artgalleryBefore I reel you in to today’s Hormonology Tip, I’d like you to take a look at these five paintings by 20th century American artist Georgia O’Keeffe:

Red Canna
Jack in the Pulpit IV
Grey Line with Black, Blue and Yellow
Red Poppy
Slightly Open Clamshell

Don’t read ahead till you do. You’ll totally ruin it.

Okay, done? Good. So, what do you think about the paintings: Sweet, colorful renditions of flowers and shells? Or, perhaps, beautiful erotic images?

Believe it or not, your answer could reveal where you are in your monthly cycle.

That’s the word from a 2011 study from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. The researchers there asked 83 female volunteers to give their opinions on one of those five paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, which are widely interpreted to be erotic, every six days of their monthly cycle for a full cycle. For their responses, the women were asked to describe how the paintings made them feel and what they thought the painter was trying to say.

Here’s what the researchers discovered:

> During the first two weeks of the women’s cycles–Week 1 and Week 2–31% of their descriptions included erotic themes. For instance, the study participants may have mentioned that the painting reminded them of sexual organs or sexual desire or the paintings looked sexual.

> During the second two weeks of the women’s cycles–Week 3 and Week 4–only 9% of their descriptions include references to erotic imagery.

> Women taking oral hormone contraceptives landed somewhere in the middle with 13% referencing erotic themes during the first half of their cycle and 17% in the second half. 

So, what’s going on?

During the first half of your cycle, a rise in estrogen and testosterone (at tail end) revs your sensitivity and responsiveness to erotic images–so you’re more apt to perceive eroticism when looking at, say, a beautiful painting.

As the researchers explain it, this is simply part of a biological push from your body and brain to get you in the mood for sex in time for ovulation in the middle of your cycle. The unexpected perk is that art is a lot more interesting to look at on these days.

By contrast, during the second half of your cycle, your libido is naturally lower due to dipping estrogen and testosterone levels and a rise in desire-quashing progesterone. So, you don’t perceive as much sensual imagery–even if it’s fairly blatant.

And women who take hormone birth control don’t experience those peaks and troughs that naturally-cycling women do, landing them in a sort of cycle-long middle-ground between the two.

Okay, so now what can you do with this nugget of cycle info you’ve just learned?

Well, when you notice art seems to be fairly suggestive–or, for that matter, if you notice a TV advertisement, your morning bowl of fruity loops or a college astrophysics textbook seems racier than usual–check where you are in your cycle. It could just be your Week 1 and Week 2 hormones bringing out the saucy side in everything around you.

And, if everyone you know is like, “Wow, does that 50 Shades of Grey movie looks really hot or what?” and you’re like, “Eh,” maybe it’s just because you’re in Week 3 or Week 4 of your cycle when libidinous feelings are low. (Or you’ve seen that Ryan Gosling Dirty Dancing clip and you know what “hot” really is.)

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[Photo: Daniela Goulart]