Side Effects of Ovulation

From skin changes to how you dress, research suggests ovulation may affect you in some surprising ways.

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Once a month, for about 24 hours, ovulation takes place—the process in which an egg is released from an ovary into the fallopian tubes and can then be fertilized by sperm. At the same time, hormones begin to fluctuate, and brain chemistry shifts.

All these changes are thought to increase the chances of conception, with some research suggesting that ovulation may affect your brain, body, and behavior in some surprising ways.

"Hormones affect the entire body, not just the reproductive organs, so it makes sense that our thinking, our behavior, even our appearance can change throughout our cycles," Carol Gnatuk, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, told Health.

Here are some of the more interesting, even mysterious, changes you may experience during your most fertile time of the month.

Your Face May Become Flushed

A 2015 study published in the journal PLoS One found that women's faces become slightly more flushed in the days leading up to and during ovulation. This makes sense, said Dr. Gnatuk, since hormones affect blood flow throughout the body. "Higher estrogen levels during ovulation can cause blood vessels to dilate, and when vessels dilate close to the skin you get more of a glow."

But researchers also noted that the slight increase in redness was only detectable via very sensitive cameras—not to the naked eye—so the jury's still out on this one as to whether potential mates notice this change and are aroused by it.

Other studies tested whether a person's face was more attractive around the time of ovulation. While earlier studies had shown some connection to men finding women's faces more attractive while they were most fertile, most studies done on this topic seem to have mixed results.

For example, a 2019 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior suggested that men found women's faces more attractive around the time of ovulation and also for about the next 14 days after, until their periods started. In other words, the attraction didn't occur just around ovulation.

A 2021 study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports found that there was some correlation between women's attractiveness and ovulation, but the evidence was limited and not very strong.

And researchers in a 2022 study published in Hormones and Behavior reviewed 25,000 diary entries from 384 couples and deduced that the men in this study did not notice when their partner was ovulating due to any physical changes in their attractiveness.

You May Feel More Frisky

Evolutionarily, it makes sense that a person's libido goes up during the time of the month when fertility is at its highest point. But during ovulation, people don't just consciously think more about sex; it's on their minds in sneakier ways, as well.

According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, women may be more likely to unconsciously buy and wear sexier clothing when they're ovulating. The researchers theorized that this could be done to "outdo attractive rival women."

Other researchers have examined whether women choose to wear certain colors that are considered sexy (such as pink or red) when they're ovulating. Early studies on this topic, like the 2013 research published in the journal Psychological Science, seemed certain that women were more likely to wear pink or red during the most fertile time of their cycles (ovulation). But more recent studies pulled back the reins on these findings. For example, a 2020 study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology tested this theory and found the exact opposite—that women were not more likely to wear pink or red around ovulation. The premise that these were still "sexy" colors stood seven years later.

Early studies, such as a 2003 study in the journal Biological Rhythm Research, suggested that women dream more about sex in the first half of the menstrual cycle, when the body is gearing up for ovulation, compared to the second half, when the body prepares for menstruation.

More recent studies have shown similar findings, although researchers didn't specify "erotic" dreams in a 2019 study published in the journal Medical Sciences. This study showed that in women who could recall their dreams, there was an association with "pleasant" dreams (as opposed to specifically "erotic") during the first half of their cycle leading up to ovulation.

One small 2011 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found women may even have more erotic interpretations of abstract artwork (think Georgia O'Keeffe flower paintings) when they're ovulating as opposed to later in their menstrual cycles.

And a 2018 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that while women exhibited more arousal at any time during their menstrual cycle when exposed to erotic words compared to neutral words, the arousal was greater during ovulation.

"Libido isn't totally driven by hormones—if it were, sex would only be about when and not where or with who," said Dr. Gnatuk. "But certainly, [the hormones] estrogen and testosterone, both of which are higher during ovulation, can increase a woman's desire."

You May Be More Attracted to a Certain Type

You may feel not only more "in the mood" during ovulation, but also more interested in certain types of people over others. For example, a 2017 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology suggested that women are more likely to be attracted to "masculine-faced" men right before ovulation than they were earlier in their cycle.

Another Psychoneuroendocrinology study published in 2018 found that while there didn't seem to be a connection between attractiveness to the opposite sex and ovulation specifically, there did seem to be a correlation between rising estrogen levels in a woman's body and being more attracted to the more masculine features of a man's face, including facial "stubble." Estrogen rises twice during the menstrual cycle, according to the National Library of Medicine. One of these times is leading up to ovulation.

During ovulation, you may also flirt more with men with certain "genetic-fitness markers," but not with men who don't have what is perceived as good physical qualities to pass down to offspring, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science.

"When we're in reproductive mode, we look for traits that we associate with good health," explained Dr. Gnatuk—and that includes healthy testosterone levels, which suggest that a man is well able to produce and protect offspring.

Your Senses May Seem Heightened

Ovulating people seem to be better able to detect musky odors and male pheromones than those taking oral contraceptives (which prevent ovulation), according to a small 2013 study in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

A 2021 study published in the journal Nutrients suggests that the sense of smell (olfactory), in general, mmay be heightened during ovulation—although this may vary from cycle to cycle, with some menstrual cycles peaking at ovulation and others showing a steady incline in olfactory perception until your period.

You May Be More Creative

Have you noticed that your creative juices seem to flow more during certain times of the month? There's a good chance that you may be ovulating when you're feeling most creative, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Environmental Research and Public Health. This study found that when women are ovulating, both their creative originality and creative flexibility (the variety of ideas and ability to see different perspectives) increase.

The menstrual cycle, with its ever-changing levels of hormones, does seem to affect people in ways that we may not have previously attributed to it. It's not all about PMS, raging hormones, and craving chocolate. Now that you know some of the more positive ways ovulation, in particular, may affect you, try to notice if you can connect this fertile time of the month to any of these characteristics—then use them to your advantage.

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