The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Sexclamations: Birth Control May Lower Sex Drive

3 min read

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Marie Sicola/Bullet

If you’re experiencing decreased sexual desire, the cause may be your birth control. Oral contraceptives are like any other medicines in that there are a range of side effects associated with them. Birth control affects all women in different, highly variable ways. Most women know that birth control can cause headaches and weight gain but overlook the increased risk for lower libido.

Since oral contraceptives slightly alter sex hormones, it is not surprising that contraceptives can alter one’s sexual desires as well. Different types of birth control vary in the amount and type of hormones used to suppress ovulation but, in general, they all use synthetic hormones that mimic estrogen and progestin that prevent the release of an egg.

Additionally, the hormones thicken the mucus around the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to pass through the cervix and attach with an egg.

More directly related to decreased sex drive, birth control reduces the production of androgens, which directly affects sexual desire and sexual pleasure. Testosterone is the most commonly known androgen.

To add insult to injury, birth control is speculated to increase the amount of libido lowering “sex hormone binding globulin,” or SHBG, which attaches to testosterone.

In turn, the combination of reduced testosterone and increased SHGB negatively impacts sex drive and sexual pleasure in some women.

For some women, birth control can lead to full on sexual dysfunction, including reduced libido, decreased pleasure from intercourse, and decreased lubrication during intercourse.

Surprisingly, recent research has shown that discontinuation of the pill does not lead to discontinuation of the aforementioned side effects.

American endocrinologist Claudia Panzer found that “continued pill users had four times the levels of SHBG in their system than non-users,” Even more astonishing is that even those who had discontinued using the pill for 120 days had two times the levels of SHBG than women who had never taken the pill.

It is important to note that this research is not a reason to throw away your birth control pills.
Although this short-term study suggests birth control pills can have long terms effects even after discontinuation of usage, more thorough, larger scale research needs to be completed before we can make these broad ranging assumptions about birth control and libido, especially considering that a myriad of factors can reduce sex drive, such as stress.

Moreover, research needs to be done on women with sexual dysfunction that have never taken birth control. It is probable that birth control does not decrease sex drive and that some women naturally have decreased libido.
Libido is a complex thing that needs to be researched from many different angles. I think the research is too unclear and the subject matter too complex to pinpoint the pill as the main cause for decreases in sex drive at this time.
While birth control may control more than just pregnancy and have some negative effects, its value should not be disregarded. For many women, birth control does not affect them negatively. In fact, states that only five to ten percent of women will experience reduced sex drive because of birth control.

If you are experiencing symptoms of sexual dysfunction and are taking oral contraceptives, I recommend talking to your doctor and discussing different types of pills.

Switching from a monophasic pill to a triphasic pill may help clear up symptoms of sexual dysfunction, sense triphasic pills deliver varied amount of hormones to your body throughout the month, mimicking a natural cycle more so than a monophasic pill, which contains the same amount of hormones in each dose.
However, keep in mind that contraceptive pills affect every woman in slightly different ways.

Be patient, as it may take a while to find the right pill for you. Nevertheless, I think the wait is worthwhile, for the pill is 99.9 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, if taken correctly.

Don’t forget to use condoms to prevent STDs. Additionally, be sure to use condoms if you are in the midst of switching to a different type of birth control pill. The pill takes a few weeks to reach maximum effectiveness.