While birth control changed the way we live, providing us with several benefits—its greatest one being freedom—many women say that using it leads to a lowered libido.
This is based on the idea that certain birth control lowers testosterone in the body, although there is no evidence supporting this theory.
While we all welcome the freedom birth control affords us, maintaining a healthy sex drive and a natural level of desire is important too. But women’s sexual drive and desire is so complex and layered and affected by our own unique psychological makeup and cultural expectations that it’s difficult to pin down how and by what it is influenced.
Other factors that come into play are your sensitivity to changes in hormone levels in the body; the type of hormone you are using and the manner in which it acts; the type of sex you take pleasure in; as well as your feelings around sex with or without birth control.
Added to that, sex drive is a broad term and can encompass desire, arousal, and orgasm; plus, it can be affected by physical pain.
Furthermore, in some cases, research has shown that women have reported an increase in sexual desire after starting to use birth control.
So, clearly, it’s a complicated issue.
How the different birth control options affect your sex drive
Here’s a look at the “typical” effects of certain birth control methods on sex drive:
Condoms can sometimes cause vaginal irritation and general discomfort and when used with spermicide, can also cause flare-ups, swelling, or itchiness (3). And for some women, the use of spermicide often leads to urinary tract infections (UTIs).
These types of side effects can impact a woman’s desire to have sex.
Hormonal contraceptives may affect your sexual desire, your mental state about sex, and your ability to orgasm – positively and negatively.
Some side effects, although not directly linked to your sex drive, may influence your libido. These are side effects such as fatigue, bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, yeast infections, depression, and cramping.
But on the flip side, the hormonal IUD can actually improve issues with pain during sex. Plus, it can cause an increase in libido after a year of using it according to Dr Lakeisha Richardson, an ob-gyn based in Greenville, Mississippi.
Generally, contraceptives that work through hormones moving through a woman’s body, such as the pill, the Depo-Provera shot, and the patch tend to get the most complaints when it comes to a decrease in sex drive. But again, each woman is different, so it’s always worth giving a method a try before ruling it out.
“It is important to remember that hormonal birth control methods are created to prevent ovulation and in order to do that, female hormones have to be altered or suppressed. Unfortunately, those same hormones help control the female sex drive,” says Richardson.
Generally, the copper IUD and barrier methods (i.e. hormone-free contraceptives) can sometimes have fewer such side effects.
If you’re looking for more information on the different types of contraceptives available, or you need some advice, visit Find My Method.
Other factors could be the add-ons and not just the birth controls
Your chosen method of birth control is far from the only thing that can dampen your desire for sex.
Very frequently noticed that some decline in your usual drive, could be related to factors like:
- Feelings for your partner(s)
- Sex time enjoyment
- Relationship problems
- Stress related to family issues, work, or social
- Physical health like sleep problems, digestive issues, and diabetes
- Mood or mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
- It’s also not uncommon to experience regular shifts in drive over the course of the menstrual cycle. There are rises and falls.
Birth control can be a mood-booster
Preventing pregnancy is the most obvious and greatest benefit of birth control, and knowing that you’re protected from falling pregnant can make all the difference when it comes to arousal and pleasure. Similarly, worrying about falling pregnant can drastically and negatively influence your sex drive.
Besides this obvious benefit, there are other things that birth control helps with too—it can help regulate periods, or cause them to be lighter and less painful; it can improve skin; reduce cramping; lessen the risk of certain types of cancers and ovarian cysts; help control endometriosis; and lessen hormonal migraines; plus more.
Do’s to improve
Have a conversation with your healthcare provider who prescribes you birth control pills. Both of you can work together and plan to restore your sexual interest that might include:
- Measuring your serum androgen levels and supplementing them, if required
- Switching to a different type of birth control pill
- Switching from birth control pills to a different kind of contraception, such as an IUD
- Practice reducing stress, in general, which can reduce a woman’s sexual urge.
- Women should not have to choose between taking birth control pills and enjoying a robust sex life. If you feel your desire has lessened since you started taking oral contraceptives, seek help from your doctor.
There are unlimited things that can affect your desire for sex and a healthcare professional can offer more insight on possible causes. The key to effective birth control lies in balancing your desired outcome, such as pregnancy prevention, with any potential side effects. With a little effort, one may be able to find a method that offers more benefits than downsides. Also, If you start a new birth control and notice you’re not interested enough, talk to your doctor. The research on how birth control effects sex drive is pretty mixed, so your lack of desire might be caused by your birth control or something else.
Because the effects of birth control are so different for each person, ultimately, you have to decide what constitutes a “good” sexual experience for you. And then you need to determine what factors affect that experience both positively and negatively.
Once you know, you can decide whether the pros of your birth control outweigh the cons, and take it from there.