Birth Control and the Female Libido

As much as 80% of women born after 1945 have taken birth control pills at some point in their lives. Indeed, the pill – as it is more commonly known – provides women with a safe, effective, and relatively inexpensive way to prevent pregnancy. However, there are potential risks associated with the use of this medication.

In particular, one side effect of the drug that is less commonly discussed than weight gain and headaches is decreased sexual drive. Indeed, current research suggests that as many as 5 to 10 percent of birth control pill users will suffer from sexual dysfunction.

How Does the Birth Control Bill Affect Sex Drive?

When you consider that the birth control pill is designed to influence a woman’s sexual hormones, it seems unsurprising that it might also have some effect on her sexual drive. Indeed, the pill inhibits the production of certain hormones called androgens, such as testosterone, which directly influence the level of pleasure we experience during intercourse.

At the same time, the pill also increases the production of a protein called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which – as its name suggests – serves to bind sexual hormoneslike testosterone and estrogen. Studies have shown a link between high levels of SHBG and decreased sexual desire.

Medical experts have been aware of the potential side effects of birth control pills for years, including weight gain, depression, headaches – and sexual dysfunction. This latter effect includes:

  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased enjoyment from sexual intercourse
  • Decreased lubrication during intercourse

In 2006, a study was conducted to document the relationship between libido and the birth control pill. The findings of the study revealed that women using the pill had significantly lower sexual desire than women not using the oral contraceptive. Moreover, the study disproved the notion that discontinuing the pill would eliminate this side effect, as it found that those who had discontinued its use continued to suffer from decreased libido.

However, further research is still necessary to confirm the long-term effects of birth control on a woman’s level of sexual desire, and in particular, on the effects of the pill on levels of SHGB in women no longer taking the medication.

What Can I Do to Prevent this Side Effect?

If you notice that your sexual drive is lower than normal, be sure to speak with your health care provider. In some cases, changing the brand of the pill you’re using may be all that’s necessary. This is because ertain types of birth control pills contain lower progestin and higher estrogen levels, which can reduce the effects on your sexual desire since progesterone contributes to vaginal dryness and general moodiness.

If you decide to discontinue using the pill, be sure to use condoms, diaphrams, or another form of birth control to help prevent unwanted pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which cannot be prevented through the use of oral contraceptives.

Finally, be aware that it may take some time for your libido to return to normal once you have decided to discontinue using birth control pills.

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