Within-cycle fluctuations in progesterone negatively predict changes in both in-pair and extra-pair desire among partnered women

Horm Behav. 2016 May:81:45-52. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.03.008. Epub 2016 Apr 2.


Grebe et al. (2016) argued that women's sexual interest in their own partners may be under different hormonal regulation than their sexual desire for other men. They measured partnered women's salivary hormones and reports of attraction to different categories of men at two time points separated by one week. Change in progesterone positively predicted change in women's desire for their own partners, whereas change in estradiol was a negative predictor. These results are opposite to those we previously reported for the hormonal prediction of general sexual desire in a study that employed frequent hormone sampling across multiple menstrual cycles (Roney and Simmons, 2013). Here, to test replication of the Grebe et al. findings, we assessed hormonal predictors of targeted in-pair and extra-pair desire among the subset of the sample from our 2013 paper who reported being in romantic relationships. Contrary to Grebe et al. (2016), we found that within-cycle fluctuations in progesterone were negatively correlated with changes in women's desire for both their own partners and other men. In addition, both in-pair and extra-pair desire were elevated within the fertile window and lowest during the luteal phase. Our findings contradict the idea that partner-specific desire has a unique form of hormonal regulation, and instead support a general elevation of sexual motivation associated with hormonal indices of fecundity. Discussion focuses on possible reasons for the discrepancies in findings between our study and that of Grebe et al. (2016), and on the evolved functions of women's sexual motivation.

Keywords: Estradiol; Progesterone; Relationships; Sexual motivation; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Libido / physiology*
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Menstrual Cycle / blood*
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Progesterone / blood*
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Partners* / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol