What To Do If You Think Birth Control Killed Your Sex Drive, According To Science

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In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about birth control and libido.

Q: If birth control takes away my libido, how do I get it back?

Choosing a birth control method that prevents pregnancy, only to have it seemingly zap your libido is a big bummer. Some people report changes in their sex drive once they introduce hormonal birth control, like the Pill or the patch or even the ring. But are those BC methods really to blame? Or could there be something else going on?

The short answer is: Both? According to a 2013 analysis published in the European Journal of Contraceptive and Reproductive Health Care of 36 studies published between 1975 and 2011 that examined the effects of hormonal birth control on libido, 62 percent of people who were on the Pill felt an increase in sex drive after going on the Pill; 22 percent didn’t notice any change; and 15 percent had a lower libido. So it would seem that most people experience some effect on libido, even if most of those people aren’t experiencing drops.

On the other hand, we do know that hormonal birth control stops ovulation, which happens in your ovaries. Guess what your ovaries also do? Produce testosterone — and testosterone affects sex drive in people of all sexes. So could hormonal BC be messing with that function? Maybe. Another effect that hormonal BC may have on testosterone is prompting an increase in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which binds to testosterone and makes it so there's less floating around in your system. Finally, blocking ovulation may block the mid-cycle testosterone boost that leads to many of us feeling suuuuuper horny around ovulation.

But lots of people feel like hormonal birth control affects their sex drive! And they can't all be psychosomatic, right? The problem with saying definitively that hormonal BC affects sex drive or doesn't affect sex drive is two-fold. First, there are so many factors that can and do affect libido in each individual, so it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what's going on. Second, this is a health issue where the science just isn't great yet, so we're going to have to piece together a few different things to get a clearer idea of what's going on.

If you’re feeling like your birth control is affecting your sex drive, there could be a few different factors, some of which aren’t about the hormones at all, and some of which might be about the hormones! Let’s take a look at what those potential causes are, because the key to getting back your libido could be in figuring out what made you lose it in the first place.

1. Take A Look At Other Lifestyle Factors

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While it’s easy to automatically assume it’s the Pill that’s messing with things, whenever you notice a significant change in your libido it’s a good idea to start by taking an honest look at your lifestyle. Are you getting enough exercise? Sleeping enough? Eating a balanced diet? Are you super stressed? Smoking? Any of those factors can and do affect libido.

If you think you might be out of balance in a couple of areas in your life, it's worth making an appointment with your doctor to talk about nutrition, sleep, exercise, and maybe run a few blood tests that can tell you what you're missing in your diet. That's a good step toward getting into a more libido-friendly lifestyle.

Plus, if your lifestyle is out of whack, adjusting it could have the added benefit of boosting other parts of your life, like work and other relationships. Score!

2. You’re In A Long Term Relationship

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It probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s been in one before, but being in a long term relationship can be a libido-zapper. And when do many people go on hormonal birth control? When they’ve moved from dating to a long term (and often, but not always, monogamous) relationship. Many couples start off hot and heavy, only to find that they’re doing it less and less as the months and years go on. This isn’t a problem in and of itself — if it doesn’t bother you or your partner, then does the number of times you do it per month really matter? — but it definitely can be stressful to folks who put a lot of weight on sex.

So is it the Pill... or is it the routine? Recent sexuality research has found that long-term monogamy absolutely does affect many people’s libidos. If you think that might be the case for you, think about trying some methods for bringing spark back into a long term relationship.

3. You Need To Add Some Lube

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For some people, hormonal birth control leads to vaginal dryness. And if you’re not getting wet, that can result in painful intercourse. Who wants to do it if they’re just feeling rubbing and tearing every time?

So if you’ve started taking hormonal birth control and your libido has dropped, take a minute to assess whether it could be due to the sex act itself. You might find that adding a bit of lube brings it all back again.

4. Give Your Arousal A Jumpstart

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Whether it’s being in an LTR, taking certain medications, or a change that’s happening because of hormonal BC, low libido can sometimes be jumpstarted. One great way to do that is honestly to just do it. Rather than following the path of arousal leads to sex, start with sex and see if the arousal follows. Make out with your partner. Watch some porn or read some erotica. Pull out your favorite sex toy. You might find that getting started, even when you’re not quite in the mood yet, is a good way to get things going.

Another way is to schedule sex. I know, I know — it doesn’t sound very romantic. But that’s because we have this cultural idea that arousal is something that just magically manifests, independent of all the other factors in your life. However, reality for most people involves work, family, maybe kids, stress — a million different things that could be making it hard to prioritize sex. So make it a priority to do it at a certain time on a certain day, at least for a little while.

5. Change Your Birth Control

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And, of course, it may be your birth control! While the study above didn’t go into other potential other causes of libido drop, it’s a fair bet that at least a few of that 15 percent who aren’t wanting to do it as much may be affected by the hormones. If you’re pretty sure that’s what’s going on, schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about other possibilities. You could change your pill, try a different kind of hormonal birth control, or opt for a non-hormonal birth control, depending on your needs.

Luckily, we live in a time and place where the options for birth control are vast. So don’t suffer through a lost libido for pregnancy prevention! There's just no reason to sacrifice one for the other.

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