While I've used the Period Tracker app for over a year now, my periods are irregular enough that relying on calendar averages is not always exactly accurate. So when a company called Femometer offered to send me their new thermometer that tracks your ovulation, I was intrigued, and decided to give it a shot. I was tired of guessing whether I was ovulating, and I wanted some proof that this bodily process was indeed happening. I also hoped I might be able to better predict when my period was coming, since my other app always seems to be off by at least five days due to my irregular cycles (they vary anywhere between 30-38 days, usually). I've now tracked my fertility using the Femometer and its app for three months, and I've actually learned a lot about my body and moods in the process.
Femometer works to predict your fertility and period by taking your temperature, and then sending the data directly to your smartphone app — it's like a higher-tech version of the traditional basal body temperature method of fertility tracking, because it syncs all the data to the app, and charts it out for you. It's also more accurate than any calendar based on your cycle's averages can be, because when you're ovulating, your basal temperature rises 0.4 to 1.0 degrees higher than it is otherwise. When Femometer knows what your average basal temperature is, it can let you know when exactly you're spiking, and therefore at your most fertile.
This only works, of course, if you're not on forms of hormonal birth control that prevent you from ovulating. I have a non-hormonal copper IUD, so while I can't get pregnant, I am ovulating very month; something I was happy to confirm by seeing my monthly spike in temperature. I may not be trying to get pregnant or use the rhythm method, but I did want to get to know my body better; to be able to track my fluctuations in mood in relation to my to my cycle more accurately, and to understand the many valleys and peaks I feel every month in the process.
Tracking my cycle so closely for three months by taking my temperature was kind of tedious —but what it taught me about my cycle was worth it. Here are 12 things I learned, organized in the same order as my cycle — beginning with the days leading up to ovulation, to ovulation, to PMS-ing, to my period.
1. I Have A Hard Time Sleeping In The Days Right After My Period Ends
This was something I never noticed until I observed the pattern over three months. I've always been a bad sleeper, but these days, it mostly manifests as a couple of really bad nights out of every month, during which I can only get a couple of hours of sleep. These nights have always seemed to come out of nowhere, although I've noticed they can be triggered by stress and anxiety. But it's not like I'm stressed only a few days out of the month — instead, it seems like stress really gets to me, and interferes with my sleep, only a few days out of the month. Once I tracked my cycle, however, I noticed something really interesting: it seemed like my insomnia kept happening in the few days after my period ended.
When I noticed the pattern, a lightbulb went off, and I remembered Bustle's sexual health columnist Emma Kaywin's excellent article about how your cycle affects you week-to-week. "Leading up to ovulation, your estrogen and testosterone are both peaking, making you feel more perky, confident, and excited to take on the world," Kaywin writes. "However, high estrogen can trigger anxiety attacks, so watch out for that ... and breathe." It seems that the estrogen spike I get right after my period often triggers my anxiety and insomnia. Perhaps it's also possible that coming off of my period, I simply feel that surge of energy, which makes it harder for me to chill out and sleep.
I don't know if I can really do anything about it, but it will help to know that I might need to pay a little more attention to keeping my sleep hygiene on track during that week. (Hopefully expecting the insomnia won't lead to even more anticipatory sleep anxiety, though.)
2. It's Easier To Take On Challenging Work The First Two Weeks Of My Cycle
You're apparently "more resilient" (AKA less likely to get upset, stressed, or angry) when you're at the beginning of your cycle, and tracking my moods along with my fertility certainly confirmed that for me. It makes sense — I'm in an overall better mood because I'm not dealing with PMS or my period, and estrogen levels are higher, which often makes you more accommodating to other people's demands or BS. I might be wise to use that information to plan out my months strategically, as Dr. Julie Holland suggests in her excellent book on women's hormonal fluctuations, Moody Bitches .
You can plan to take on more challenging assignments at the beginning of your cycle right after your period, when your resilience is higher. The peak estrogen levels seen towards the middle of your cycle mean improvement of verbal and fine motor skills, so plan your business presentations and sewing projects for that time of the month. You should definitely leave the tasks best suited to someone with OCD, like cleaning out your closets, for during the PMS part of your cycle.
I found it really was easier to be confident at work and productive in the week leading up to ovulation and during ovulation, and that I was less prone to taking things personally. It's not like I'm not capable of doing my job the rest of the month; it's just easier the first two weeks of my cycle to not get pissed, impatient, or feel so overwhelmed. I might try consulting my calendar when it comes to setting major deadlines for myself on longterm projects in the future, though it doesn't seem feasible to alter my work much more than that around it.
3. I'm Basically Only Interested In Sending Selfies & Going Shopping When I'm Fertile
Usually, I can tell I must be ovulating by my sudden urge to wear a tight dress and strut my stuff, and tracking my cycle confirmed it. Normally, I'm a skinny jeans and t-shirt uniform adherent, but it seems that one week out of the month, I decide that my ass is just too fine to not flaunt a little more. What was surprising, however, is that I also basically only sext or go shopping when I'm ovulating, too.
During the days where Femometer told me I was ovulating, I noticed that, indeed, I had been wearing more dresses, and putting more care into my appearance in general — and I wanted to show it off via sexting and buying some more hot clothing, two urges I don't usually have the rest of the month. As you've probably heard, I'm not the only one. "Not only do you feel sexier, a bunch of studies show that your behavior can change during ovulation. For instance, research has found that women buy sexier clothing when they’re ovulating," Kaywin writes.
4. I Make Wayyyy More Random Eye Contact With Guys When I'm Ovulating
Sure, I'd expected I'd be hornier when I was ovulating, and perhaps a little more flirtatious, but during the first month I tracked my fertility especially, I noticed that I also straight-up lock eyes with nearly every decent-looking dude who crosses my path on my most fertile couple of days. Like, guys who are not normally even my type — even while walking around with my boyfriend. You know, just checking out the sperm competition. Which leads me to...
5. I'm Prone To Picking A Different Kind Of Fight When I'm Ovulating
While I'm definitely in a better, more confident mood overall when I'm ovulating, I did notice that my wandering eye triggered a different kind of annoyance with my boyfriend during my fertile week. I was way more likely to feel sexually neglected if he failed to throw down for even a day, and to find myself mentally exploring my other options, even though I've written entire articles about how he's basically the best boyfriend ever. (I know, I'm a real peach.) I found myself sometimes challenging him to be more "alpha" when I was at my most fertile, to perceive certain behaviors of his as not aggressive or sexually attentive enough — simply because I found myself wanting to flirt with every attractive option in sight. (The rest of the month, if we bicker, it's usually about him always having to clean up after me, and me feeling like he's being overly critical — more a reverse of the "typical" gender roles.)
Apparently, I'm not the only one who gets a little skeptical of my man's boning resume when I'm ovulating. One study out of UCLA, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, studied this phenomenon in women in long-term heterosexual relationships. Participants were asked to rate their partner’s sexual attractiveness and stability, and researchers tracked their ovulation cycles. They then quizzed each woman about her relationship at two different points in her cycle: once at a point of high fertility and once at a point of low fertility. Women with the "good, stable guy" felt more distant from their boo at their highest fertility point, whereas women who were with particularly "sexy" men — which the researchers defined, scientifically-speaking, as traditionally alpha guys with strong features, a deep voice, and dominant behavior — were more satisfied. (That said, my boyfriend is very dominant, has a deep voice, and crazy-strong jawline, so potentially these women with alpha dudes are also still shopping around.) Several other studies have confirmed that women are more likely to cheat when they're ovulating.
Luckily for me, I'm in a super open and honest relationship where we can talk about our attraction to other people, and are even allowed to explore it in certain ways, so it isn't really an issue. Still, in the future, I will try to check any annoyance I might feel when I'm ovulating and make sure I'm not being too much of an entitled, sexually-pressuring brat.
6. I Can Tell Exactly When I'm Ovulating By My Discharge
I don't usually pay much attention to my discharge unless it seems like there's something wrong with it. But after editing an article on what your discharge can tell you about your body, I learned that you can often tell the exact day when you're actually ovulating (rather than just in your fertile week) by the fact that you suddenly get 30 times more discharge, of a different variety. It's white, stretchy, bounces back when you wipe it — it's your cervical mucus. When I looked for its appearance, I noticed that Femometer was indeed able to confirm that I was at the peak of my monthly fertility. Now I'll know to watch out for it — in fact, it might be my way of keeping track of ovulation without having to take my temperature every day.
7. I Feel A Sudden Drop In Sex Drive Right After Ovulation
When the high of ovulating is over, I realized it's pretty clear, because suddenly, I'm back to my normal sex drive and outfits. It's not like my sex drive disappears, but it drops from an every-day deal to an every-other-day kind of sitch. Again, there appears to be a hormonal explanation. "By the end of this [fertile] week, your progesterone levels will cause your libido to dip again," Kaywin confirms. "Just another bump on the never-ending rollercoaster of having a female reproductive system."
8. I Start Getting Much, Much Hungrier The Week Before My Period
My experiment confirmed it for sure: one of the first signs my body is getting ready to shed that uterine lining is that I start getting hungrier. Like, way hungrier. According to Women's Day magazine, the average woman spends about 100 to 300 extra calories a day when her body is preparing to shed her uterine lining. Maybe it's because I have a fast metabolism, but I think I'm definitely on the 300 calorie-end of the spectrum; maybe more. I start getting super hungry all the time in the week before my period.
9. I Tend To Feel Badly About The Way I Look When I'm PMSing
Besides getting extra hungry, one of the first signs I get that I'm PMSing tends to be that my body image plummets, a fact confirmed by tracking my cycle alongside my moods. I'll go from feeling super fine (or at least fine) to looking in the mirror and just feeling ... gross. Apparently, this feeling can be explained by the drop in serotonin that happens when you're PMSing, and that can leave those of us already prone to body dysmporphia or depression in an extra-low state. As Dr. Holland explains,
Lower estrogen levels cause serotonin levels to drop precipitously a few days before menstruation, which may be the basis of many PMS symptoms. Low levels of serotonin are implicated in depression, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder ... you're even more physically sensitive to pain than usual, and more emotionally sensitive to criticism. You're less resilient in the face of stresses and feel sadder, hungrier, and more scared, tearful, and angsty.
It's useful to track my cycle for this reason alone, just so I can remind myself that there is a reason for the sudden change in body image, and challenge my negative self-perception. Now, when I feel it, I'll tell myself, "remember, you're PMSing, and just last week, you felt the opposite. Self-image is all relative." It doesn't make the feeling go away entirely — but it is comforting to remember it's temporary.
10. I Like To Organize & Bake In The Days Right Before My Period
Yet another phenomenon I confirmed while tracking my cycle and reading Dr. Holland's book, this same drop in serotonin before your period can often trigger OCD-like symptoms in women that drive them to reorganize and clean out their closets. I realized this week is basically the only time I'm motivated to clean or bake. That might be due to the "mini-nesting" that happens when you're PMSing.
As Dr. Holland explains, "every month, when your body prepares for a possible embryo implantation, progesterone levels are building and causing a smaller form of nesting," she writes. "Toward the end of the cycle, a woman might become dissatisfied with her environment and obsessive about making changes in order to make sure the setting is appropriate next month for the burrowing of the embryo into the uterine lining." You might have heard of this tendency in pregnant women, who in their last trimester have low progesterone levels — and are known to go into a frenzy of cleaning house and nesting in order to prepare for the baby. Who knew we get a mini version of the same feeling each month?
11. My Libido Really Bounces Back The Second & Third Day Of My Period
(That would be me, smiling with my menstrual cup.) Even though it's one of the heaviest days and I can feel really tired, I also feel an immense sense of relief at the beginning of my period — and begin to feel hornier again. As Kaywin writes, this also has a biological basis. "Day one of your period is the time during your cycle when your hormones estrogen and testosterone are at their lowest. But, as your testosterone levels rise a couple days into your cycle, your sex drive goes with it, making you horny." And while not all women enjoy period sex, for many of us, it gives us a head-start on arousal: Your pelvic area is literally full of blood at this time in your cycle, so you are already more engorged, which is what happens during arousal.
12. Knowing When You're Ovulating Isn't Just About Pregnancy
I think that everyone could benefit from understanding their cycle more closely and tracking their moods and symptoms over a few months. You learn what to expect, and even if there aren't always such clear patterns, it helps you feel more like you're riding the crimson wave (rather than it riding you). Plus, I found that the Femometer was better at predicting the exact day my period would come than my traditional calendar tracker app.
Though I'm sure my experience will always vary, there do seem to be some clear emotional and physical patterns to how I feel throughout my cycle, and it's good to understand them so that I don't feel as crazy and out of control — and can potentially plan vacations and other events around my cycle, should I so desire. That said, I don't think I'll continue taking my temperature, because I'm not trying to use the rhythm method or get pregnant, and it made me feel a bit like a chicken waiting to hatch.
Being able to confirm that I do in fact appear to be ovulating, however, was reassuring and empowering. Knowledge is always power — perhaps especially when it comes to our amazingly complex and fascinating reproductive systems. Like Dr. Holland argues, women aren't "moody bitches." We're actually incredibly adaptable people, riding an ever-shifting hormonal roller coaster. It's pretty damn impressive, really.
Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.
Images: Giphy; Femometer; Rachel Krantz/Bustle