The claim: Contraceptives curb sexual desire in women.
The facts: While some research has suggested that the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives can lower women’s sex drive—perhaps by leveling out hormonal fluctuations—newer studies suggest the picture is much more complicated.
Research on the effects of contraceptives on sexual desire has been mixed. Some studies have found that women tend to experience decreased libido after starting to use one of these methods, while other studies have found the opposite. Often, the studies had limitations—for example, not including a control group of women using non-hormonal contraception for comparison.
In a study published in 2016, researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 women who had initiated a new contraceptive method (they completed a survey at baseline and then after 6 months of using the method). It found no effect on sex drive in women who used oral contraceptives, the hormonal patch, or the hormonal IUD. But about 24 percent of women using the vaginal ring, copper IUD, contraceptive implants, or Depo-Provera shot did report decreased interest in sex at the 6-month mark.
Another pair of studies, published in 2016 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, involving more than 900 people, focused on the effects of contraceptive use on sexual desire in women and their male partners. One study focused on people in relationships of varying lengths; the other looked only at long-term relationships. The researchers grouped birth control methods into three categories: oral contraception, other hormonal contraception (like the patch, the ring, implants, and IUDs), and non-hormonal methods like condoms and diaphragms.
All of the participants were asked to fill out a survey about their sexual desire, which assessed their libido in two settings—solitary (on their own) and dyadic (with their partner).
While men’s desire didn’t seem to change based on the type of contraceptive their partner was using, there was some variation for women. Women who used non-hormonal birth control reported higher levels of solitary sexual desire than those using hormonal methods. But when it came to sexual desire with their partners, women taking the Pill had higher levels than those using non-hormonal methods. There were no significant differences found for non-oral hormonal methods, like the patch.
And when the researchers took into account the couples’ ages and how long they’d been together, significant differences in women’s desire between contraceptive methods disappeared. (Extended relationship length and older age were associated with diminished desire.)
Bottom line: While contraception may have some influence on your sex drive—to increase or decrease it—your feelings about the relationship and attraction to your partner are much more important to your libido than any contraceptive you use.