How the Birth Control Pill Affects Your Sex Drive

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Young Caucasian woman holding packet of pills

Do birth control pills inhibit a woman’s sex drive? It’s a question still unsettled by researchers. Although women have reported for decades that the pill causes them to lose interest in sex, few studies have directly investigated the issue of how birth control affects sex drive.

And this isn’t entirely the researchers’ fault. Measuring sex drive or sexual function is tricky. It’s nearly impossible to isolate the concept of sexual function in a study and then control for other variables. For example, if a woman participates in a study on birth control and libido, and she reports feeling disinterested in sex at the end of the study, can researchers really know if this was due to taking birth control pills or whether it was due to some other influence, like marital problems or job stress? 

Still, most studies into this issue show a certain percentage of women always report decreased sexual desire while taking birth control pills. What’s behind birth control pills and low libido and what can you do if you think this is the case for you?

Why Birth Control Pills Could Affect Your Libido

The most widely used birth control pills (also called ‘combined oral contraceptives’) in the United States contain two female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Taking the pill increases the amount of these hormones in a woman’s body and suppresses ovulation. Women cannot get pregnant if their body does not produce an egg.

The ovaries also produce male hormones (androgens), including testosterone. Taking birth control pills reduces the level of androgens in a woman’s body. Because androgens tend to drive sexual desire in women, researchers have long hypothesized that the suppression of androgens by combined oral contraceptives may reduce a woman’s sex drive. But is it true?

What the Research Says About Birth Control Pills and Sex Drive

When it comes to studying any relationship between taking combined oral contraceptives and sex drive, researchers often measure serum androgen levels (the amount of testosterone and other male hormones circulating in the bloodstream) and rely on surveys to capture women’s perceptions of their sex drive. Usually, researchers obtain these measurements before the study begins, at one or more points during the study, and again at the conclusion of the study. 

One recent review of the research literature evaluated 36 studies conducted between 1978 and 2011 to investigate the relationship between sex drive and taking oral contraceptives. These researchers found that, overall, approximately 15% of women reported a decline in libido while taking birth control pills. 

Another study, conducted in 2018, took a randomized, placebo-controlled approach to evaluating whether or not taking combined oral contraceptives reduces sex drive. It found that a small percentage of study participants did report reduced libido while taking birth control pills, but the number was not found to be statistically significant.

Clearly, the research remains unsettled on this issue. However, in most studies a certain percentage of women do report some reduction of sex drive while taking birth control pills.

What to Do If You Lose Sexual Interest

If you believe your birth control is affecting your libido, you can take action to address the situation. First, have a conversation with your gynecologist or the healthcare provider who prescribes you birth control pills. The two of you can work together on a plan to restore your sexual interest that might include:

  • Measuring your serum androgen levels and supplementing them, if appropriate

  • Switching to a different type of birth control pill

  • Switching from birth control pills to a different kind of contraception, such as an IUD

You also can work on reducing stress, in general, which can reduce a woman’s sexual urge. 
Women should not have to choose between taking birth control pills and enjoying a robust sex life. If you feel your desire has lessened since you started taking oral contraceptives, seek help from your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 5
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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