Ovulatory cycle shifts in human motivational prioritisation of sex and food

Lara Schleifenbaum, Julia Stern, Julie C. Driebe, Larissa L. Wieczorek, Tanja M. Gerlach, Ruben C. Arslan, Lars Penke*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Previous research on the endogenous effects of ovarian hormones on motivational states in women has focused on sexual motivation. The Motivational Priority Shifts Hypothesis has a broader scope. It predicts a shift from somatic to reproductive motivation when fertile. In a highly powered preregistered online diary study across 40 days, we tested whether 390 women report such an ovulatory shift in sexual and eating motivation and behaviour. We compared 209 naturally cycling women to 181 women taking hormonal contraceptives (HC) to rule out non-ovulatory changes across the cycle as confounders. We found robust ovulatory decreases in food intake and increases in general sexual desire, in-pair sexual desire and initiation of dyadic sexual behaviour. Extra-pair sexual desire increased mid-cycle, but the effect did not differ significantly in HC women, questioning an ovulatory effect. Descriptively, solitary sexual desire and behaviour, dyadic sexual behaviour, appetite, and satiety showed expected mid-cycle changes that were diminished in HC women, but these failed to reach our strict preregistered significance level. Our results provide insight into current theoretical debates about ovulatory cycle shifts while calling for future research to determine motivational mechanisms behind ovulatory changes in food intake and considering romantic partners' motivational states to explain the occurrence of dyadic sexual behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105542
Number of pages16
JournalHormones and Behavior
Early online date17 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


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