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Are Your Birth Control Pills Hurting Your Sex Drive?

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2. Sex Drive Issues and Their Causes

It's no secret that women are complicated, in more ways than one. Our hormonal makeup is so complex that doctors have yet to completely understand it, while our emotions often color the way we feel about sex. Sarah L. Berga, MD, a James Robert McCord professor and chair of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, explains that in women, "there are so many different variables that play a role [in the function of sex drive], that it's difficult to independently isolate the impact of any one of them."

Sex drive doesn't always boil down to biology: other factors certainly play a part. "For instance, stress, which releases cortisol, can sometimes block the actions of the hormones that support sexuality," Dr. Berga says. Other causes of a waning libido can include fatigue, poor body image, a strained partner relationship, and depression. On the opposite side of the fence, a new relationship, a romantic evening, or even shedding a few pounds can all spark sexual desire. "Many people just don't understand their own sexuality very well," Dr. Berga notes, making a problem, and its solution, difficult to pinpoint.

The Emotion Explanation

Dr. Davis maintains that emotions play the larger role here, affecting a woman's sex drive to a much greater extent than do the hormones that birth control alters. Mood and partner issues, she says, "are more important than a small change in your testosterone from the pill." She argues that for many women, it's easier to blame their birth control than to examine the complicated emotional and relationship factors that could be taking a toll on their sex drives.

"I think men, sometimes, can disassociate their sexuality from their circumstances," Dr. Davis posits. "But women, if they're not in a context that makes them feel sexual, sometimes it's very hard for them to feel interested in sex. If you're reading Dr. Seuss to your kids, sitting around in your bathrobe, it's very hard to feel sexy five minutes later."

Dr. Davis advises against stopping your pills without considering all the potential causes for your diminishing desire. "Having an unintended pregnancy will really kill your libido," she notes. Conversely, the pill can have a liberating effect on a woman's sexuality: if she doesn't have to worry about getting pregnant, sex can be less stressful and more spontaneous.

On the other hand, Dr. Berga cautions against jumping to the alternate conclusion. "I think it's fair to say that birth control pills do play a role [in some cases of libido loss]. And I think it's good to create some awareness around it, because what if it's the pill, but then you blame the relationship?" Essentially, you don't want to kick your perfectly good partner to the curb only to discover that the problem is hormonal.

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