While birth control can do a lot of wonderful things—improve your skin or regulate your period, anyone?—many of us take it for one main reason: to enjoy more freedom in our sex lives. The ability to enjoy sex without worrying about an unplanned pregnancy is a great thing (seriously, the most powerful), but that’s not the only effect birth control can have on your sex life.
Hormonal birth control can cause changes in your desire to have sex, your mental state during sex, even your ability to orgasm—for better or worse. “It is important to remember that hormonal birth control methods are created to prevent ovulation," says Lakeisha Richardson, M.D., an ob-gyn in Greenville, Mississippi, "and in order to do that, female hormones have to be altered or suppressed. Unfortunately, those same hormones help control the female sex drive.”
So what changes can you expect? The Pill, still the most common form of hormonal birth control, has been known to decrease sex drive, Dr. Richardson explains. Same goes for other methods of contraception that work via hormones traveling through a woman’s body, like the patch and the Depo-Provera shot.
If you’re concerned about how starting, stopping, or switching birth control methods might impact your sex drive, talk to you partner and your doctor about what the best options are, Dr. Richardson says. You shouldn’t have to settle: “While pregnancy prevention is important, it has to be balanced with a healthy sex life and a normal sex drive,” she says. “Any changes in your sex drive should be discussed with your doctor sooner rather than later before it has a negative effect on a relationship.” (The copper IUD, spermicides, and barrier methods can be good choices for women who notice a decrease in sex drive with hormonal options.)
There is good news: Some women actually report an increase in their interest in sex after starting hormonal birth control, Dr. Richardson says. It may simply be because the fear of an unplanned pregnancy is removed, allowing you to be more present during sex, but hey, we’ll take it. Here six real women share how birth control changed their sex lives.
“I had regular multiple orgasms with the ring.”
“I’ve been through a bunch of different hormonal birth control options. For about two years I was on the ring, which I thought was controlling my emotions and reactions more than I was comfortable with. The only plus side was regular multiple orgasms! I could chalk it up to the honeymoon stage of marriage, but I think the hormones that made me feel out of control emotionally also made me out of control in a good way when it came to sex.
"Now I have a copper IUD and feel like myself again. I lost the regular multiple orgasms, though. I have noticed a lower sex drive, but maybe not having a guaranteed O each time makes me less inclined for sex, even though I still find my husband just as sexy.”
“I want more sex now that I’m off birth control.”
“After getting off low hormone pills, my sex drive dramatically increased. We went from having sex once a week to three to four times! I'm sure some of it had to do with not worrying about getting pregnant, because my husband got a vasectomy, but I didn't realize how much the hormones were affecting my ability to get in mood, either.”
“My IUD killed my sex drive.”
“I had an IUD for three years. It was my first time being on birth control. While I was able to have sex without the worry, I had no sex drive. It took me a while to get in the mood, and I was not able to orgasm. I never had this problem prior to the IUD! I have recently had it removed and feeling back to my old self again. It was certainly an unexpected side effect.”
“I found the right pill for me.”
“It took a while to find, but now I’m on the right pill for me now, and honestly, it’s amazing. The last three years I’ve been more sexually driven than I was in college. Doesn’t mean I’m doing it all the time—my husband commutes three hours daily, so it can’t always happen—but the desire is there!”
“Better moods mean better sex.”
“I went off the birth control pill about five months ago. I used to suffer from anxiety and depression, but after going off, I noticed a huge improvement in my mood and overall mental state. And that’s meant a much improved sex drive too!”
“My IUD stabilized my moods, but hurt my sex life.”
“My experience with my IUD is a positive and a negative. I got it about three years ago, and have gained about 25 to 30 pounds since having it inserted. I have also almost completely lost my sex drive. Those are the negatives. The positives is that I used to be extremely hormonal, and have uncontrollable outbursts of rage and anger to the point that I would punch holes in walls and break things. I haven't done that since I have had it put in. So the upside is I'm more balanced out.”
By Sara Gaynes Levy is a writer and editor in New York City covering wellness and culture. Follow her @saragayneslevy.