why it’s a ‘hot debate’ - for many people, the natural lubrication of your period is a turn-on, the dip in progesterone lifts your mood, and the blood flow stimulates the nerves around your genitals, leaving you feeling aroused and up for a bloody shag.
Orgasms are actually an amazing way to reduce period pain- especially if you’re interested in whipping out a vibrator! This is because vibes are not just bloody fun, they’re also a total heavyweight when it comes to kicking your cramps out the door. Here’s how it works: the vibrations of your chosen vibrator (clitoral or internal) stimulate blood flow and oxygen to genitals, helping to ease cramps which are caused by the contracting uterus muscles depriving tissue of oxygen. The vibrations also awaken your nerve endings more than stimulation from fingers, a mouth, or someone else’s genitals can. So, uh, hello, 8,000 clitoris nerve-endings!
Recommended sex toy for your period
A clitoral stimulator. Clitoral vibes are for external stimulation only, and are perfect for stimulation of the clitoris. Obviously, figure out what works for you, but if your reproductive organs are feeling a bit battered during this time, we don’t necessarily recommend internal vibrators or sex toys, as they put pressure on the already contracting vagina and your cervix is naturally positioned much lower during this time as it open to allow the uterine lining to pass through. A clitoral vibe stimulates your clitoris and can send gentle vibrations through your body to help ease that muscle tension. If you get sensitive nipples or breasts during your period, which is a common symptom, you might find that some light nipple play with your vibe also feels pretty amazing.
Phase two: post-period
Right after your period, you’re in the follicular phase, also known as spring. Your oestrogen and testosterone levels all start to rise again, giving you a renewed sense of motivation, energy, and lifted mood. Maisie Hill, hormone oracle and author of Period Power: harness your hormones and get your cycle working for you, recommends not going totally wild in this phase simply because you’re buoyed by all that new found energy. You don’t want to burn out too soon, as that energy will continue to build up until ovulation, when you’ll feel more like embarking on some wild sexcapades.
A bonus of this phase of your cycle is your increased confidence. It’s true that, in the run up to ovulation, your body is on a bit or a primitive/instinctual baby-making mission. Regardless of whether you actually have sex with people who could get you pregnant, your body is operating under the goal of getting as much sperm stored up in there as possible so that you have the best chance of concieving come ovulation time. Sperm can live in the body for around five, but up to seven, days, so if you are having sex with folks who, well, have sperm, be sure to be careful during this time if baby-making isn’t on your agenda! Conversely, if you’re trying for a baby, now is the time to lock yourselves away in your bedroom and go at it like rabbits.
Best sex toys to use during your follicular phase
Your cervix is still low at this time, but as you approach ovulation it will rise up to the top of the vagina. This phase is really the time to get creative in the bedroom. With vaginal lubrication levels increasing in the days leading up to ovulation, you’re not as likely to need copious amounts of lube to try out that wand or dildo you’ve had your eye on! We recommend getting experimental with internal vibes at this point, depending on your comfort level you might want to start of with a smaller one right after your period ends (remember your cervix is still positioned pretty low - you don’t wanna go pounding the poor thing) and progress to more ~adventurous~ ones as you approach your ovulatory phase. Check out Ellen Terrie’s range of internal g-spot stimulators right here!
Phase three: ovulatory phase
AKA it’s baby-making time, baby! Or so your body would have you believe, anyway. Ovulation occurs roughly in the middle of your cycle or 14 days before your next period; if you have the average 28-day cycle, it will occur at about day 14. In other words, expect to be horny af in the build up to, and day of ovulation.
Your sex hormones (oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone) are all spiking, and not to be crass, but they’re essential all tag-teaming to get you laid and pregnant. Again, I know this might not feel relevant to you if you’re not having sex with someone who could potentially get you pregnant, but it does help you to understand your sex drive and how your sexual preferences and desires may change throughout your menstrual cycle!
So, your hormones are playing wing-woman, they’ve increased your energy levels and mood, boosted your confidence, made your face literally more symmetrical, and even cleared up your skin. Oestrogen increases blood flow to your genitals which makes you feel turned on, progesterone helps strengthen your pelvic floor (which helps you experience more intense orgasms), and testosterone increases your sex drive. This is the time to go out on hot dates, experiment with your partner, and shoot for the more ambitious positions and longer, wilder sex sessions. Your hormones have got your back.
Best sex toy for when you're ovulating
Go wild. We recommend a sex toy that does it all - stimulating the clitoris and providing internal, g-stop stimulating. Your cervix is as high as your sex drive and your body is laying down the red carpet for penetrative sex, so why not go all out? These dual action vibes have got your back (and your vagina).
Phase four: luteal
The final phase is also known as autumn. It’s where you’ll experience what’s commonly referred to as PMS and your sex drive will likely be at it’s lowest ebb of your whole menstrual cycle. With progesterone (the ‘sedating hormone’) spiking then plummeting during this phase and oestrogen and testosterone dipping, don’t be surprised if you also experience a sudden drop in your energy levels or experience irritability, mood swings, and feelings of anxiety.
Don’t underestimate the power of physical touch during this time, even if you’re not feeling super sexy, any and all physical contact, from holding hands and hugging to masturbation and sex, can cause oxytocin and endorphins to be released, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. We seriously recommend getting in some quality me-time during this phase, both for some much needed self-care during this time and specifically when it comes to sexual self-care. Touch yourself sensually, give yourself a pamper session, and take your time to feel present in your body. This could lead to you feeling aroused and wanting to have sex or masturbate.
When your genitals are touched, even if you’re not trying to orgasm, blood flow is stimulated to the area and will in turn increase your feelings of desire. Sex could well give you the flood of good-vibes you’re in need of during this week but, even if you want to keep it PG-13, you’ll still benefit from the oxytocin release/endorphin rush of non-sexual touch and intimacy.
What sex toys should you use when you're PMS-ing?
This might again be a time to whip out the clitoral stimulators as they’re a little gentler and can be used to stimulate nerve endings all over your body, not just your genitals, prompting relaxation and helping to ease tension sensually, slowly, and mindfully. If you are planning on having sex during this time, our top top tip would be to explore using lubricants in this phase. Vaginal lubrication tends to be naturally pretty low during this time and we want to go easing on our PMS-ing bodies. Try experimenting with different lubes; for bonus sexual pampering points, why not try out a silicon based lube in a romantic candlelit bath?!
Sex and the cycle: a summary
As most of us probably know, our sex drives are most definitely not an exact science. They can be influenced by anything and everything around us: our routines, our sleep schedules, our stress levels, and societal pressure (period sex is amazing, but unfortunately not everyone agrees yet!). It’s worth noting that, commonly, the more sex you have, the higher your sex drive tends to be - if you’re someone who has a lot of sex, or a naturally very high sex drive, you might not be as sensitive to your hormonal shifts. If you’re not having a lot of sex or have a naturally lower sex drive, you might feel these shifts really keenly and might be more sensitive to the effects of physical PMS symptoms such as tender boobs or bloating making you feel the opposite of sexy. Whether you fall into one of those camps or somewhere in the middle, know that it’s all totally normal.
Getting to know your menstrual cycle can definitely help you understand your body and foster intimacy with yourself. It can also help you to identify patterns and ways to overcome obstacles in your cycle. For example, if you want to have more sex but your hormonal imbalances make your mood swings around your luteal phase too extreme for you to manage, resulting in giving up on all attempts to initiate sex with your partner because you’re feeling irritable, confused, and/or anxious, know that you don’t have to just put up with it. You can take steps to balance your hormones through your diet and your routine.
If there’s one piece of advice we’d give to anyone wanting to bring more sexual pleasure into their lives, it’s this: get intimate with yourself. Play with vibrators and other sex toys. Learn to indulge in sexual self-care, intimacy with yourself, and shift the focus away from orgasm. Learn to just enjoy the different sensations of toys and touch and feel your body respond accordingly. Track your cycle and learn the patterns in your shifting libido.
Content Manager at ohne
When she's not writing about periods and waxing lyrical about the joys of organic tampons, you can find Isabella's writing here.
ohne is a holistic cycle care brand dedicated to helping everyone get to know their bodies, understand their cycles, and figure out how to get their hormones working for them. The female founded company makes 100% organic cotton period products, the UK's first pro-period CBD oils, and the proudest period merch around. Check them out at @im_ohne