Women's sexual experience during the menstrual cycle: Identification of the sexual phase by noninvasive measurement of luteinizing hormone

Susan B. Bullivant, Sarah A. Sellergren, Kathleen Stern, Natasha A. Spencer, Suma Jacob, Julie A. Mennella, Martha K. McClintock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations

Abstract

Imprecise measures of ovulation obscure the relationship between women's sexuality and the menstrual cycle, as does studying women with different contraceptive goals in different social contexts. Here we present a novel noninvasive method to precisely pinpoint the preovulatory surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH), demarcating hormonally distinct cycle phases with greater than 95% reliability. Women were more sexually active on days prior to and including the preovulatory (LH) surge. This pattern was evident only when women initiated sexual activity and not when their partners did, indicating an increase in women's sexual motivation rather than attractiveness. A second study replicated the 6-day increase in sexual activity beginning 3 days before the LH surge, accompanied by stronger sexual desire and more sexual fantasies. We propose the term "sexual phase " of the cycle, since follicular phase is over inclusive and ovulatory phase is not sufficient. These findings are striking because the women were avoiding pregnancy and were kept blind to the hypotheses, preventing expectation bias. The sexual phase was more robust in women with regular sexual partners, although the increase in sexual desire was just as great in nonpartnered women, who also reported feeling less lonely at this time. We use these results to evaluate potential neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying women's sexual motivation and activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Volume41
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH MERIT Award R37 MH41788 to Martha K. McClintock and the Olfactory Research Fund's Tova Fellowship and NIH MD/PhD Training Grant HD-07009 to Suma Jacob. We would like to thank our anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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