By Suzannah Weiss. Photos: Courtesy of CNP Montrose.
When you and your roommates are all together on the couch eating chocolate and clutching your hot water bottles, it's easily to buy into the idea that when women spend a lot of time together, their menstrual cycles begin to sync up.. We really want to believe period-syncing exists: 80 percent of women in one study in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology said it was a real phenomenon, and 70 percent said they liked that it happened, perhaps because it evokes an idea of sisterhood. But is there any truth behind the concept?
In the past, research has said "yes." A 1971 University of Chicago study in Nature found that college friends' periods were closer together at the end of the school year than they were at the beginning. Similarly, a 1999 study in the Journal of Comparative Psychology found that sisters' and friends' periods got closer over time.
But a 1992 meta-analysis in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that the most influential results supporting menstrual synchrony could be explained away by errors, and more recent evidence has been even shakier. A 1993 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology failed to find synchrony in lesbian couples, and a 2006 study in Human Nature once again found no evidence of menstrual synchrony.
Given these mixed findings, the team behind the period-tracking app Clue was curious if they could observe any patterns among their users. Researchers from Clue and the University of Oxford analyzed data from 360 pairs of close women, including friends, siblings, parents and children, partners, roommates, and colleagues.
Not only did cycles fail to sync up; they actually got out of sync. 273 of the 360 pairs (76 percent) had periods further apart at the end of three or more cycles than when the tracking began. Only 79 pairs of women—22 percent— had their periods get closer together. On average, cycles were 10 days apart at the beginning and 38 days apart at the end. Perhaps most surprisingly, cohabiting women were more likely to have diverging cycles, not converging ones. Of the pairs whose cycles diverged, 37 percent were living together, but only 24 percent of those whose cycles converged lived together.
"Our brain likes to look for patterns, so if you have a friend and your friend tells you that they've got their period, if you don't have your period at that particular point, that'll be a piece of information that your brain won't necessarily notice," Clue's data scientist Marija Vlajic told Glamour. "If your friend tells you 'I've got my period today' and you're like 'me too,' you think, 'wow, what's the chance?'" It's the same reason you and an old friend may seem to have a telepathic connection if you think of them and then they email you, when there are plenty of other times you think of them and don't hear from them.
One reason some studies have seemed to support menstrual synchrony is mathematics, Vlajic explains. "Say I get my period today and you get your period in 10 days. At this point, we differ by 10 days, and say that your cycle is two days shorter than mine. So then, when we get our next cycle, the difference will only be eight days."
While Martha McClintock, the author of the original University of Chicago study claiming to prove menstrual synchrony, still thinks there are some situations when it occurs, Vlajic says that's doubtful. "It can be very emotional and very exciting when you notice that you and your friend kind of sync, but it's important to look at it from the more rational side."
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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