Does the Pill make women less interested in sex?

New evidence suggests that oral contraceptives may squash women's sex drive.

Published January 10, 2006 1:45PM (EST)

When an article about a possible link between the Pill and decreased interest in sex was circulated among the Broadsheet crew last week, one member of our e-mail group replied, "No shit, Sherlock."

Women have been complaining for years that the Pill leaves them cold. But a new study, reported on in today's New York Times, found that not only did the Pill stifle sexual desire in some women, it did so for months after they stopped taking it, by raising levels of a particular protein. "When they stopped taking the pill, we fully expected their sexual function to recover," Dr. Irwin Goldstein, coauthor of the study and the editor in chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, told the Times. "But we weren't seeing that."

Some experts question whether a single protein could play such a significant role in female sexual desire and doubt that any sexual side effects would be lasting.

The article also notes that even though doctors are aware of the possible sexual side effects of the Pill, they often don't warn their patients about them. "Few doctors bring it up when they prescribe the pill, and package inserts do not mention it," the Times says. "Doctors say this is not necessarily an oversight. Giving any clear warning about sexual side effects is difficult, they say, because birth control pills affect women in different ways."

"Some women will have a decrease in sex drive while they're on the birth control pill, and some will have an increase," Dr. Paul Stumpf, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, told the Times. Some doctors also worry that if they tell patients about the potential for sexual dysfunction, they might influence their expectations.

(Broadsheet, for one, doesn't see why giving women as much information as possible about a medication they are taking is even debatable.)

As with almost all areas of women's sexual health, the correlation between the Pill and sex drive needs to be studied further. "I think there's been a serious neglect on the part of the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry," Dr. John Bancroft, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, told the Times. "We've been trying to bang this drum for quite some time."

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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