Whether you’re thinking about starting hormonal contraception, or you’ve tried it already, its effects on your sex life are likely to be a major concern. Let’s take a deep dive into the impact of hormonal contraceptives on our hormones and sexual desire.
BY THE ROAM TEAM 6 MIN READ
is someone's overall desire for anything sexual, and it can be affected by biological, psychological and social factors.
It’s useful to bear in mind that the effects of hormonal contraception on sexual desire, arousal, and quality of sex in women has been pretty poorly studied. There is a lot of room for additional research. That being said, personal experiences with birth control as well as the studies that have been carried out still give us a good overview of what might happen.
The effects differ depending on which birth control you take. The combined pill (containing oestrogen and progesterone) is the most commonly used hormonal contraceptive in the UK – you’ve probably heard of it as ‘the pill’. Lots of people taking the pill report lowered libido, difficulty becoming sexually aroused, and less wetness. In fact, when people switch from the pill to another form of contraception or stop taking it altogether – those sexual side effects are usually the culprit.
The pill works by stopping our body’s natural production of oestrogen and progesterone – it sounds conflicting, we know – but the high doses of artificial hormones prevent our own from developing, and stop ovulation. Whether this hormonal change is responsible for lowered libido is difficult to prove scientifically. As far as pill-takers, though, lowered libido is the sexual symptom that has the most cause for complaint.
Also known as the progestogen-only pill, or POP, for short, the mini pill (which doesn’t contain oestrogen) is reported to have less of a negative impact on sexual desire than the combined pill. There’s even a study which shows that POP users have zero negative sexual symptoms when compared to combined pill users. A great stat if true, but there is still research showing that the effects of POP on libido may be pretty dire.
The implant is much the same. Seeing as it works similarly to the mini pill, and only contains progestin, less people report lowered libido than those who take the combined pill, but there are still cases where people experienced less sexual desire.
(Science-y stuff: lots of studies into the effects of hormonal contraception find that the effect on sexual desire is dependent on the specific type of progestin, not its dosage. Progestins are different types of artificial forms of the hormone progesterone, and it seems they have different effects.)
On the whole, it seems that hormonal contraception can have a negative effect on sexual desire and sex life, although it doesn’t always. BUT – based on the current research – it’s difficult to say whether these effects on libido can be linked specifically to changes in the sex hormones, or hormonal mood changes, or just psychological reactions to going on the pill.
In cases where sex drive is lowered, it may be partly because there is an expectation that it will be lowered. Similarly, in cases where sex drive increases or stays the same, it could be largely because having sex with no risk of having babies simply makes people happy, and therefore more turned on!
The personal element cannot be overstressed. Every person is physically and mentally unique, meaning they are likely to have different reactions to hormones and contraceptives. When thinking about which form of hormonal contraception to invest in, bear in mind what you know about your body and your specific needs – some contraceptives are better suited to those who want to reduce pregnancy risk, while some are catered to those who have difficulty with menstruation.
If lowered libido is something you’re particularly weary of, but you feel that hormonal birth control might be best for you, it could be worth a trial period of a few months. In this time, you’ll give your body time to re-adjust to a new hormonal pattern and keep an eye for any unwanted side effects. Remember – opting out is always an option.
You can also supplement your pill with our Libido Supplement for Her, though always check with your GP before taking any kind of supplement with the pill.
When it comes to your body, being kind to yourself and allowing yourself to explore multiple options is of crucial importance. Take care, and take your time.