What's the connection between menstrual cycle and orgasm?
February 10, 2007 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Uh, Embarrassing-Sexual-Question-Filter? There seems to be some connection between being at the end of my menstrual cycle (that is, days from starting my period) and how easy it is to orgasm (that is... not at all.) Is this Science, or something I'm making up?

Probably someone obviously from all the scary menstrual talk, I'm a girl, 30s. I don't use hormonal birth control, or, in fact, medication of any kind. I'm healthy. I have a very regular menstrual cycle.

I ordinarily find it fairly easy to climax. I have a high-ish sex drive, I guess: if it matters, I think I average around 35 climaxes over a month, with my boyfriend, if he's around, or, um, not, and all of this applies to both situations.

The highest point of the bell curve seems to be around the midpoint of my cycle, presumably around ovulation. About three of four days before my period is due to start, my libido drops somewhat. I'm still happy to partake, should my boyfriend bring it up, but am less likely to initiate. Once things are actually happening, everything still feels good, but also, somehow... "muted". It's still pleasurable, but it becomes difficult to reach orgasm. Not impossible, just more difficult: more difficult the closer I am to starting my period. I find that I need sharper and sharper stimulation to get there (hence the "muted" description) and when I do orgasm, it's more of a relief than it is an OH JESUS OH JESUS experience.

Don't get me wrong. It's still an orgasm. I don't mean to complain. It just feels a LOT like the orgasms I struggled bitterly to have when I was taking SSRIs, years ago: the loooooong battle to get there, the... less-than-gloriousness when you finally do.

I've started to keep track of my fertility over the last few months, so this is the first time in years, possibly forever, that I've been really aware of where I am in my cycle. That's where my newfound realization comes in. I'd always had a vague awareness that my libido fluctuated somewhat throughout the month, and that sometimes sex was more fun than other times, but my new charts make this pre-menstrual quasi-anorgasmia really obvious, and I'm curious:

Is there a reason for this? High school biology was a long time ago, so my understanding of how a rise or drop in hormone levels might impact a woman's sex drive and ability to climax is really rusty. All the helpful sex ed texts I'm finding on this issue seem to think that most women experience a moderate-to-severe increase in libido and sex greatness just before their period, which is obviously not my experience.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

At the time you're describing progesterone starts to peak to prepare your body for potentially becoming pregnant, and that hormone is associated with sexual desire.

Read this article just above the title 'But what does all this have to do with our level of desire?'
posted by winna at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2007

It's completely plausible, because that's when you're fertile. Evolutionarily speaking, people who particularly like to have sex when they're fertile are more likely to pass their genes on.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2007

That should be "...women who..." since men are always fertile.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2007

Men are always fertile? What?

Sorry to derail this a little, but that doesn't make sense at all.
posted by MadamM at 2:10 PM on February 10, 2007

A woman is fertile for 3 days out of 28. A man is fertile for 28 days out of 28. So for purposes of making babies, any day is a good day as far as men are concerned, and there's no evolutionary reason to make orgasm (evolution's reward to us for doing things that can produce babies) more powerful at certain times of the month.

But if, no matter why, a woman is more inclined to have sex when she's fertile, during those 3 days per 28, then she's more likely to get pregnant and thus to pass on her genes.

Of course, it's much more complicated than that, since the vast majority of copulation in humans is unrelated to reproduction. That's why women are sexually receptive all the time. And why they grow breasts without ever having been pregnant, and why they have covert ovulation. Most sex in humans is social. (For a variety of reasons which are far too involved to discuss here.)

But still, from an evolutionary standpoint, women who are especially horny during those 3 days are more likely to pass on their genes.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2007

IANA woman, or a doctor, so I might be talking complete nonsense, but could it be because you just aren't all that emo-sexually stimulated, at the times you're finding it difficult to reach orgasm?

A woman's ability to orgasm depends more (or at least equally?) on her emotional state and general arousal, than on physical stimulation? Maybe your body isn't producing "horny hormones" just before you bleed, which means you aren't as "ready", which means it takes longer to get there. This is a really huge leap, and I'm very probably wrong, but do you feel uncomfortable (emotionally, not physically) having sex while you are bleeding? I'm thinking that perhaps there is some sort of biological imperative built in that reduces a woman's desire for sex, when that sex would be pointless, biologically speaking.

I must be honest, and say I have a much deeper understanding of how testosterone affects the male body and libido, so naturally that is affecting my thoughts on a woman's libido.
posted by Solomon at 2:24 PM on February 10, 2007

I'm always insanely horny when I'm on my period. I chalk it up to hormones.
posted by Brittanie at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

It affects ALL SORTS of things that you don't even think about. I'm a singer, and from about 2 days before until the last day of my cycle, I try not to sing onstage much. No matter how much breath or effort I put into a note, I can only take it so far... it's like my vocal cords are constrained. And on the flip side, immediately afterwards (for the first 4 days or so), I try to sing as much as possible because my voice can hit almost any note. It's like my voice just opens up suddenly. It's weird.

Moral of the story, I don't doubt that the changes in your body are tied to this. You may have to just get used to it & plan around it. Maybe this is the way your body works. Everyone is different.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:25 PM on February 10, 2007

I would say that the poster is pretty well in touch with herself. And shouldn't worry too much about the goal. In sex, enjoying the trip is often enough, so long as you know that you will reach the goal most of the time.
posted by yclipse at 5:59 PM on February 10, 2007

My desire peaks (and subsequently drops) at roughly the same time each cycle - I think the peaks and troughs are pretty much just part of being a woman. I wouldn't worry about it - just don't plan any romantic weekends right before your period.
posted by eleyna at 6:06 PM on February 10, 2007

Men are always fertile? What?

Sorry to derail this a little, but that doesn't make sense at all.

I blinked at that too. Fertility generally refers to the capability of pregnancy and bearing children. Though, is there an equivalent term for men? (Virile doesn't have as specific a biological meaning.)

Personally, I find my libido is not consistantly stronger or weaker during my period, but it is more unpredictable...horny to wet blanket or vice-versa with no apparent trigger.
posted by desuetude at 7:10 PM on February 10, 2007

Sexual libido is known to peak around the time of ovulation secondary to the effects of increased androgens. I can't speak to why your sex drive may be diminished towards the end of your cycle, but it's probably the relative drop in androgens combined with the normal mood changes that occur in the premenstrual period.

I also think that it's legit to refer to male fertility.
posted by commissioner12 at 8:27 PM on February 10, 2007

Without having looked it up to verify, I believe one possibility is that right before your period your progesterone levels drop, and this could also lead to a drop in sex drive.
posted by kch at 9:14 PM on February 10, 2007

I experience the exact same phenomenon. I've always been keenly aware of where I am in my cycle, so I've noticed this trend for a while. My husband notices it too, and is more or less likely to suggest sex depending on how close I am to having my period. It's not that I don't enjoy sex right before my period, it's just, as you say, somewhat muted.

As soon as I *get* my period though, all is well.

I don't know if this is also true for you, but in addition to being really horny when I ovulate, I crave cheddar cheese. All I want to do is have sex and eat massive quantities of cheese. Though not necessarily at the same time.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:09 PM on February 10, 2007

fer·tile (fûr'tl)

1. Biology.
1. Capable of initiating, sustaining, or supporting reproduction.

I think fertile is correct for describing a man capable of reproducing. So Steven is basically correct.

This sort of cycle-dependent libido is common in my (second hand) experience. As to why, I say hormones. Of course that's how I explain everything about the ladies.

Very hard to resist jokes about grapefruitmoon and cheddar.
posted by nanojath at 11:46 PM on February 10, 2007

The SSRI connection is right on, actually. Levels of serotonin fluctuate with your cycle, and are lowest right before and during your period. Your levels of endorphins are also affected by progesterone and estrogen, and they are tied directly to sexual response.

I definitely know the feeling you are describing, it is incredibly frustrating. Maybe try taking 5-HTP? It is a precursor to serotonin and definitely makes all my other PMS symptoms more bearable.
posted by mayfly wake at 6:48 AM on February 11, 2007

This absolutely happens to me, and to every other woman I've ever asked about it.

Looking at a chart of hormone fluctuation over the course of the menstrual cycle doesn't make it abundantly clear which hormone (if any) is to be credited for this monthly blessing, but I've always assumed it had something to do with hormones and the fact that this time is when a woman is most fertile.
posted by chickletworks at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2007

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