Hormones shape our bodies, make us fertile, excite our most basic urges, and as scientists have known for years, they govern the behaviors that separate men from women.
Hormones do influence a woman’s sexual behavior, particularly desire, to a certain extent, but these effects are complex and can vary from woman to woman.
Women’s ovaries produce two important sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. These hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Some experts believe that a woman’s sexual desire increases with a rise in estrogen (usually in the first two weeks of the cycle, which starts on the first day of the menstrual period), then drops with the increase in progesterone, which typically happens once ovulation has occurred.
This could lead one to believe that women are more interested in sex at the beginning of their cycle. However, this is not true for all women. Some women’s sex drives increase right before their periods begin, when progesterone levels are higher.
Women’s bodies also produce testosterone. This hormone is more commonly associated with men, but has long been thought to influence a woman’s sexual desire as well. That said, recent research suggests that testosterone might not be as influential as once thought.
Researchers have found that ovulating women may display certain behaviors in order to attract men, even if they are unaware of it. In one study, for example, women were asked to draw outfits that they would wear to a hypothetical party that evening. Ovulating women tended to draw more provocative outfits than those who were not ovulating. Even ovulating women in committed relationships did this, possibly because they wanted to keep their partner’s interest, especially if they were anticipating competition from other women.
Women’s hormones also change at certain life stages, such as pregnancy and menopause. These fluctuations often play a role in a woman’s libido/sexual desire. Many women in the second trimester of pregnancy become more interested in sex. At menopause, when estrogen levels drop, a woman’s sex drive may decline.
Hormones are not the only factors involved with a woman’s sexual desire. Other factors – such as fatigue, stress, and what’s happening in a relationship – are also involved. A woman who is exhausted from a demanding work schedule and family responsibilities may not have much interest in sex. In contrast, a woman who is in a new, exciting relationship may find that her sex drive has increased.
Medical conditions, such as diabetes and coronary artery disease, along with certain medications, can also affect a woman’s sexual desire.