Birth Control Side Effects: How hormonal birth control impacts your sex life
I saw you mentioned you came off the Pill. What are the benefits of that if you don’t mind me asking?
I love discussing this! A lot of the information out there around birth control side effects falls into one of two categories. People who are pro-hormonal birth control tend to dismiss personal stories on the impacts of those hormones on people’s lives. Meanwhile, those against hormonal birth control demonize it and borrow the language of feminism to make their argument.
Both my experience and my professional opinion lie somewhere in the middle.
I went on the Pill at 16, after six years of brutal cramps and moodiness that kept me from school and work and hurt my relationships, every month. Birth control gave me my life back. Yes, I had a few negative birth control side effects on a few of the pills, namely mood changes and breakthrough bleeding. Overall, though, I had an easy run.
When I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases, taking the Pill became a burden amidst my other healthcare needs. I decided to go off it, honestly hoping that it might reverse some of the autoimmune stuff as I was told it would (it didn’t). After two years of contemplating and preparing, including working with a Justisse practitioner, I took my last Pill in August 2017.
Here’s what happened for me:
- My sex drive changed. Specifically, it spikes during ovulation
- My anxiety skyrocketed, especially the week before my period
- I experienced the worst panic attacks of my life
- My frequency of PIV diminished, in part because of other health issues and in part because I’m terrified of getting pregnant and don’t love condoms
- My hormonal acne returned, with a vengeance
- I started planning my life—from workouts, to work tasks, to socializing—around my cycle, specifically the dips and peaks in energy
- I reduced my alcohol, caffeine, and soy intake, especially the week before my period
To be honest, going off birth control has been really inconvenient and stressful. Tracking my cycle, knowing when I’m ovulating or not, and managing the natural side effects of my natural cycle is less than fun. Yet, like my decision to start taking the Pill at 16, it was the best one for my life right now—and that’s what counts.
Birth control side effects for your sex life
In my list above, you see a mix of what many people would deem positive and negative outcomes. Like any medication or decision, there are associated side effects. Here are some of the sexual ones that stem from hormonal birth control.
About 15 percent of users notice a dip in libido while on the Pill. There are a few reasons for this. First, most hormonal birth control methods work by shutting down your ovaries. This means you don’t ovulate and therefore can’t get pregnant. It also means you produce less testosterone overall—involved in your libido—and don’t get that mid-cycle spike that makes you really horny. Plus the estrogen in hormonal birth control can increase sex hormone-binding globulin, which further reduces testosterone in your body.
Hormonal birth control can also make it harder to get wet. That’s because it can decrease your estrogen levels, the hormone that helps to keep the vagina moist. If this happens to you, supplement with a good lube.
Pain with sex
Estrogen also helps maintain the thickness of the vaginal lining. Decreased estrogen production that can happen while on hormonal birth control may thin the vaginal lips and entrance, making play down there a bit more uncomfortable.
Less anxiety about getting pregnant
While no birth control method is 100% effective, many of the most effective options involve hormones. If getting pregnant is a major concern for you, then having to worry about it less can increase your sex drive.
Need I say more? Because hormonal birth control keeps your hormone levels even throughout the month, you don’t have the dips and peaks in mood, sleep, or libido that many people with periods experience otherwise. This can reduce tension in your relationship(s).
An easier period
If you experience a bleed while on hormonal birth control, it’s not an actual period but a withdrawal bleed: aka your body responding to a lack of hormones. This often makes for less painful cramps and a lighter bleed.
Many people use hormonal birth control to treat their acne. This can boost one’s body image, and in turn one’s desire for sex. Negative body thoughts are one of the biggest mental distractions during sex.
What can you do about birth control side effects?
Before you blame the Pill for everything, take a more holistic look at your sex life and relationship. How do you feel about your body? How is the relationship with your partner? Is work, family, etc., stressing you out big time? Are you bored?
Libido in people with uteruses (and those with penises too!) is such a complex issue. It’s never about only one factor, but the interplay of many. It’s easy to blame a medication rather than look at what else is happening.
And also, sometimes, it really is the meds! If you aren’t happy with your birth control for any reason, explore other methods. That could mean switching pills, looking into long-acting reversible contraception, or exploring a fertility awareness method. No single method is right for everyone!
You know your body and life best. The best way to avoid or manage birth control side effects? Inform yourself about all of the options and choose the one that’s best for you, knowing that you can always change your mind or switch to another method. Don’t let a healthcare provider (or a period coach or anyone else) tell you what’s best for your life and preferences.
Featured image by Tabata Roja
Author Bio Kait Scalisi, MPH, is an advocate for the revolutionary power of pleasure inside the bedroom and out. Through her public workshops, private counselling, and online platform Passion By Kait, she harnesses her science education, social justice insight, and radical empathy to empower folx to get more in tune with their bodies, discover what brings them pleasure, and integrate it into their lives and relationships in ways that are both practical and powerful. Learn more and find #freedominpleasure at PassionbyKait.com, Instagram and Twitter @PassionbyKait, and Facebook www.facebook.com/PassionbyKait.