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London - Extreme moods and unpredictable behaviour; for most women these symptoms mean just one thing – PMT. It’s always been thought the days leading up to a woman’s “time of the month” are when hormones wreak most havoc on our minds and bodies.
Increasingly, however, research suggests there’s another, very influential, flashpoint in a woman’s cycle: ovulation.
It appears that hormonal changes at this time – which occurs roughly 14 days after the first day of your period commencing – can dictate everything from how we walk to what we wear, how competitive we are towards other women and whether or not we feel amorous.
Recently, a study even suggested that this time of the month influences the way we shop.
While for most the differences are so subtle as to be barely discernable, there are many women like Maisie Hill, 33, from London, who notice marked changes in both their attitude and behaviour around ovulation.
“I definitely notice mood changes in the week when I ovulate,” she says. “I become a lot more sociable and chatty and flirty, and I also have a lot more energy and confidence. It makes so much difference that I try to organise work meetings or talks for these days because I know I’ll feel as if I can take on the world.
“The danger is that because I have this ‘can-do attitude’ I set up work commitments for later in my cycle. But then I don’t feel nearly so capable and confident.”
According to psychologists, it’s all down to a primal desire to attract men when we’re at our most fertile.
“The idea is that women turn up the temperature on everything that has to do with femininity at ovulation,” says evolutionary psychologist Greg Bryant.
Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Love Life, Moods And Potential, adds that as part of this need to attract a mate during your ovulatory phase – the four days before ovulation, which is the peak time to make love if you want to get pregnant – you’re more likely to pick clothes with higher hemlines, lower necklines and those which show off womanly curves.
You’re also more likely to sway your hips as you walk to make yourself more alluring.
She says: “On these high-fertility days, you’re subconsciously drawn toward outfits that make you appear more feminine and sexy as a way to attract a new partner or entice the one you currently have.”
Maisie agrees her taste in clothes is influenced by ovulation. “I was clearing out my wardrobe recently and it was easy to spot the items I’d bought when I was ovulating,” she says. “These were the dresses that were brightly coloured and showed more flesh.”
Dr Marilyn Glenville, who specialises in helping women get pregnant, explains it’s common in the animal world for females to signal their fertility and attract a mate with bright colours.
“The female baboon, for example, displays a large swollen bright red rump during ovulation to let the male know that she is fertile,” she says. “Women send the same message with clothes.”
It’s not just about advertising your fertility, however, as research shows we are also biologically programmed during ovulation to prove we’re more desirable than the rest of the pack.
In the modern world, studies suggest this translates into expensive material status symbols and is the reason women are more likely to splash out on a pricey impulse buy, such as a designer handbag or pair of shoes, around ovulation.
According to Professor Karen Pine, a development psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, this is called the “Ornamentation Effect”, and is intended to send out a clear signal to men that you are an alpha female.
“Buying a status item is a clear indicator that we are at our peak of fertility,” she says. No wonder a recent study called Money, Status and the Ovulatory Cycle, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, suggested companies may soon personally target women with advertising for clothes and make-up at ovulation time, which they can calculate based on when we buy tampons, if we use a card which tracks purchases.
Professor Pine adds that women who are ovulating often behave more competitively around other women.
“These biological instincts are incredibly strong within us even though we think we’ve gone beyond them and believe we are rational humans with control over our behaviour. Actually, these deeply primal drivers control almost everything we do.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in a recent study, women offered a free Prada handbag while they were ovulating were more likely to want to pay £100 (R1 800) if they were told that a free handbag meant the woman next to them got one, too. That they would rather put themselves out of pocket than see another woman get a freebie illustrated how competitive they were at this time of the month. Glenville says it’s likely to date back to a time when there was a lack of available men.
“Centuries ago, the pool of strong masculine men to choose from in a community may have been limited, so women were competing against each other to secure the most desirable mate.”
And when it comes to the opposite sex, it seems ovulation not only increases our libido, it also makes us more attracted to a particular type of man.
Researchers from the University of Texas found that during ovulation women become more attracted to George Clooney-types, with deeper voices and chiselled masculine faces.
Why? Men who look like this are apparently more likely to have a dominant social role and stronger immune system.
“Around ovulation, a woman would be looking for a more masculine-type man to protect her, which would have been extremely important centuries ago,” says Glenville.
While it’s not happened in every relationship she’s had, Maisie says she noticed her feelings towards two previous partners always shifted around ovulation.
“I was in one five-year relationship about 10 years ago where my feelings towards my boyfriend would change dramatically depending on where I was in my cycle,” she recalls. “When I was ovulating I thought he was the most wonderful man in the world.
“But then just before I had my period I would be more critical of him and our relationship and couldn’t understand why we were still together.
“There was a similar pattern in another long-term relationship I had afterwards. It was a cycle of contrasting feelings every month and I had to learn not to trust either extreme.”
Ovulation also alters our attributes to make us more physically appealing.
One study published in the scientific journal, Evolution and Human Behaviour, examined changes in the attractiveness of women’s voices during the menstrual cycle.
It found that men reported the voice of a woman who was ovulating as more alluring than the voice of a woman who was not. This may be explained by the scientists who found a woman’s voice reaches its highest pitch on the day before and on the actual day of the egg’s release.
They believe that hormones released during ovulation react with the larynx to make this change.
Gabrielle Lichterman adds that you’re likely to look more attractive during ovulation, too.
She says: “High oestrogen makes you more beautiful than any other time in your cycle by triggering subtle changes to your eyes, nose and ears to make them more symmetrical.
“This is due to the changing shape of the soft tissues affected by your hormones.
“By the same means, your breasts and fingers become more symmetrical, too.”
Maisie, a former doula, is so convinced our behaviour is influenced by our menstrual cycle that she now works with women so they can make their hormonal changes work to their advantage in their work and relationships.
She says the boyfriend of one of her clients can tell when she’s ovulating because her skin “becomes clearer and takes on a luminous quality.” We may even smell sexier at ovulation, too.
One recent study found that testosterone levels were higher in men after smelling T-shirts worn by ovulating women than those worn by women who weren’t.
The higher testosterone levels suggested that the men were more confident about romantic success.
The key to understanding what’s going on lie within the hormonal fluctuations that occur in a woman’s body every month.
Hormone specialist Dr Marion Gluck says it’s the changing levels of oestrogen that affect us around ovulation.
Levels rise in the run-up to ovulation because once they reach a peak point at day 14 in a 28-day menstrual cycle, they trigger other hormones that cause the ovary to release an egg into the fallopian tube.
While oestrogen is produced mainly in the ovaries, there are receptors for it all around the body, including the brain, and it’s the stimulation of these receptors that cause us to become more flirty, sociable and confident.
Once ovulation has happened, oestrogen levels drop and progesterone levels rise. (It’s a severe imbalance in these two hormones that causes PMT.)
But Gluck says while oestrogen rising can be a great experience for some women, it can be bad for others.
“Some women feel confident, sexy and strong, and think they’re more energetic,” she says. “A lot of oestrogen makes you feel sexy. Your libido goes up. It’s what nature does to help us procreate.
“But others can suffer from headaches, breast tenderness and feel anxious.”
Whether it makes you feel like Wonder Woman or crawling under the duvet, ovulation is probably a good time to lose your shopping credit card – unless you’re prepared for a financial hit. – Daily Mail