Have you ever noticed that your interest in sex changes at different times of the month? Today we are going to talk about how our hormones can change our sex drive and how we feel about sex.
A quick note on the phrase “sex drive”, before we talk about the hormones
I personally really don’t like this term. It implies that sex is something we need as humans, like food, water or sleep. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong, sex is great, but framing it as a “need” and a “drive” has dangerous consequences, especially when we use it to defend men’s behaviour towards women. It makes it sound like sex is something we are entitled to because we need it to survive. It’s not. We might not survive as a species without sex, but as individuals, we will be just fine. I know everyone uses this term (which is why it’s in the title) but I’m going to use other words to describe this idea.
It was the book Come as you are by Emily Nagoski that taught me this and I would 10/10 recommend the book – just as a side note.
Our hormones and sex
Our hormones control pretty much everything in our bodies. So of course, our hormones are also involved in sex and how we feel about sex/sexual desire/sex drive/whatever you prefer to call it.
Today we are going to talk specifically about the hormones of the menstrual cycle and how they relate to sex. There are a lot of other hormones in our body too though, and they can all interact to cause changes.
Estrogen and progesterone are the main female hormones that control our menstrual cycle. Testosterone is usually thought of as a male hormone, but women also have testosterone. Just in lower amounts than men. In women, testosterone has an effect on sexual desire as well. All three of these hormones can affect how much we feel like having sex, however, the effect that testosterone has is less clear than estrogen and progesterone.
Everyone is different
If you have read any of my other articles, then I am probably starting to sound like a broken record. But it is true. Everyone is different. There is no such thing as “normal”. I genuinely can’t recommend Emily Nagoski’s book enough if you are feeling like there is something “wrong” with your sex life.
However, if you feel that things have changed from your normal, then it might be to do with your hormones.
The menstrual cycle and our desire for sex
Generally, low levels of estrogen are associated with lower interest in sex. This means that the times in your cycle when estrogen is low you might feel less like having sex. This happens in the second half of your cycle and during your period.
Around ovulation, your estrogen levels are the highest. This is likely to be the time when you are most interested in sex which makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Around ovulation is when you are fertile and able to get pregnant, but this is not useful if you don’t also feel like having sex.
Increasing progesterone usually decreases sexual desire. Progesterone is high in the second half of your menstrual cycle (luteal phase) and during pregnancy. While some women find they don’t feel like having sex during their period (low estrogen), some find that they do. This might be due to decreasing levels of progesterone around this time. Hormones do not work in isolation, and it is the balance of these hormones that can affect how we feel.
Menopause and our desire for sex
The low levels of estrogen around and after menopause can also lead to a lower interest in sex. Some people find this distressing and there are treatments that can help with this (such as hormone replacement therapy). If you are going through menopause, or have been through menopause, and are finding your lack of interest in sex is interfering with your life then talk to your GP about things that could help.
Contraception and sex
The whole point of contraception (birth control) is to allow us to have sex without having a baby. However, some people find that hormonal contraception can mess with their interest in sex and reducing it. This doesn’t happen for everyone, and some people find that they are more interested in sex while on contraception.
If you think that your contraception might be negatively affecting your sex life then talk to your doctor about other options. This website might also be helpful if you want more information. And remember your fertile window is actually only 6-7 days so fully understanding what happens to your hormones when you are on contraception may make you look at other non hormonal options.
People using hormonal contraception don’t usually experience the cyclical changes in sexual desire that people with “natural” cycles do. This might mean you have a consistently lower interest in sex, or you might feel like having sex all the time. Everyone is different, remember? And depending on contraceptive method your hormones do not fluctuate like they do in people with a “natural” cycle.
Other things to remember
It is important to remember that lots of things can affect whether or not you feel like having sex. Stress, anxiety, relationship issues, depression, fatigue or even poor communication can affect your sex life. It is not just a matter of hormonal balance, but also balance in all aspects of your life.
There are also medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders or cancers that might affect your interest in sex.
Speaking to a psychologist, therapist or doctor might be helpful if you have concerns about your life or health that are interfering with your sex life.