Birth Control Controlling Your Sex Drive?

If you are sexually active, then you may be considering investing in a more permanent form of birth control in order to prevent unplanned pregnancy. The birth control pill is one of the most popular contraceptives available for women. Easy to take and relatively inexpensive, the birth control pill has been used by more than 80% of American women born after 1945. However, research now indicates that the birth control pill may inhibit more than just pregnancy. The pill may also significantly, and perhaps permanently, dampen your sexual drive.

What is the Birth Control Pill?
The birth control pill prevents pregnancy primarily by suppressing a woman’s natural cycle of ovulation. Taken daily for three consecutive weeks, the birth control pill delivers a combination of synthetic hormones (usually ones that mimic estrogen and progesterone) to your body. These hormones work to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg for fertilization every month and by interfering with implantation during months in which ovulation is not prevented. There are a variety of different birth control pills, each containing varying levels of synthetic hormones, available to women.

The Birth Control Pill and Sex Drive: What We Already Know
For the past thirty years, researchers, health care providers, and pill users have acknowledged that the pill can cause a number of side effects. Ranging from weight gain to depression, the pill is definitely not without its drawbacks. An additional drawback for many women is that the birth control pill can inhibit sex drive. In particular, the pill appears to:

  • decrease libido
  • decrease sexual enjoyment
  • decrease lubrication during sexual intercourse

Typically, though, this side effect was thought to disappear when use of the birth control pill was discontinued.

Why Does the Pill Affect Sex Drive?
It appears that the birth control pill affects sex drive because it acts directly on a woman’s sexual hormones. In particular, the birth control pill inhibits the production of androgens, including testosterone, in a woman’s ovaries. Androgens have a direct effect on the pleasure that you experience during sexual intercourse. Additionally, the birth control pill also appears to increase the amount of sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in the body. SHBG is a protein that binds to testosterone, preventing a woman’s body from using it effectively. High levels of SHBG have been directly linked to decreased libido and sexual desire.

A New Study on Birth Control and the Libido
In January 2006, a new study was released illustrating possible long-term effects of the birth control pill on the female libido. Published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, this study finds that women using the birth control pill showed markedly-decreased levels of sexual desire than those women who do not use the birth control pill. It also found that women who had discontinued use of the pill continued to suffer side effects in the long-term.

What the Study Found
The study, conducted by American endocrinologist, Dr. Claudia Panzer, included 124 premenopausal women who had experienced long-term sexual dysfunction. The women were divided into three groups: continued birth control pill users, former pill users, and women who had never used the pill before. SHBG levels for all three groups were taken on three separate occasions: at the commencement of the study, 80 days after pill discontinuation, and 120 after pill discontinuation.

The study found that levels of SHBG were much higher in the continued pill users than in those women who had never used the pill before. At the commencement of the study, continued pill users had 4 times the levels of SHBG in their system than non-users. Even 120 days after discontinuing the pill, continued pill users still had 2 times the levels of SHBG that non-users had. This suggests that perhaps the birth control pill can contribute to long-term elevated levels of SHBG. It may even mean that the birth control pill could permanently affect SHBG levels in pill users, even after they discontinue use of the contraception.

What Still Needs To Be Done
Further research is needed to examine the long-term effects of the birth control pill on a woman’s SHBG levels and sexual libido. In particular, researchers need to determine whether SHBG levels will eventually decline to normal levels in previous pill users. If not, researchers need to try to find out why this is the case.

If Your Libido is Low…
If you are finding that you are experiencing the effects of a low libido, you may want to speak to your health care provider. Your birth control pill may indeed be contributing to your diminished sexual desire, but this does not necessarily mean you should discontinue taking the pill. Instead, your health care provider can find you another type of pill that may better suit your needs. Many women find that triphasic birth control pills (which deliver differing amounts of hormones every week) interfere much less with their sex drive than monophasic pills (which deliver the same amount of hormones each dose). Keep in mind however that changing pill types may not be enough. All hormonal methods may produce this troubling effect.

If you do decide to discontinue your birth control pill, be sure to consider another form of contraception, such as a condom or diaphragm, when engaging in sexual intercourse. Also, realize that your sex drive may be slow to return.

Chat with other women to find out how birth control can affect your sex drive in our birth control forum.

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