What exactly is libido? What influences it?
Libido, or sex drive, is different for every individual. There is no right or wrong level of sexual desire, but rather it should be viewed as a spectrum. 3 key hormones affect our libido: progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, but scientists are still working out the kinks in how the levels of each one influence libido. Simply put, it depends on the individual.
It’s very important to know that libido is not easy to study! Studying sexual desire is a tricky task because it depends on so many factors that are specific to each individual. The science behind sex drive, sexual pleasure, and orgasms (ahem *specifically female orgasms*) is still lacking, and the female sexual response is complex. So keep this in mind when learning about how your birth control may affect libido.
So what exactly affects how often you want to ~do it~?
Many different factors affect sex drive, and it isn’t limited to what’s going on inside your body. Of course, those little hormone monsters (shameless Big Mouth plug) do play a role. The stage you’re at in your menstrual cycle has a significant impact on libido, with a general rule that most females experience a higher sex drive around ovulation when estrogen is at its peak. However, this rule is not one-size-fits-all. Some women may experience a higher sex drive when progesterone levels are at their peak, aka during menstruation. Libido is also affected by pregnancy, breast feeding, and menopause.
But let’s take a step back from biology and see how external factors affect your desire to ~do the nasty~
Psychological health: this one is pretty well-known, and there is a massive amount of research on how various mental illnesses can affect an individual’s sex drive and their relationship with sex. For example, sexual dysfunction has a high correlation with anxiety disorders. Mental arousal is an important part of sexual desire and libido, especially for females. So when we experience a disconnect between our mind and body, which is commonly caused by stress or mental illness, it’s not easy to “get it up”.
Sociocultural factors: sex is different depending on what cultural lens you’re looking through. Your upbringing and sexual education can have an impact on your sex drive. And although Reya is without a doubt a sex-positive space, it is important to recognize that many people may be influenced by sex-shaming from their culture or society.
Medications and drugs: aside from the one medication you’re all here to learn about today, other pills and potions (shoutout to my idol Nicki Minaj) can impact your libido. Likely your doctor will inform you of this if it is a possible side effect of the medication you are prescribed. Keep in mind that recreational drugs like alcohol and marijuana can also affect libido, for better, or unfortunately, for worse.
Plus! Let’s not forget the many other things that can play a role in sex drives like relationship status, trauma, medical conditions, environmental conditions, diet, and self-esteem.
I saved the best for last friends! I’m sure we all know that another factor that can affect your libido is your BIRTH CONTROL!
How much can your birth control affect libido?
Like many other areas of female health and sexual wellness, the link between contraceptive use and sex drive is not well studied. Although this correlation needs to be investigated further, what we do know is that examining sex drive requires a holistic approach. As we discussed above, a biopsychosocial approach needs to be taken when studying sex drive. This means that a change in libido is likely the result of many different factors and not just one thing - like your birth control.
Birth control and libido have set their relationship status to it’s complicated. Multiple studies examining the relationship between the two have resulted in conflicting results. Everyone’s body is different, and just like birth control is not one-size-fits-all, the effects that it can have on your body also vary depending on the individual.
So how can your birth control affect your desire to take Marvin Gaye’s advice and get it on?
The good effects:
Let’s start off with the big one: you don’t have to worry about unwanted pregnancy anymore! Disclaimer: no method of birth control aside from abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, but most contraceptive options are very effective. I don’t know if it gets much better than that, but studies have shown that hormonal birth control can also relieve gynecological pain, decrease anxiety and discomfort, improve self-esteem, and stabilize hormone levels. All of these effects can improve sexual desire - YAY!
The bad effects:
You wanted the good news first right? Well unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows around here, so let me give you the dirty deets. Since hormonal birth control works by lowering the levels of androgen (testosterone), estradiol, and progesterone circulating in our beautiful bodies, this may also lower your sex drive. Hormonal contraceptives also inhibit oxytocin function, which is critical for female pair-bonding and reproduction. Studies indicate that hormonal birth control is linked to decreased libido and increased sexual jealousy. However, the narrative that hormonal contraceptives are a risk factor for female sexual dysfunction is not concrete. Some studies have even found that hormonal birth control has no effects on libido.
These effects are different depending on the type of birth control you’re on.
Non-hormonal options: there have been no reports of decreases in libido for users of non-hormonal contraceptives such as the copper IUD. But some report feeling more anxious of an unwanted pregnancy using condoms or tracking ovulation alone.
The patch: little to no sexual changes. Some studies show an increase in sex drive, but the results were not clinically significant.
Vaginal ring: this method is getting mixed results, some studies report similar findings to the patch, but others note that there is an increase in sexual fantasies, sexual pleasure and orgasm intensity in comparison to non-users and other contraceptive users.
The implant: decreased libido is often a reason why individuals have their implant removed. This method is associated with complaints of a decrease in sex drive and sexual interest.
DPMA shot: further research needs to be conducted on this method of birth control as some studies report negative effects on sex drive, and others report positive effects.
Combined oral contraceptive pill, and the progesterone-only “mini-pill”: This one is tricky. It all depends on the type of progestin used in the pill. Some have higher chances of messing with your sex life than others. Yet, it’s not conclusive. Long story short, more studies need to be conducted to determine the sexual effects of oral contraceptives.
Levonorgestrel IUD: associated with positive effects on libido, like higher sexual desire and arousal. This method can also improve health-related quality of life for individuals with endometriosis.
How to tell if your birth control is depleting your desire to ~shake the sheets~?
I’m going to go ahead and assume that we are all here to figure out if contraceptives are decreasing your sex drive. Although, on a more serious note, if you are concerned about hypersexuality, check out this resource: https://patient.info/mental-health/sex-addiction-including-hypersexuality
If you’re experiencing side effects from your birth control, like vaginal dryness, decreased lubrication, or pain during intercourse, these can negatively affect your libido. If you do notice a significant decrease in libido after starting on hormonal birth control or switching to a new contraceptive, then keep track of the changes you’re experiencing. If your libido doesn’t return after your body has adjusted to a new contraceptive, then it’s likely you should look into alternatives, like non-hormonal birth control options, or find other ways to improve libido. If this is important to you of course!
So these nasty side effects are preventing your fancy of a ~horizontal refreshment~, what now?
You can look into alternative birth control options, but since there is a hunk of other factors that may be affecting your libido, consider taking a holistic approach to managing your sex life. This doesn’t mean that you need to ignore your birth control method completely, just don’t think that your birth control is the only factor affecting your sex drive. Talking to a doctor or therapist, especially one who specializes in sexual health and wellness, is a great place to start. They can help you make sense of the lifestyle, biological and psychosocial factors that are affecting your libido. If this isn’t an option for you, here are some other suggestions to increase your appetite in the bedroom, or wherever else you prefer to get freaky:
Use vaginal lubricants and moisturizers. This targets vaginal dryness which is often associated with hormonal birth controls, specifically the pill. Keeping things well lubricated down under can significantly improve sexual desire and pleasure. In self play and partnered play!
Mix it up. Explore different erotica or sexual techniques, whether you’re solo or with a partner. Figuring out your sexual preferences can increase your libido and your overall sexual satisfaction.
Medical options. Although the research on how or if hormonal injections affect sex drive is very conflicting, it is still an option to increase libido. Injection options include exogenous testosterone, exogenous estrogen, DHEA, tibolone, and sildenafil. Speak to your doctor for more information!
If you do want to look into other contraceptive options, reach out to Reya! We can help you explore what options are available to you based on your lifestyle and comfort level. We are here to increase awareness of contraceptive options, as studies have shown that around 50% of women select a different birth control option than what they had originally decided on after receiving counseling. Let us help! You should not have to sacrifice your desire to have sex when taking contraceptives.
Editors: Lisa Hou, Dallas Barnes