The Pill and Desire
Q - Can birth control pills diminish my sex drive?
A - Some birth control pills can
decrease the intensity of sexual drive and sensations and some can increase it.
The effects depend in part on the chemistry of your body and the formulation of
the hormones in the pill you take.
The formulations that cause fewer of the common side effects associated with
birth control pills -- headaches, weight gain, nervousness, acne, malaise and
irritability -- are also the pills that may decrease sexual responsiveness. So,
selecting the best pill for an individual woman can become a very delicate
balancing act, often requiring that women try a pill, then wait and see what
its effects are.
According to Dr. Arnold Kresch, a gynecologist at Helena Women's Health in
Palo Alto, Calif., the greater the level of androgenic potency in the pill, the
greater the potential for side effects. Yet, androgens, the male sex hormones,
are in large part responsible for physiological sexual response in women. So,
pills with low androgen potency can decrease the intensity of a woman's orgasm
while at the same time possibly causing fewer side effects.
As new pills are developed, new classes of progestins, female sex hormones,
are being used in them. When free testosterone levels are measured in the
bloodstream of women taking these new progestin birth control pills, the levels
are often found to be lowered. And that's a problem that has not been ironed
I am not optimistic about finding a solution in the very near future because
researchers and manufacturers of family planning medications have not
historically considered the preservation of sexual functioning or sexual desire
in the design of their products. In fact, they sometimes have paid surprisingly
little attention to it. Perhaps the success of medications such as Viagra will
sway them toward providing women with reliable contraception that does not