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Illustration by Katrin Friedmann

Sex

Sex, sensation, and the menstrual cycle

by Anna Druet, Former Science and Education Manager
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The way sex feels can change throughout your cycle. Something that felt great on day 14 may be less comfortable on day 26. These changes are real, and happen in response to your reproductive hormones.

You may not notice a pattern until you pay attention to timing. Knowing what feels better at certain times can help you understand your body’s changes — and get you more of what you want. Adding tags in Clue will help you track the details of your sex-cycle-preferences and spot any patterns you may have.

Five ways your menstrual cycle might influence your sexperience:

1. Cervical position

The position of the cervix in your abdomen can influence how you experience certain sex positions. The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus. It’s the passageway connecting the vagina to the uterine cavity. (Read how to find and feel your cervix here.)

On most days, your cervix is likely to be positioned relatively low in your abdomen. As you near ovulation, the cervix may rise in your abdomen (there is little research on this phenomenon, but it’s a well documented element of fertility tracking) (1–4). Because of these changes, some people may find deeper-entry positions (like on all fours with a partner behind you) are more comfortable around ovulation, when their cervix is high. Having your cervix bumped (or intimately nudged, depending on what you’re into) may be uncomfortable. This is more likely when the cervix is low. Other people may find cervical contact or stimulation during sex to be pleasurable — the cervix contains nerve pathways involved in the sexual response (5). Keep in mind that vaginal shape also changes in relation to arousal — the vagina typically becomes longer and wider when you’re turned on (called vaginal tenting)(6).

2. Lubrication

When you’re aroused, your vagina produces its own lubrication (this happens because of increased blood flow) (5, 6). But getting up to that point, you have to work with what’s there, or use a lubricant. You may notice your vagina is more lubricated in the days leading up to and around ovulation, when estrogen is at its highest. More cervical fluid is produced during that time (up to 20x more, in some cases)(7) and the fluid is stretchier and contains more water (8–10). Period sex obviously makes for the most naturally lubricated sex of all — menstruation can be an especially great time for shower sex, when you’re less likely to have to re-apply lube.

3. Sex drive and arousal

Your sexual desire is influenced by some of the same hormones that fluctuate with your cycle, like estrogen and progesterone. You may find your desire tends to increase in the days leading up to ovulation and decrease shortly after ovulation is over (11–13). During that window, some people report masturbating more (11), consuming more erotica and having more intense and arousing sexual fantasies (12–15). In terms of sensation, some may even experience more satisfaction from an orgasm during this time and more arousal during sex in general, but more research is needed (16). One small study showed the type of sex people prefer may differ during the fertile window as well — with heterosexual women preferring depictions of penetrative penis/vagina sex to oral sex around the time of ovulation (17). Sex drive may tend to be lower when more progesterone is produced, during the luteal phase (the second part of the cycle) (13).

Exactly how reproductive hormones influence desire and preference isn’t the same for everyone — a preovulatory peak in desire is not ubiquitous in research, for example (14). Factors influencing desire and arousal are complex and subjective. Some people report a higher sex drive around the time of menstruation (18). You’ll have to track to see what’s true for you.

4. Breasts and beyond

It’s likely your breasts feel differently at different points in your cycle. Some research has shown breasts and nipples may be more sensitive to touch during the fertile window (19). After ovulation, in the luteal phase, breasts commonly become fuller and/or sore (20). Some people notice these changes shortly after ovulation, ten or eleven days before their period starts. Others feel it later in the cycle, a couple of days before their period (20–22). That might mean having your breasts touched is most comfortable in your follicular phase. Paying attention to cyclical breast changes will help you know if and when you prefer different kinds of touch and if any changes in sensitivity can be worked into your sex life.

There is also some preliminary research suggesting the volume of the clitoris may change throughout the cycle. One small study found clitoral size increased by about a fifth in the days before, during and after ovulation, and decreased premenstrually — more research on this is needed, and it’s still unclear if and how these changes might affect sensation (23).

5. Pain for pleasure

If the giving or receiving of consensual pain is part of your pleasure, your cycle phase might influence your choice of activity on a given day. Fluctuating reproductive hormones can impact tolerance and threshold for pain. It’s pretty clear that chronic pain tends to feel worse around the end and start of each cycle and that the pain threshold is highest when estrogen is high, mid-cycle (24, 25). Studies don’t yet agree on threshold changes for pain that is “experimentally, acutely induced” — so you’ll have to see for yourself (26). Some studies suggest induced pain works the same way as chronic pain, with more sensitivity around menstruation (27, 28). Another study found the threshold was higher during the mid-luteal phase, when progesterone is dominant (29). Some people may not notice a difference at all. Make some pain tabs in Clue to track your threshold levels at different times of the cycle. And don’t forget to pick a safe word (a member of Clue’s support team suggests “pizza”).

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