Are birth control and hormones stealing your sex drive?
According to the Center for Disease Control, 10.2 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. take “the pill.” (1)
Although some women experience low libido, most find that birth control has little-to-no effect on sex drive.
In fact, some women even report an increased sex drive.
However, the fact remains that birth control jacks up your hormone levels, and this isn’t healthy.
In the end, it’s up to you to listen to your body to know if birth control is right for you.
If your libido is normally high and then you suddenly lose the itch, that’s cause for concern.
This article covers the ins-and-outs of birth control and sex drive, plus some natural alternatives to the pill.
What Is a Birth Control Pill?
Birth control pills refer to any oral contraceptive that prevents you from getting pregnant.
However, preventing pregnancies isn’t the only reason to take “the pill.”
Birth control can also:
- Relieve painful cramps
- Limit heavy bleeding
- Reduce acne
Ultimately, birth control can make life more enjoyable for women who suffer from severe PMS.
With that said, the female body has a natural ebb and flow of hormones and ovulation, and messing with this pattern can have unexpected consequences, but more on that later…
Types of Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills fall into two main categories: combined pills and progestin-only pills.
In general, progestin-only pills tend to have fewer side effects because they only affect the hormone progestin.
Combined pills, on the other hand, boost both progestin and estrogen.
As a result, they’re more effective at preventing pregnancy.
For example, one recent study found that “Only 0.3% of women have an unwanted pregnancy when taken perfectly for 1 year.” (2)
However, they’re also more likely to cause side effects.
Here’s a closer look at how the two types of birth control pills stack up:
Combined birth control pills:
- Contain chemical hormones that mimic the effects of natural estrogen and progestin
- Prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation
- Thin the lining of the uterus
- Thicken cervical mucus
- Stop egg fertilization
- Taken in monthly cycles of 21-24 days
- Prevents pregnancy even on days when the pills are not taken
Women who are sensitive to regular doses can try “low-dose pills,” which contain less of the active ingredient Ethinyl estradiol, a kind of estrogen.
If you end up being sensitive to low-dose pills too, the next step is to try progestin-only pills.
These have fewer side effects but also are less likely to reduce symptoms of PMS. (3)
Progestin-only birth control pills:
- Contain the hormone progestin but do not contain estrogen
- Are for women who cannot take combination pills due to side effects and/or drug interactions
- They do not stop ovulation
- Thicken the cervical mucus
- Thin the lining of the uterus
- More likely to cause breakthrough bleeding.
When it all shakes out, combination pills are the most effective at preventing pregnancy and reducing PMS symptoms, but they’re also more likely to affect sex drive.
Birth Control and Sex Drive
Some women do report a dip in their sex drive after they get on birth control.
However, the majority of the research indicates that this isn’t a common side effect.
In other words, the relationship between birth control and sex drive remains unclear.
For example, a recent review of over 30 original research studies found that “Overall, women experience positive effects, negative effects, as well as no effect on libido during OC use.” (4)
It really depends on your body chemistry.
When it comes down to it, we all have unique baseline hormone levels.
That means that taking a certain dose of birth control and hormones is going to affect everyone differently.
For some, birth control pills lower testosterone, and low testosterone reduces sex drive.
This is why it’s important to keep trying new brands and doses if you’re experiencing side effects.
Side Effects and Risk Factors of Birth Control Pills
Given how common birth control pills are, it may come as a surprise that there are so many side effects.
Essentially, birth control and hormones work by tricking the body into thinking that it’s already pregnant, and this isn’t natural.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, continuously elevated estrogen can lead to (5)
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Mood changes
- Irregular bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Liver and gallbladder problems
- Blood clotting
- Heart attack
In fact, many researchers recommend avoiding birth control and hormones altogether.
Although birth control pills are a convenient way to relieve PMS and avoid getting pregnant, the side effects may not be worth it.
The sex hormone cycle regulates 150 bodily systems, and disturbing these isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Fortunately, there are other more natural alternative forms of birth control to choose from…
Natural Birth Control Alternatives
If you feel like birth control pills are affecting your sex drive or you want to avoid negative side effects, consider these natural alternatives:
- Intrauterine device (IUD): A tiny device that your doctor inserts into the uterus. They last up to 12 years and have a 99.5 percent effectiveness rate within the first five years. Note that there are both hormonal and non-hormonal versions, so make sure to specify that you want the non-hormonal kind. (6)
- Male condom: Good old fashioned condoms are 98 percent effective.
- Female condom: A small pouch that gets inserted into the vagina and is 95 percent effective.
- Diaphragm: A thin, soft ring of rubber that your doctor and inserts into the vagina. It is 92-98 percent effective.
- Cervical cap: A heavy rubber cap that fits over the cervix and has to be removed after 48 hours. It is 91 percent effective.
You can also prevent pregnancy if you just avoid sex during ovulation.
The trick is to pinpoint ovulation by tracking your body temperature along with changes in your vaginal mucus.
- Your baseline body temperature normally increases while you’re ovulating and then returns to baseline when it stops.
- As ovulation approaches, you should notice a high volume of clear, stringy discharge.
- Once the discharge returns to being tacky and cloudy, ovulation has passed.
On average, tracking ovulation is 75 percent effective.
However, there’s a lot of room for error if you haven’t done it before, so make sure to be cautious.
If you have any more questions about birth control and sex drive, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.