It's a commonly circulated narrative that taking hormonal birth control can tank a person's sex drive, even though there is evidence both in support of that idea and contrary to it. So researchers from the University of Kentucky and Indiana University set out to determine what, if anything, contraception's effect on sex drive really is. According to two studies carried out by a paper published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, authors Dr. Kristen Mark, Christine Leistner, and Dr. Justin Garcia found that the idea that going on the Pill kills sex drive is a myth.
It's true that some women who were on the Pill experienced a lower sex drive. But researchers hypothesized that other circumstances, such as their age and the length of their relationships were more often to blame than the simple fact of being on the Pill. "Most research doesn't focus on partners or people in long-term relationships but many contraceptive users are in long-term monogamous relationships," said Dr. Mark, "So this is an important group to study."
For the two studies, researchers decided to focus on men and women in long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationships to see how their relationship choices affected their sex drives in conjunction with being on birth control. The study first divided women into three contraceptive groups: those who used oral hormonal birth control (like the Pill), those who used other hormonal birth control (like implants), and those who used non-hormonal birth control (like copper IUDs). Then, it measured what it called women's solitary and dyadic sexual desires, meaning their desire for solo sex versus their desire for sex with a partner.
The study found that women on non-hormonal birth control reported a higher solitary sex drive than women on hormonal birth control. But women on oral hormonal birth control reported a higher desire for sex with a partner than women on non-hormonal birth control. Researchers also looked at the effects on sexual desire for men who are partnered to someone on birth control, but there weren't statistically significant differences. What the paper thus concluded was that, while birth control did have an effect on sex drive for some women, relationship length and age were much stronger predictors of sexual desire than the type of contraception a woman was on.
Last week, a new study from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of New Mexico that looked into how birth control affects your sex life found that it depends on the levels of estrogen and progesterone in various birth controls methods. “Sexual desire can be challenging to understand for women and men,” Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN, and women’s health expert, tells Bustle. “Many known factors affect our desire, including the different types of birth control pills with varying amounts of estrogen and progesterone. This study sheds light on how different types of contraception can also affect our sexual appetite and desire."
Of course, if you're on the Pill and experiencing a dip in sex drive, you should absolutely talk to your gynecologist about it. If your gynecologist dismisses your concerns, then it may be time to shop around for a new one. While it's possible that birth control may not be the underlying cause of your diminished sex drive, it is the responsibility of your gynecologist to help you figure out what other factors may be contributing to the problem, or to refer you to someone who can.
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