Considering a new method of birth control? You’ve probably also spared a few thoughts (worries, even) for all those potential side effects you’ve heard about, such as decreased libido.
It’s true that nearly every birth control method could cause some type of side effect. Yet for many people, side effects are relatively minor and worth the benefits of:
- control over reproductive health
- improved acne
- lighter periods
What’s the short answer?
Any type of birth control might affect libido, though the specific effects you experience can vary depending on the method you choose.
Condoms might factor into vaginal irritation and other discomfort, while spermicide products could cause itching and other irritation.
Hormonal birth control is incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy, but it can also contribute to some unwanted side effects, including decreased libido.
You might generally agree that the benefits of birth control — namely, preventing pregnancy — outweigh a potential decrease in libido. All the same, a noticeable change in sexual desire may not necessarily be, well, desirable.
Is it all bad?
When it comes to sexuality, your libido is only one part to consider. Physical arousal, the ability to orgasm, and any pain or irritation you experience during sex can all affect your interest in sexual activity.
You could have a high libido, but find it difficult to feel aroused. (Yep, they’re two different things.) Perhaps you don’t have any trouble getting in the mood or experiencing arousal, but you often experience pain during sex. Maybe you have trouble climaxing easily, if at all.
Birth control, especially hormonal varieties, might factor into some of these issues. But — and this is an important “but” to consider — not everyone experiences a decrease in libido when using birth control. Some people, in fact, notice an increased libido.
A few possible explanations for why you may experience a heightened libido:
- It’s understandable to feel less interested in sex if you’re worried about getting pregnant. Birth control can help relieve those fears, which might then increase your desire for sex.
- Choosing a method of birth control you don’t have to use right before sex can make it easier to stay in the moment with your partner(s). This can make it easier to fully enjoy yourself without any distractions or worries about finding the right moment to hit pause.
- If you use hormonal birth control to help ease symptoms of health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, you could also notice a higher libido as your symptoms improve.
Is there any research to support this?
Among the 8,422 participants who took oral contraceptives, 15 percent, or 1,238 people in total, did report a decrease in libido. But another 1,826 people (just over 21 percent) said their libido increased. The majority of participants reported no change in libido.
Authors of a
- The hormonal IUD may lead to less pain during sex and increased libido after a year of use.
- Both hormonal and nonhormonal (copper) IUDs may increase libido, physical arousal, satisfaction with sex, and frequency of sexual activity.
- The vaginal ring has been linked to increased libido, arousal, and sexual satisfaction, along with vaginal lubrication and improved orgasm.
- The implant may boost arousal, sexual satisfaction, and the ability to achieve orgasm while helping reduce pain during sex and anxiety around sex.
- Internal condoms can promote greater sexual comfort since they offer improved lubrication, can be placed ahead of time, are less likely to break, and can improve sensation during sex.
How can hormonal birth control affect your libido?
Hormonal contraceptives work by releasing pregnancy-preventing hormones into your body. For some people, these hormones might cause various physical and sexual side effects, including:
- weight gain
- painful or tender breasts
- irregular periods or spotting
- yeast infection
- increased vaginal dryness
- changes in orgasm frequency or intensity
Any of these side effects can leave you less interested in having sex.
Some experts have
Many people using contraceptives have lower testosterone levels than those not using contraceptives without experiencing any changes in libido.
To sum up: Researchers haven’t come to any conclusions about how hormonal birth control might directly affect libido. Yet it’s pretty clear that many people do experience some changes.
How can nonhormonal birth control affect your libido?
With nonhormonal birth control methods, you won’t have to worry about any hormone-related physical or emotional changes. But you could still notice some changes in libido.
One potential explanation? Worries about unplanned pregnancy. With perfect use, many of these methods are highly effective, but most aren’t as effective as hormonal birth control. Awareness of this fact can contribute to anxiety and unease that leaves you less interested in sex.
With the sponge, diaphragm, or cervical cap, you’ll generally use spermicide, which could cause itching, swelling, and other irritation. Spermicide can also cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). If you’ve never had a UTI, well, let’s just say they tend to leave your libido hovering right around zero.
Timing can also affect libido. You can insert some of these, like sponges and internal condoms, before sex, so there’s no need to pause when things get heated.
But you might find that putting a halt to sexy time in order to grab a condom or get more spermicide dampens the mood somewhat. Many people choose hormonal birth control for exactly this reason.
We still recommend using a condom every time you have sex, unless you and your partner(s) have recently been tested for STIs and made a conscious choice to become fluid bonded.
Some people using the copper IUD
On the flip side, it’s worth noting that choosing abstinence or sticking to outercourse only could ramp up your desire for penetrative sex, if that’s what you’d really like to be doing.
If there’s a possibility of pregnancy, it’s wise to have a backup plan for contraception, just in case you end up following your mood — which is totally OK.
Are there other factors to consider?
Your chosen method of birth control is far from the only thing that can dampen your libido.
If you’ve noticed some decline in your usual libido, it could relate to any of the following factors:
- your age
- your feelings for your partner(s)
- whether you enjoy the type of sex you’re having
- relationship problems
- stress related to family issues, work, or school
- physical health concerns, including sleep problems, digestive issues, and diabetes
- mood or mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety
It’s also not uncommon to experience regular shifts in libido over the course of your menstrual cycle. In other words, you might notice your libido rises at certain times in the month and falls at other times.
Are there signs you can look for?
Since so many things can affect libido, you might wonder whether the culprit is your birth control method or something else entirely.
Admittedly, it’s not always easy to tell, so you might need to run through a process of elimination to narrow down a few possible causes.
Your birth control method could be the culprit if you:
- haven’t experienced any recent stress or changes in your relationship or personal life
- don’t have any physical or mental health symptoms that might affect your libido
- haven’t made any significant changes to your eating, exercise, or sleep habits
Keep in mind that many people experience depression and other changes in mood while using hormonal birth control. Depression isn’t always easy to recognize, but it can have a pretty big impact on libido, not to mention other aspects of physical and mental health.
If you have a persistent low mood, lack of energy, or less interest in your usual day-to-day activities, connecting with a mental health professional may be a helpful next step.
What can you do to boost your libido?
If you’re not as interested in sex as you used to be and that bothers you, there’s plenty you can do to boost your libido on your own.
Try these tips:
About sex, that is — although letting your partner(s) know about the changes you’ve noticed in your libido is always a good idea.
Sharing sexual fantasies, talking dirty, or opening up about things you enjoy sexually can lead to some intimate exploration that turns you on in new ways.
Change things up
And on that note, don’t be afraid to try something different in the bedroom (or out of the bedroom entirely).
Role-playing, reading or watching erotica, adding a sex toy or two — any of these options might fuel a new kind of excitement that ends up boosting your libido.
Masturbation can help you get in touch with your body (figuratively and literally), figure out what types of touch and sensation feel good, and boost positive sexual feelings.
The things you fantasize about while getting off can also offer new ideas to explore with your partner(s).
Start out slow
Maybe you want to have penetrative sex, but you’re not fully in the mood. In other words, your brain says “yes, yes, yes” but your body hasn’t quite caught up.
Getting warmed up slowly with masturbation, dirty talk, or lots of erogenous play might trigger the response you want from your body.
Rule out medical causes
It never hurts to ask a doctor or other healthcare professional about medications you’re taking or other symptoms that might relate to lower libido.
This includes physical symptoms like insomnia and pain, as well as mental health symptoms like anxiety or depression.
What if you think your libido is too high?
Do you suddenly want to have sex, like, all the time?
We have good news: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Again, it’s natural for libido to change over time. While work stress, life changes, or relationship concerns might lead to a drop in libido, the absence of these issues can ramp it right back up.
Maybe you just started having fantastic sex with a great partner, feel unprecedented levels of body confidence, or stopped taking a medication you didn’t realize was affecting your libido. All perfectly normal causes of a higher-than-usual libido!
There’s nothing wrong with wanting or enjoying sex, and you generally don’t need to be concerned unless your desire for sex begins to interfere with your daily life or relationships.
That said, if higher libido causes you some distress, talking to a therapist or other mental health professional can help.
How do you know when it’s time to try a new method?
Sex is a normal, healthy part of life, and effective birth control is essential when you want to have sex but aren’t ready for pregnancy.
While existing evidence does suggest most people using hormonal birth control won’t notice changes in libido, this may not necessarily be your experience.
If you think your birth control is causing any unwanted side effects, a good next step might involve reaching out to a healthcare professional to discuss trying something new.
Learn more about the vast array of options available.
The bottom line
Plenty of things can affect your libido. If you’ve noticed changes in libido that you can’t trace to any clear source, a healthcare professional can offer more insight on possible causes.
The key to effective birth control lies in balancing your desired outcome, such as pregnancy prevention, with any potential side effects. With a little trial and error, you may be able to find a method that offers more benefits than downsides.
Simply knowing you’re taking steps to control your reproductive health can have an empowering effect that boosts your desire for sex, particularly when your chosen method works well for you.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.