Is “Syncing Up” with Your Partner A Real Thing?

While I was dating my ex I came across this app called, Clue. It’s basically a glorified menstrual diary—an aggressive personal period tracker that records each menstrual cycle from the day you start til the bitter end. You can notate your mood, what kind of pains you’re experiencing, and even how much blood is flowing that day. It’s an overly thorough, if not obsessive way to know when you are going to get your period. Naturally, after I discovered it I became a period tracking guru. But I had other self-serving motives in mind. I decided, instead, to use Clue to decipher the exact magic moment when my girlfriend and I were finally going to “sync up.”

“Syncing up” or being on the same menstrual cycle as your significant other continues to be a lesbianism, (a mythically ordained story inextricably linked to being a lesbian), that has eluded many of us. However, the logic behind this syncing up pipedream is simple. If my, (now theoretical), girlfriend and I are on our periods at the same time then there will be more calendar days to have “clean” sex. With fewer combined period days and a higher potential for less messy sex, I can’t imagine any gay girl who wouldn’t want to believe in the syncing up phenomenon—though many of us continue to hook up straight through our periods anyway.

Lesbians aren’t obsessed with micromanaging our periods like our straight counterparts who fear unplanned pregnancy, but because navigating two separate periods has the potential to dramatically affect our sex lives. We just like to know when our cycles begin and end so that we know when we our peak sexy days are.  Personally, I have always felt like a massive failure because my own period tends to be irregular and jarringly short lived. None of my ex partners and I seemed capable of staying on the same crimson wave, and being newly single, it made me wonder, am I romantically doomed if I can’t sync up?

The answer is—probably not. Though it’s convenient to think that the inability to sync up is what ultimately annihilated past relationships, the science behind syncing up, or “menstrual synchrony” is not airtight. Though women who live in close proximity to one another, or are emotionally tethered may experience some cycle overlap, it’s not a guarantee of total synchronization. Menstrual synchrony, at best, is only a theory based on the release of pheromones by women who spend copious amounts of time together ultimately affecting the start of their cycles at around the same date.

Four decades ago, Martha McClintock’s 1971 research paper made a somewhat weak case for menstrual synchrony.  She was the birthmother of the concept, basing her findings on a study of 135 female Wellesley college students, aged 17-22, who lived in the same dormitory. McClintock observed, “a significant increase in synchronization of onset dates,” with the women who were together often. McClintock seemed pretty convinced that syncing up was the real thing, not just womanly mythos.

However, a somewhat recent 2006 study has poked holes in McClintock’s menstrual synchrony theory. (Apparently syncing up is scientifically controversial!) Zhengwei Yang and Jeffrey C. Shank say that “although synchrony does not occur, cycle variability many lead to the common perception of synchrony.” So, syncing up is really just something we perceive, (or we want to believe), is happening because we love our girlfriend but, in actuality, only happens by chance. And although you and your partner may sync up for a several blissful months, eventually each cycle will resume it’s own schedule. It is completely random. Yang and Shank pulled their study from a larger sample of women and over a much longer period of time than McClintock (collecting menstrual data from 29 groups of 4-8 Chinese women living in dorms over the course of a year)—making it the most thorough study to date.

Another problem in McClintock’s study was that she stressed to her Wellesley subjects to only report back similar onset dates of “close friends.” To McClintock that meant the subjects should only include “the people she saw most often and with whom she spent the most time with, not necessarily those with whom she felt the closest.” McClintock didn’t consider whether or not the emotional lives of the women had any considerable impact on onset dates. Understandably, it’s easier to measure frequency and amount of time spent—emotions are harder to verify. Both studies (by McClintock and Yang & Shank) also failed to take into account the sexual identities of the women being analyzed altogether.

Sadly, there is no existing study to see if women, specifically in lesbian relationships, have been prone to menstrual synchrony. There is no scientific inquiry into whether or not having a romantic or sexual relationship between two women could dramatically affect the tendency to share the same cycle. It’s a travesty, really, since the level of intimacy between women who are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually connected during a lesbian relationship might pale in comparison with two straight female friends or dorm roommates. But, hey, I’m no scientist—just a rogue lesbian looking for answers.