10 Things To Know about Hormones and Libido

by | Oct 24, 2022 | Libido | 27 comments

10 Things to Know about Hormones and Libido
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How much of our libido is due to hormones?

Hormones get blamed for so much–they’re like our own little personal punching bag. And it’s easy to think that all the jokes about hormones and libido are just exaggerations.

But today, we we’re doing our research deep dive series, looking at what research has fond, I thought we’d look at how hormones really do affect libido, arousal, and everything in between, because I think if we understood that better, we’d have better sex lives.

Can you relate to this? Sometimes you’ll be making love and it just won’t be working for you. Your mind will wander more than usual; you’re having real trouble getting aroused; and no matter how hard you try nothing seems to happen. Then other nights it’s super easy!

So what do we do on those more difficult nights? You may go into a spiral of self-loathing and what may be dangerous introspection: am I too stressed? Too busy? Is something wrong with me? Am I getting too old? Am I mad at my husband?

But what if it would make sense if you loked at a calendar?

(Now, obviously sometimes there may be real issues with your husband, and I’m not trying to downplay that. I’m talking to women for whom sex often works great, but then other times doesn’t, and they don’t feel particularly hurt or distant from their husbands). 

So let’s look at 10 things to know about how hormones affect libido!

1. Hormones can make your libido peak and plummet throughout the month

Here’s how your cycle works: Day 1 will be the first day of your period. Usually around Day 14 (with a LOT of leeway–some women are day 11; some are day 17) you ovulate (release an egg). Then roughly two weeks later, around Day 28 (or 26, or 30, or 32), your period starts. Most women aren’t clockwork–ovulating on day 14 and menstruating on day 28–but that’s it in a nutshell.

Okay, here’s what to know: When progesterone levels get comparatively high (like compared with other hormones), your felt libido can lower. And when does your body produce progesterone? During the luteal phase of your cycle, which starts on ovulation day and goes until seven days before your period starts. On the other hand, the seven days before your period your hormones all churn up which can cause some of us (not all of us) to feel in the mood again. Then right before ovulation you also get a burst that makes arousal easier.

So, in general, we’re raring to go on days 24-27, and then again from Days 6-14, with major peaks around Days 11-14.

But on Day 20 you’re likely wondering what all the fuss is about.

2. Testosterone levels play a role in women’s libido–though not as much as in men’s

While testosterone is mostly responsible for men’s felt need for sex, for women it appears to be more a mix of different hormones, with testosterone also playing a big part (and, yes, women produce testosterone too!).

Testosterone starts rising a few days before your period, and peaks at ovulation day. While testosterone therapy may be issued with women with hypoactive desire disorder (low libido), it generally is used more with post-menopausal women, and it isn’t a cure-all, according to a statement by endocrinologists. Often it’s understanding the mix of hormones, including estrogen, which plays a large role in women’s libido, rather than just trying to elevate testosterone.

Testosterone levels in women start dipping about 10 years BEFORE menopause, and after menopause, they are about 1/4 of what they were in women in their early 20s.

 

 

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3. Right before your period hormones may make you moody–but still “in the mood”!

It’s a misnomer that right before our periods we’re not in the mood at all. Some women (especially those with bad PMS) may find libidos plummet, but others may find libido rises–though so does moodiness. So we’re more easily aroused, but we may not realize it because we’re also a little sad.

And that’s the kicker.

This is the time of your month to pamper yourself with chocolate or a bubble bath to boost those serotonin levels and make us “happier”. Your body may be in a state where arousal is relatively easier than at other times of the month, but your mood may be stopping you from wanting sex.

Here’s how all three of these points work together:

Women's Hormones and Sexual Arousal Lib

We go over all of this in The Boost Your Libido course, too!

4. Lubrication is often hardest right before your period

Even if you’re one of those women who might be “in the mood” before your period, lubrication is more difficult after ovulation, and even before your period. So if you don’t get “wet”, don’t assume that you’re not aroused or not into it. It could just be hormones! Pull out some lubricant and have fun!

5. Orgasm is often most elusive right after ovulation

When you make love during the luteal phase (right after ovulation; the red part up above), you may find it hard to achieve orgasm.

So if you and your husband are really working on helping you to reach orgasm during intercourse, and it’s been a struggle, use these days just to have fun and explore with no pressure, or it could just be an added stress!

And if you usually do achieve orgasm, but don’t during these days, don’t think there’s something wrong with you–or your relationship! It’s likely just your cycle.

If you don’t usually achieve orgasm at all, check out our Orgasm Course!

6. Hormones may make you”in the mood” during your period

A lot of women wonder, “is there something wrong with me if I’m hot and bothered during my period”? Nope. It’s just hormones!

About 20% of women still continue sexual activity during their period, while 80% do not. Much depends on the level of flow, cramping, arousal, etc.

Personally, I don’t think any woman should feel as if she has to do anything sexual during those days, because sex should be mutual. But if you’re someone who wants to, and your husband agrees, it’s really between the two of you!

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7. The Pill can cause your libido to crater by messing with your hormones

Many women find that The Pill kills your libido because it gets rid of those “peaks” in arousal and replaces them all with “troughs”. Here’s part of an email a reader recently sent to me:

I’ve been married for 21 years now. From the time we got married I could never experience orgasm and for probably 10 years I often was left feeling frustrated and upset. It made sex really difficult and for many years it became infrequent because it was just upsetting for both of us. It was not for lack of trying to fix the issue or because my husband was particularly inattentive it just didn’t happen. It was really the most awful thing.

When we had children after 8 years of marriage I changed contraceptive from the pill to Implanon which was a new thing on the market and super easy to use… After child #1 I really had absolutely no desire at all for sex. I put it down to having a new baby and being tired etc. I honestly felt that if I never had sex again in my life I really couldn’t have cared less. After about a year we decided to try for child #2 and I had the Implanon removed. It sounds crazy but within a week, I kid you not!!!, I suddenly felt like a depression had lifted off me and I seriously wanted to have sex all the time. I experienced my first orgasm not long after and 10 years down the track have not looked back. I honestly believe that the effect of contraception made all the difference.

Now, I understand contraception is a really difficult and personal choice, and I’m not arguing that one shouldn’t use the Pill here. But what I am saying is that if your libido isn’t where you want it to be, and if you find your moods difficult to manage, it may be worth looking at whether your method of contraception may be playing a part. I have heard from far too many women to ignore this (and I definitely experienced a libido and mood surge after going off the Pill a few years into our marriage), so I do want people to be aware of this. It’s your body; not everyone reacts the same way to everything.

If you’re having trouble, see if that could be it.

8. For some, menopause kills libido

When you hit menopause, for many women libido plummets and almost disappears. I’ve heard some women tell me, “it’s almost as if I lost all feeling from the waist down.”

If you’re going through this, please talk to your doctor. There’s a lot of research being done on this currently, and there are often new treatments. Your doctor may also advise you about health, diet, or lifestyle changes you can make that can help. But you are not alone. One of the reasons that this is difficult is that not every woman experiences menopause the same way. We’re all made differently, and this is too important a part of your life to lose.

9. Estrogen levels are also highly linked to libido in women–which is why menopause can bring things to a halt

When estrogen levels start to go completely haywire during menopause, and fall after menopause, as the chart below shows, libido is affected. Some researchers wonder if one of the main reasons is that estrogen is largely related to lubrication and to blood flow to the genitals. At menopause, women can start to experience vaginal atrophy, dryness, and thinness–where the vagina’s walls actually become thinner and more sensitive, in a bad way.

However, increasing estrogen levels seems to be associated with LOWERING testosterone levels, so this may not actually help overall. Better to try to increase health, reduce stress, and use other methods to care for your vagina!

Estrogen Levels at Menopause

Ahmed AlAwlaqi et al,

Role of hormones in hypoactive sexual desire disorder and current treatment, National Library of Medicine

10. For others, menopause boosts libido

Here’s the good news, though: other women have told me that menopause was the best thing that ever happened to them! We don’t all react the same way, so if you’re in your forties, don’t panic!

One thing that does happen regardless of your arousal, though, is that lubrication because more difficult, and vaginal dryness and atrophy can kick in. So talk to your doctor about how to prevent this, so that you can keep enjoying your husband and your marriage for years to come. 

So there you go–how hormones affect our libido and our arousal levels throughout the month. I hope research keeps being done on this, because women do suffer a lot of changes around menopause, and contraception does seem to affect us in so many ways. Understanding how lifestyle changes can help us regulate a lot of this would be so helpful too. 

10 Things to Know about Hormones and Libido

I’d love to know: have you noticed your arousal levels changing over the course of the month? Have you ever experienced any of these hormonal issues? Let us know in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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27 Comments

  1. Meghan

    Interesting read. I feel some of those hormone cycles, but with PCOS my hormones are pretty wacky to begin with. High testosterone and androgen, barely any progesterone to speak of. I’m curious what the research says about how hormone imbalances impact these things.

    Reply
  2. Boone

    Would you consider doing a post on the effects of hysterectomy on hormones and libido?
    For years TN was the hysterectomy capital of the US. It seemed that anytime a woman went to her gyno for anything out of the ordinary the next thing she knew she was on the table. A lot of these were done with little explanation of why or what to expect. The situation created a lot of marriage problems down the road of which I saw the fallout. A lot of lawyers that specialized in medical malpractice were very busy during those years. Their were so many suits in this area that the legislature put a cap on med mal awards.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, that’s fascinating (and horrifing!). I imagine hysterectomies would be similar to menopause? I’ll have to look it up!

      Reply
      • CMT

        A hysterectomy doesnt have to remove the ovaries (ie doesnt have to put a woman into menopause). It would depend on what the indication was.

        That said, the absence of the uterus can impact a woman’s sexual experience even if she still has her ovaries, because female orgasm involves involuntary contractions of the uterus as well as the pelvic floor. Some women will feel the difference. I dont know stats on that, but im not an obgyn.

        Reply
        • Boone

          Here up until about 15 years ago the attitude was if we’re going in for any reason take everything to avoid a possible second surgery down the road and the possibly of future cancer. They would also take your appendix at no extra charge.

          Reply
  3. Codec

    I am curious. As a man I hear a lot of stuff about low testosterone or even its opposite with testosterone poisoning. How much is normal? Do men have hormonal cycles?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      They do–but they tend to be a 24-hour cycle rather than a 28-day cycle. It’s really interesting!

      Reply
      • Alexandria

        I have PCOS with high testosterone levels. I was able to alleviate some of my PCOS symptoms and beat the infertility aspect as we have 5 young kids now and our last baby was conceived on birth control. Pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce my testosterone levels and I have probably a normal libido then, but when I’m cycling I have a really high libido my husband can’t keep up with. I wonder if there’s a way to reduce that hormone some. Sometimes it’s a problem for me.

        Reply
        • Alexandria

          I didn’t mean for my comment to go as a reply. Sorry!

          Reply
  4. Alethea

    My hormones have been completely out of whack since giving birth to my first daughter five months ago (via C-section). I’ve had some months with no period bleeding and some months with two periods and random spotting, all while breastfeeding. My libido has had REALLY high peaks a few times, but most of the time I just don’t want to be touched or even breathed at, and it’s been frustrating for me and my husband to figure out. Not that either of us thinks the other owes them sex, but we do want to gift each other. I just seriously don’t feel like it most of the time these days. My doctor hasn’t been any help on that front. Every solution they offer is for hormonal birth control, which I can’t take because it messes with my mental state so much. I’m not sure how to fix myself so that I want to want to have sex again.

    Reply
    • Lydia purple

      From my own experience as a mom wanting to feel in the mood again but often feeling touched out i learned that my body often reacts to touch from my husband negatively when I’m exhausted from taking care of the kids but I actually do long to connect and be touched, just not right away in a sexual manner or just in passing by. What I need is „deep pressure touch“ a tight hug or a good massage to actually relax and allow him to be near me. Often this paves the way for more. I also found that when I am touched out and can’t tolerate others touching me, it’s a whole different story if I decide to reach out and initiate the touch with the focus to love the other person (husband or kids) most often by giving them a good hug. This breaks the cycle of feeling like you constantly reject them because you can’t tolerate the touch.

      That being said, postpartum hormones and breastfeeding hormones can be so messy and it takes time for your body to heal and adjust to the frequent changes in feeding patterns as the baby grows. So don’t be too hard on yourself, it takes time to figure it out.

      Reply
    • Joanna

      Lydia purple has very interesting thoughts on touch, I just want to comment on the breastfeeding. It typically kills libido since you’re not ovulating (this also messes with periods, mostly through not having them at all while baby is (nearly) exclusively breastfed. Both estrogen and progesterone are really, really low until ovulation starts up again. So on top of caring for a baby with all that comes with it, your body is also actively avoiding getting pregnant again too soon.

      Reply
  5. Cynthia

    Breastfeeding had a huge impact on me. When my youngest child was a year old and breastfeeding, my doctor noted vaginal atrophy and it explained a lot of what I was feeling.

    Reply
  6. Ani

    Good explanation within periods, thank you. What about when dealing with thyroid issues? Recently that was brought up on a blood panel when my numbers were low and when looking up symptoms I saw that low drive can coincide with it. Any thoughts on that area? Thanks

    Reply
  7. Nikki Isom

    I am post divorce and a surgical menopause girl land in a healthy relationship. My body won’t work the way I want it to.

    Reply
  8. Alexander Snider

    My wife had a hysterectomy about 3 years and she is struggling with the effects of menopause. This has impacted her drive among other things.

    Reply
  9. Elf

    A research deep dive…
    Yet the only evidence for #10 is “other women have told me that menopause was the best thing that ever happened to them”?

    That’s it? Only unpublished anecdotes with no explanation as to what aspects of menopause made life better? That’s truly not reassuring or helpful.

    It’s hard to look at this and not conclude that God cares little for older women.

    Reply
    • Elf

      Has this blog grappled with the growing phenomenon of gray (grey) divorce, and remarriage?
      It surely adds another layer of complexity to sex during and after the menopause transition. So much of the language in the blog suggests it’s for long term marriages that are entering a new phase.

      Have you considered discussing evidence -based advice for older adults on building a healthy sex life in a second (or more) marriage?
      The Good Girls Guide is very much focused on younger, pre menopausal women.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Anecdotally, I have heard that many women enjoy sex a lot more after menopause because the fear of pregnancy goes away. Also, their kids are older, so they can actually do things like a date night and a long session of intimacy when the kids are out with their friends.

      Which is to say, there are a lot of lessons for all women in there, if anyone would bother to learn them.

      Reply
      • Elf

        Not all women have kids, have kids that live at home, or even had a possibility of getting pregnant.
        Bit harsh to accuse them of not bothering to learn lessons that aren’t part of their lived experience.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          I got married for the first time when going through an early menopause and I found the Good Girls Guide incredibly helpful. Yes, some of it is more relevant for those who are able to have children, but there is still a ton of stuff that is useful for any age group.

          I had terrible trouble with out of kilter hormones from puberty into my 30s. When the levels of pain & bleeding got so bad that I couldn’t live anything resembling a normal life, I went onto the pill. Which worked great at banishing the excess bleeding & pain, but made me feel like I’d been neutered.

          Going through the change has presented its own challenges (I do have to work very hard at getting aroused and vaginal atrophy is not funny) but compared to the issues I had in my younger days, it’s a walk in the park. I do sometimes wish that I could have been with my husband when I was in my 20s, when it was easier to be aroused. But thinking about it realistically, due to the pain I was experiencing, there would only have been 1 or 2 days a month when I’d be able to bear having him near me, so I’m not sure we’d have had much of a marriage if we’d met back then!

          Reply
        • Jane Eyre

          Good thing that is not what said, Elf. Look inside of yourself go figure out why you felt the need to twist the plain and compassionate meaning of my words.

          Reply
  10. Em

    YES this makes so much sense! Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Kay

    I’m kinda surprised to see “quickies” mentioned in sexual arousal graphic at top— especially during a women’s cycle when the idea of sex may be of No interest due to hormones. For women with responsive libidos, quickies just perpetuate the idea that sex is a need for men; there’s no mutuality there. Get into the habit of “quickies” and resentment is gonna build.

    Reply
    • K

      I was just about to post this same thing. A quickie usually means he orgasms and I’m there to provide it…not that he’s being unkind – it’s usually when I am not feeling it and I want to give that for him. Maybe my definition of quickie is not what is meant here but in my experience quickie = no orgasm for me.

      Reply
  12. Joanna

    I definitely feel an increase in my libido leading up to ovulation. What I’ve also found is that if we “stay active” after ovulation my drive stays semi-high, but if there’s a longer gap (e.g. due to travel), it’ll typically plummet and not come back until right before my period.

    I went on the pill when we got married (I was 23) and my libido was higher than his for the first few years. 10+ years later, after kids, the exact same type of BC had me moody and unresponsive with a significant improvement after I quit them.

    Reply

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