Ruben Arslan, Katharina Schilling, Tanja Gerlach and Lars Penke

Using 26 thousand diary entries to show ovulatory changes in sexual desire and behaviour

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Previous research reported ovulatory changes in women’s appearance, mate preferences, extra- and in-pair sexual desire and behaviour, but has been criticised for small sample sizes, inappropriate designs, and undisclosed flexibility in analyses. In the present study, we sought to address these criticisms by preregistering our hypotheses and analysis plan and by collecting a large diary sample. We gathered over 26 thousand usable online self-reports in a diary format from 1043 women, of which 421 were naturally cycling. We inferred the fertile period from menstrual onset reports. We used hormonal contraceptive users as a quasi-control group, as they experience menstruation, but not ovulation. We probed our results for robustness to different approaches (including different fertility estimates, different exclusion criteria, adjusting for potential confounds, moderation by methodological factors). We found robust evidence supporting previously reported ovulatory increases in extra-pair desire and behaviour, in-pair desire, and self-perceived desirability, as well as no unexpected associations. Yet, we did not find predicted effects on partner mate retention behaviour, clothing choices, or narcissism. Contrary to some of the earlier literature, partners’ sexual attractiveness did not moderate the cycle shifts. Taken together, the replicability of the existing literature on ovulatory changes was mixed. We conclude with simulation-based recommendations for reading the past literature and for designing future large-scale preregistered within-subject studies to understand ovulatory cycle changes and the effects of hormonal contraception. Interindividual differences in the size of ovulatory changes emerge as an important area for further study.

A correction was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000251). An extended version of the Correction is available here: