I have a strong hormonal cycle and it's affecting my relationship.
Jenna replies:Thanks so much for such a useful and honest site, it's a big help figuring this stuff out. I am 19 and in my first serious relationship. I seem to have a strong hormonal cycle, my body changes a lot from week to week. I have tried my best to explain this to my boyfriend, but he doesn't understand how things that feel good to me one day might not feel like anything, or hurt me, the next. For instance, he likes to squeeze and massage my breasts - sometimes I love this, but sometimes (usually before my period is due) it hurts so much I have to ask him to stop. Also, I'm usually really wet, but for a week or so after my period sometimes I don't really get wet no matter how turned on I am. He thinks I'm confused about what I like, or that if I say something hurts or I don't get wet it means he's doing something wrong or I'm not actually turned on or enjoying myself even when I am. It frustrates him that he has to ask if something feels good every time we do stuff together. Is there anything I can get him to read that might explain why this happens better than I can or in a way that he'll understand? Also, some women in my family have had problems with combined birth control pills and my doctor says I shouldn't take them, but if I took the mini pill would this stop happening so much?
Everyone is different when it comes to hormonal/menstrual cycles, and there certainly are people who experience more intense effects of physical and psychological changes throughout their cycle than others. Experiencing changes in your mood, how your body responds to different kinds of touch, and your natural lubrication are all common side effects of hormonal fluctuations throughout one’s cycle. It can definitely be hard to have those fluctuations affect your relationship and sex life, but having open communication in your relationship as well as an understanding partner can make a big difference. It's also not unusual for people not to like the same sexual things every single time they engage in sex, or to want sex at all sometimes, nor for something that felt good Tuesday not to feel so hot on Friday. People have those experiences often and we know those differences often have nothing to do with fertility or menstrual cycles at all: if nothing else, we know that because people without those cycles experience those differences in preference and desire, too.
Understanding Your Hormonal Cycle
Having an understanding of why and when these changes occur, and using that information to have an open conversation with your boyfriend might help him with his confusion and frustration. It sounds like you already have a pretty good understanding of your body, but a review of the menstrual cycle might be helpful. On the Rag: A Guide to Menstruation outlines the menstrual cycle, and how it affects you both when you are on your period and when you aren't. Another great resource is Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body, which is a fantastic book for teens and young women.
An important key to understand about menstrual cycles is that everyone is different. Not everyone has a 28-day cycle, so you will need to adapt this information to your own body. If you do not already do so, you might find tracking your period and hormonal-related symptoms to be helpful. Either by writing in a calendar or diary, or using a free online tool, tracking your period as well as when you are experiencing breast tenderness, vaginal dryness or any other symptom can help you identify where you are in your cycle and can help predict when you might experience these symptoms in future cycles. It is worth noting that this is not the same thing as tracking your fertility, which is another method of birth control called Fertility Awareness.
Talking to Your Partner
Fortunately, you have already started the conversation with your boyfriend by letting him know what does or doesn’t feel good, but it sounds like he still doesn’t fully understand that what you are experiencing is not because of him or your feelings towards him. A good place to start might be sharing this answer with him, and asking him to do some research on his own about women's bodies. A book like Our Bodies, Ourselves is one all-in-one-place reference he could start with, and he should be able to find an edition at any library.
Depending on your comfort level, if you do decide to track your cycle, you might even want to share your tracking tool with your boyfriend, to help him understand how what you are feeling is directly related to your hormones. This will also inform him of where you are in your cycle, and help him identify what might not feel as great to you at the moment.
Consent Within A Relationship
You mentioned that your partner is frustrated by having to check with you beforehand whether something feels good or not when you two are together.
Despite his frustration, incorporating consent into a relationship is really important, regardless of your hormonal cycle. People’s desires and sexual preferences can change over time, even within the same relationship. Checking in about what feels good and what one’s partner wants to do is a great communication practice. Do you also check in with your boyfriend to ensure that he feels good about your sexual activities? In addition to emphasizing the importance of consent within a relationship, using active, verbal consent better and more often yourself might reduce some of his frustration.
Sitting down with your boyfriend in a neutral location and having a face-to-face conversation with him might be a good way to approach this topic. Be a Blabbermouth! The Whys, Whats and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner is a great resource for having conversations that you think might not be as comfortable as you would like. Additionally, read and share Driver's Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent, as well as Reciprocity, Reloaded with your boyfriend too, if you think they will be helpful. They both address consent and the idea that people are equal when it comes to sex. Communication and consent around sex don't need to be non-sexy, buzz-kill obligations. It might be that in talking, the two of you can talk about how to ask each other what you want and like sexually during sex in ways that you each find makes things feel more exciting, not less.
You mention that you experience vaginal dryness for about a week after your period. This is very common for people with menstrual cycles (as is feeling drier towards the end of the cycle), and one reason why lube is a great option for folks! Some people experience little to no lubrication all month long, and others experience excessive lubrication, independent of how aroused they are. Everyone is different when it comes to lubrication. One's level of vaginal lubrication can be influenced by stress, hydration, diet, and of course hormonal changes and levels of arousal. (Also? It is okay if you are not super-turned on every single time your boyfriend and you are sexual together. No one should be expected to be as turned on as they can get every single time they engage in any kind of sex. That's just not a realistic expectation to have about anyone.). Once your boyfriend can tell that there is a correlation between your menstrual cycle and your natural level of lubrication, hopefully he will come to understand that you are still turned on and enjoying yourself.
If you do not already do so, using lube during that period can make sex much more comfortable, and it might even signal to your partner that you are still very interested in having sex. Additionally, always having a bottle of lube on hand can definitely take the pressure off of being lubricated enough, if you are aroused and interested in having sex. You might find that you enjoy using lube all the time, not just during that week after your period.
While having open communication with your boyfriend about how you are feeling is important to help him understand where you're coming from, it's also crucial that your needs are being met. If you feel attacked, or apologetic for your hormonal cycle, you might want to take a step back and assess whether you are with a partner that is capable of being sensitive to your needs. How you are feeling and what you are experiencing comes up for a lot of people, and you deserve a partner that can be understanding of that.
How Hormonal Birth Control Fits In
Combined hormonal birth control (the combination pill, the ring, or the patch) contains both estrogen and progestin, which work together to mimic the body’s natural hormones and keep the levels suspended at an amount that prevents pregnancy. Having a steadier level of hormones might actually have the opposite effect of what you are hoping for, however. Common side effects of combination birth control include decreased sexual desire, vaginal dryness, increased breast tenderness, as well as others. It sounds like you already know that combined birth control is not the best option for you. Taking birth control with both estrogen and progestin can cause issues for folks with a family history of blood clots, heart disease, or breast cancer.
The mini pill, as well as the Mirena IUD, the shot, and the implant are all birth control methods that only contain progestin. Progestin-only birth control methods have possible side-effects, too, such as decreased libido, headaches, and nausea. Progestin-only methods also might result in breast tenderness, which is something to consider as that is a concern for you. The nice thing about progestin-only methods is that you can try a short-term method such as the mini-pill, and depending on how it works with your body, you can always change up your method for a longer-acting one, such as the shot, implant, or IUD.
Probably your best next step is to read over Birth Control Bingo and speak with a health provider to ensure that any existing health conditions in your family are taken into account when selecting a birth control. If you do not currently have a health provider that you feel comfortable with expressing your concerns, you can also find a teen- and young adult-friendly doctor here: Find-a-Doc. It also sounds like you might benefit from talking to a healthcare provider in general about all of this. If, in fact, you feel like your hormones are out of whack, or are impacting you to a degree that strikes you as unusual, it would probably be helpful to find out what, if anything, is really going on here, just for yourself.
There is no guarantee that hormonal birth control will address or minimize the effects of your hormonal cycle -- or, if the changes of your cycles have little or nothing to do with any of this, that it will make any difference with wanting different things from day to day -- but it is worth discussing with a trusted provider if that is something you would like to explore.
Based on your concerns, helping your boyfriend to understand your cycle and physical fluctuations is a great first step. In addition to sharing the resources above and below, sitting down and having a candid conversation about your needs and the importance of active consent -- for anyone, not just as something special you need -- will hopefully help. Additionally, continue to explore birth control methods that will work for you and your body, and stand up for yourself to ensure that your needs are being met.
Resources on Birth Control and the Menstrual Cycle
Birth Control Bingo
Birth Control Bingo: Minipills
Birth Control Bingo: What's the Right Hormonal Method for Me?
Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body
Be a Blabbermouth! The Whys, Whats and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner
Driver's Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent