Health

Here’s What Birth Control Actually Does To Your Sex Drive

Pregnancy protection with a side of low libido? No thank you please.

1. You may have heard some people complain that birth control killed their sex drive. Maybe you’ve even thought it yourself.

What’s behind this, and how can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you? We spoke with OB/GYNs Dr. Jennifer Gunter and Dr. Mary Jane Minkin to get more info. Here’s what you need to know.

3. According to the research, some women report a higher sex drive on the Pill, some report a lower sex drive, and some totally stay the same.

Lots of studies have looked at this problem, all with conflicting results. Some find a correlation between birth control and low libido for some women (but not all), while others find no significant link. Other studies find that some women report a higher sex drive on the Pill or no change at all. Basically, it’s a mixed bag.

But when you look at the big reviews of multiple studies on the subject, it looks like the majority of women actually don’t report any problems. Only about 15% of women noticed a dip in libido while on birth control, according to a 2013 review in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, which looked at 36 studies between 1978 and 2011. And unfortunately, it’s not clear that birth control was actually causing the decrease in all of those cases, since there are a ton of other factors that come into play with desire, says Gunter.

But obviously there are women who swear up and down that the Pill zapped their sex drive, so what’s going on here?

5. Taking hormonal birth control can screw with your testosterone levels.

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Most hormonal birth control methods work by releasing hormones that stop ovulation. So if you’re using the Pill, the ring, the patch, the shot, or the implant — you’re not actually ovulating each month (yay, no babies). But your ovaries are also responsible for producing testosterone, which is thought to be involved in your sex drive, says Minkin.

Plus, the estrogen in birth control can increase sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds testosterone so that there’s less of it circulating in the body, says Gunter. A 2006 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that birth control pill users had four times the amount of SHBG than women who had never used the Pill. So that might play a role, too.

Finally, shutting down ovulation means you won’t get those mid-cycle spikes in testosterone that some women blame for being really horny when they’re ovulating. Instead, birth control makes your hormone levels stay relatively stable all month long. Not everyone feels those highs and lows throughout their cycle to begin with, but if you used to be sex-crazed around ovulation before you started birth control, you might miss that once you’re on it.

6. And birth control can also make it harder to get wet.

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For some women, being on a low-dose birth control method can make lubrication a chore. And while that’s not necessarily a sign of low libido, it’s hard to get turned on when it feels like the freaking Sahara down there.

8. Before you set fire to your birth control, keep these two major caveats in mind:

1. Libido is really hard to measure. It’s important to note that everyone might have their own unique definition of what “low libido” means to them. Does it mean the thought of sex repulses you now… or does it mean that you don’t want to spontaneously jump your spouse as much as you used to? This might also be why it’s so hard to pin down the exact effects birth control could have on your desire.

2. Your libido is impacted by way more than just testosterone. Think about all the little factors that make up your sex drive. Yes, hormones can certainly be part of it, but what about your emotions, physiological responses, relationship status, comfort with your partner, body image, stress level, attitudes about intimacy, and all that other fun stuff? Sure, most women will have lower testosterone levels on the Pill, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely feel a loss of desire, says Gunter.

10. All that being said, here’s what to do if you’re on birth control and your sex drive just isn’t what it used to be.

11. 1. Consider any other factors that might be playing a role.

Antidepressants are one of the most common causes of lowered libido, says Minkin. But a reduced sex drive can also be from stress, anxiety, health issues, relationship troubles, or a ton of other factors. Even being in a fantastic, long-term relationship can be associated with less spontaneous desire over time. Basically, cast a wide net before throwing out your pregnancy protection. If you’re still sure it’s the birth control and you want to try another pill or method to see if that makes a difference, there’s certainly no harm in that, says Gunter.

12. 2. Consider switching to another pill that works better with your body.

Some pills are known to be a little harder on libido than others based on which type of synthetic progestin they contain, says Minkin. For instance, Yaz and Yasmin contain drospirenone, which is very anti-testosterone and therefore awesome for clearing up acne, but could potentially affect your libido. Meanwhile, pills like Lybrel and Lutera contain levonorgestrel, which acts a lot like testosterone and may actually be better for libido.

That said, these aren’t the effects that EVERYONE can expect on these pills. You might have a much higher libido on something like Yasmin knowing your skin is cleared up and you’re on a reliable birth control method. Everybody’s body is different. It might just take some trial and error.

13. 3. Consider switching to an IUD, especially the copper one.

The copper IUD is hormone-free, so it shouldn’t have any effect on your sex drive. The hormonal IUD would also be a pretty safe bet, since it doesn’t actually shut down ovulation, and the amount of synthetic progestin that gets absorbed into your bloodstream would be miniscule, says Minkin. And obviously, there are always condoms.

14. 4. Consider lube.

Jennifer Lopez VEVO / Via BuzzFeed

If dryness is your issue, keep in mind that lubrication and desire don’t always go hand in hand. You might be ridiculously horny and just not getting wet for whatever reason (like you’re on a low-estrogen pill). If that’s the case, lube can be incredibly helpful in getting things going.

15. Bottom line: If your sex drive isn’t what it used to be, it might not actually be your birth control’s fault. But it’s worth talking to your doctor about anyway.

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They can help you narrow down the causes and figure out the best way to fix it.

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