I went on a deep dive to find out why my favourite tracks sound even sicker for about three to six days during every month.
Lead illustration by Esme Blegvad
Among those of us who have periods, they’re not ~generally~ considered to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. You can go from feeling irritated/horny about some person in the office who is slowly and concisely stirring their tea, to feeling so anxious that you have to call in sick at work and spend the whole day pacing back and forth in your room going over that one weird thing you said three years ago in passing. All the while, you are literally bleeding non-stop. So when we speak about periods in relation to our emotions, they’re often couched in negativity. Sure, they don’t control us the way some cis men might like to believe, but shit can still be fucked. Let us not pretend it is a fun ride.
On the flip side, though, there are plenty of upsides to the menstrual cycle which we don’t often pay attention to. I obviously can’t speak for others, because I am only inside my own body and everyone’s hormonal makeup is different, but for around three to six days each month, I feel incredible. When I’m ovulating – that time when an egg is released from the ovary and pushed down the fallopian tube, FYI, if you didn’t listen during science at school – I feel more energetic, smarter, better looking, able to take on any task. But also, the world around me seems more beautiful. The sky looks bluer. The air, fresher. The people I talk to, hotter. And Frank Ocean’s “White Ferrari” doesn’t just sound like silk, it sounds like the heavens have opened and all the angels are playing a gig to me, personally, in perfect symphony. Or, y’know, it just sounds better.
I’ve spent a long time wondering why music sounds so sick when I’m ovulating. Maybe this happens to you too (plz @ me if it does). Or maybe it doesn’t, and you don’t even believe it’s a real thing. But I personally know that on a regular day, that line in Kevin Abstract’s “Runner” where he sings, “And boy I’ll be back when you’re lonely, if you want me to / My parents don’t know what’s gotten into me since I met you” is enough to cause a light stirring in my chest. When I’m ovulating, though, I feel as if I am inside the song, as if he is speaking about me directly, as if his voice is capturing the sun on my skin as I’m walking home from an amazing mid-summer shag. To me, it’s like the difference between eating a chocolate bar just because you want to, and being so starving that you have to cram that sweet, sticky goodness in your mouth immediately.
“This makes total sense,” says Dr Christiane Northrup, MD, a physician and leading authority in the field of women’s health, who assures me that I’m not alone in my strange, cyclical experience of auditory pleasure. “We know that when there’s that progesterone peak during ovulation, you literally get a change in the brain that is associated with being maximally receptive to the energy that comes towards you.” She continues: “But also, in something that’s called a ‘dichotic listening test’, it has been shown that when you are premenstrual, the hearing associated with right hemisphere of the brain is enhanced, and the left hemisphere is not. This is fascinating research and perhaps explains why women can feel sensitive before their period because the right hemisphere is associated with some of the more ‘critical’ [or negative] parts of your psych. However, at ovulation it’s the exact opposite, and that’s when people tend to feel at their best. So perhaps that explains why listening to music can be more enjoyable at ovulation.”
As with anything in this life, there are probably functional, evolutionary reasons behind why music can sound better during ovulation. Dr Northrup agrees: “I would say that this is nature saying, ‘yeah, everything is beautiful, so we want more, let’s have some more’ because we need to keep the species going and we need systems that override our intellect. We don’t need to be completely ruled by our biology, but we should understand how powerful it is. It’s a way of co-creating with the natural world through the rhythms of our body.” In other words, when my chest feels like it’s going to explode to the sound of that 80s remix of Ariana Grande’s “Into You” when I’m ovulating, that’s the universe telling me that if I made some babies, they too could enjoy the 80s remix of Ariana Grande’s “Into You”. Which, fair enough.
Nicole Telfer, a science researcher at period-traacking app Clue, agrees that hormonal fluctuations during ovulation might lead to enjoying music more, but she says this is something that needs more research, rather than something we know for sure. “Ovulation is triggered by different changes in your hormonal levels, so those could have tons of effects on you,” she says, before adding: “Emotions do fluctuate around the cycle. Around ovulation some studies have shown that women have more increased sexual desire and have more arousing fantasies. But this isn’t true for all people. Some people actually have increased desire around their periods instead, for instance, so really it’s different for everybody”.
She also points to a 2014 study called ‘Do Women Prefer More Complex Music around Ovulation?’ which theorised that people who have periods might be drawn to more complex sounds when they are most fertile because ‘complexity’ is something they look for in a ‘mate’ – kind of like birds and birdsong. In this study, though, they found that there was actually no correlation between ovulation and the complexity of sounds. That said, just because people who were ovulating weren’t drawn to more complex music in this one small study, doesn’t mean music doesn’t subjectively sound or feel better during that time, as they are two separate things. “This is a pretty niche subject,” adds Telfer, laughing, “but there is generally a lack of research around menstrual health and how we change throughout our cycles. More research is always needed”.
So, on the question of why the new Frankie Cosmos album Vessel is giving me so many feels this week, and why I might not even give a shit next week (I’m ovulating RN, just in case you were all desperate to know), the answer is multifaceted and something that we don’t know for sure because – as with anything relating to periods – there haven’t been enough studies. But, what I gather, is that I’m probably one of those lucky people that gets completely pulled around by their hormonal fluctuations, and that includes the general feeling of positivity that surrounds everything I come into contact with during ovulation – such as my relationship to music. So yeah, fuck taking drugs on a night out, just time it with your ovulation and be done with it.