Birth Control Pills
The Birth Control Pill and Sex Drive: What We Already Know
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.
- decrease libido
- decrease sexual enjoyment
- decrease lubrication during sexual intercourse
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.
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.
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.
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 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.