The Sexy Side Effects of Going off the Pill. ~ Michelle Stevenson

Via on Oct 12, 2012

 

The Pill’s Effect on Libido and Sexual Desire

I, like so many North American women, spent years being a user of synthetic hormonal contraception. I’ve been on every brand of Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) on the market. I even tried Depo Provera (the injection) for a year.

My cessation of the use of synthetic hormones was four years ago, and I still wonder if I will ever fully recover. Despite much deep working employing dietary therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine and lifestyle modifications, things still feel fragile at times. However, recently I’ve had some sweet moments of falling in love with my feminine reproductive physiology.

There are so many intricacies of which I was completely ignorant in the past. I attribute this to a number of factors. One being, my youth and inevitable sense of invincibility. Another being, the pharmaceutical manipulation of the delicate workings of my body through hormonal contraception.

The mechanism of action of the pill is complicated and works slightly differently with every brand and every formulation. Each pill is a different combination of amounts and ratios of various female reproductive hormones, which will all affect the body a little bit differently. At the end of the day, the mechanism of action is to prevent ovulation and therefore pregnancy. Ovulation is the maturation and release of an egg, in a woman. If there is no egg present to join with the sperm and create fertilization, there will be no pregnancy.

There are other side effects from using the pill besides contraception. These side effects are typically provisions of comfort and convenience, such as reductions in premenstrual symptoms (PMS), hormonally influenced skin conditions (acne) and pain during menstruation.

It is my belief, however, that any woman who chooses to live her life with awareness, should ask herself if these convenient side effects are truly in the best interest of her health.

In the practice of alternative medicine, we view menstrual cramps, PMS and acne as a sign of deeper pathology, which needs to be addressed. If we merely mask the symptoms, we are not truly healing. It is similar to the client who takes pharmaceutical painkillers to treat a headache. For purpose of example, let us assume that the headache is caused by stress and dehydration. The pain may no longer be felt, but the cause for the pain is very much still there.

There are other side effects of the pill, which are less commonly discussed. One, I’ve been aiming to look at more deeply as of late, is the pill’s effect on libido, sexual desire and relation to reproduction. I recently had a discussion with a patient about this very subject.  She indicated that her sexual desire and low libido were a major concern in her relationship with her male partner. It was a large source of stress and dissonance between them. She had, through her own observations of her body, as well as past experience, come to the conclusion that her oral contraceptive was greatly affecting her libido. During times in her present relationship, when she had taken a break from the pill, her libido had not been an issue and their sexual relationship had been great.

Photo: Beatrice Murch

This conversation inspired a great deal of thought and reflection on my own relationship to libido and sexual desire, as well as the effects of the pill on these things. I have taken the space, lately, to be vigilant in attention and presence in my body. I’ve had the fortune of being in a relationship with a man who is also very sensitive and aware of his own body and mine. We have engaged in inspiring conversations on the subject and have made some interesting discoveries.

For the last few months, I have been observing the physiological, emotional and spiritual changes in by body, throughout my menstrual cycle. I set the intention for this observation because it has been my desire to practice the rhythm method for avoidance of pregnancy. Therefore, I’ve had to learn my body’s response to ovulation. Abstinence from intercourse during ovulation (or a backup method of contraception in my case) equals no pregnancy.

Through this time of observation, there were a few things which were very striking to me. Firstly, I was delighted by my body’s reaction to my ovulatory period (that being, the day of ovulation and the few days leading up to it). My skin felt softer and glowier. I found myself drawn to activities that were nurturing and grounding. There was an air of femininity that felt so present and comfortable. Also, my libido was through the roof!

With this awareness, lovemaking was a whole new experience as well. The upward and inward energetic pull within my body was palpable. My partner often commented on being very attracted to the smell of my skin. Our connection reached many layers deeper. All of this happened despite the fact that we were not trying to conceive.  In fact, our objective was the opposite.

Another observation was that a few of my ovulatory periods were spent on camping trips. Camping lends itself to provide the kind of experience where one can escape the sterility of personal hygiene standards that one typically faces when living in a city like Toronto. In the woods, it’s perfectly acceptable to not wash your hair daily. It’s not frowned upon to come to bed smelling like campfire. Dusty toes are not a problem.

The storm of pheromones that come with the naturally occurring oils in the skin combined with some much needed time away from the stress of the city, allowed us to explore the forces of the nature of our bodies at even greater depths. Everything feels so alive when you are surrounded by life. The city certainly does not provide this environment with its concrete structures and paved roads. Artificially created environments and unnatural temperatures are sure to throw us off the rhythms nature intended our bodies to live within.

So, what does this have to do with the pill?

Now that I am keenly aware of my body’s (and my partner’s body’s) natural reaction to ovulation, I wonder about the importance of presence of ovulation for healthy sexual desire and lidibo. It is clear that there are other factors at play as well. Comfort with intimacy, stress, physiological integrity of bodily structures, diet, outlook on life and spirituality are all part of the puzzle. The ovulatory factor, however, seemed obvious and important, in my experience.

It makes me wonder what the consequences truly are, when a woman eliminates ovulation from her monthly cycle. Are we allowing our desire for convenience to overshadow our desire for harmony with our own bodies and those of our partners?

I remember the times I would have ovulated during my use of the pill. Every month, like clockwork, on day fifteen of my cycle, I would become a crazy person. I was completely intellectually unreasonable and severely emotionally imbalanced—which is typically associated with hormonal imbalance in women. In hindsight, I’m not surprised that my body and mind had such a negative reaction to the way I was chemically manipulating my cycle.

I feel as if I must take this opportunity to make mention that I am not against hormonal medication or medication of any kind. I am aware that there are some patterns in pathology which are appropriately treated with pharmaceuticals. But, pregnancy is not a pathological condition. It is not an illness. Using the pill for contraception is not the same as using it to treat ovarian cancer.

In our culture, we do not approach the use of these drugs with the reverence they deserve. There is a complete lack of respect for just how powerful medication is. When the responsibility that comes with this power is disregarded, it is much more likely to be abused. The use of hormonal contraceptives has produced some heavily negative consequences. Instead of looking into the need for change, we simply “get used” to it. An emotionally and hormonally unstable woman is “just a woman being a woman.” I believe there is something deeply wrong with this acceptance.

Perhaps you were drawn to this article because you had some previous questions about the propriety of hormonal contraception in your own life. Perhaps this article has offered a completely fresh perspective. Either way, this is the time when most women will say, “So, if I can’t use the pill to avoid unplanned pregnancy, what am I supposed to do instead?

My recommendation is to use the rhythm method and to get to know your body’s signs of ovulation, such as changes in body temperature and cervical mucous output. If a woman sets the intention to get to know her body deeply to achieve healing, it’s easy to differentiate her fertile periods from her non fertile periods. On a side note, this is also a beneficial journey into self knowledge, for women who are trying to conceive.

No outside experience can even compare to the joy and awe a woman can experience by getting to know herself and her reproductive physiology in greater depth, but it requires her to do some work.

Sensitivity to these things can only truly be attained when a woman’s cycle is regular and mostly free of symptoms.  To work on hormonal balancing and regulation typically requires some lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments and perhaps additional therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine (at least that is what worked for me). This is why oral contraceptives are so appealing to many women. They are convenient, easy to take and require no change on the part of the woman in terms of the things discussed above.

I think we should, however, ask ourselves: Are our priorities in line with living a life of health, longevity and harmony with our bodies? Do our actions and decisions align with our desire to live healthy lives? How does the pill and contraception fit into this equation? How are things aligned for you?

 

Michelle Stevenson is an integrative clinical herbalist, acupuncturist and Women’s Health specialist who says, “Every day is an opportunity to make our lives medicinal. What we do, eat, feel, breathe, give, love, share. Medicine is not only the pills we take (or don’t take). It’s how we live. How we collaborate. How we inspire. How we teach others and how we teach ourselves. That’s my life, my medicine. My nerdy herbal, healing foodie, acupuncturist, yogini, musician, seamstress, wool wizardress, student/teacher, wonderwoman medicine. It’s the creation of my ideal physician!” Read her blog, Life as Medicine.

~

Editor: Sara McKeown

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21 Responses to “The Sexy Side Effects of Going off the Pill. ~ Michelle Stevenson”

  1. MadIvy says:

    Wow, thank you so much for writing this. I resonate with this article on so many levels. I need to start looking into getting off my pill soon!

  2. christiana says:

    this is the most AMAZING educational article i ve ever EVER read in the past two weeks about BCP. i am so inspired by you and i am so happy went off the pill now for 2 weeks. already feel the change already feels myself and i might get spots again but i have to accept it and deal with it with other methods . thank you so much !!!!!

  3. courtney919 says:

    Hey!! LOVE the article!! I came off the pill a few months ago, and the changes (physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional) I've experienced since have been amazing. However — I wanted to point out that the natural method of birth control you're referring to is NOT the Rhythm Method but rather the Fertility Awareness Method! The Rhythm Method refers to counting the days between menstruation and ovulation and assuming it'll be the same number of days from cycle to cycle. It's not!!! So, the Rhythm Method is totally ineffective in this sense. The Fertility Awareness Method, however, involves tracking your basal body temperature and quantity and consistency of your cervical fluid, and also cervical positioning if you wish. When used correctly, it's 99.4% effective :) If you have a smart phone, there are apps (I really like Kindara) that you can download to help track your fertility signs and make the process of learning how to use the method a lot easier.

    Too little is known about the Fertility Awareness Method and how awesome it can be as an alternative to being on hormonal birth control. It's a shame, since it's totally free, natural, and allows you to develop a profound relationship with your body and menstrual cycle.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I have horrible endometriosis and have to be on the pill until menopause ( what the doc says). This article s painful for me as I'd love to go off the pill – I have three kids and am in early 40s and have zero sex drive. It really bums me out – I agree that a woman's power, awareness, creativity, etc. is tied to our cycle. I'd love to know of any natural treatments to prevent growth of endo – it's very painful and I had to have a big surgery (before kids) to remove large endo cysts.

  5. breezy says:

    Wow. I also can totally relate to this article. After being on the pill for 16 years, I didn't realize what an effect it could have on libido until I stopped taking them. This side effect of BCP is barely mentioned anywhere, yet seems to be so commonly reported.

  6. lindsey says:

    Love this. I am pregnant with my first, and it happened quickly. We avoided pregnancy for 5 years using fertility awareness, and pull out method anytime we were near or in the fertile period. Women actually told me that not having an “oops” in all that time meant I was going to have trouble getting pregnant – they were wrong. I think an interesting addendum to this conversation would be the effect of long term pill use on fertility. I used it for a couple years as a teen but it was awful and never looked back. Felt so wrong messing with my body’s natural rhythms, even then.

  7. The pill worked for me for 5 years….because I couldn't stand for anyone to touch me. Even my daughter's hugs were unappealing. Life is so much better without it!

  8. Alaskan Lady says:

    My overall health has improved after getting off the pill. The basal temp taking didnt work for me so i found another way. Each month i use test strips to test for LH (Luteinizing hormone) when LH is produced it stimulates ovulation, so when you test postive for lh you can expect to ovulate in 2 to 3 days knowing the egg only lives 24 hours and you shouldnt have unprotected sex for 8 days before ovulation. ive tested myself for 2 years, my LH tests positive on the 15th day of my cycle i ovulate 2 days later. Condoms, yes but just for ten days in 33 day cycle. I hope this is helpful. BUy test strips by 100 count on amazon for cheap. All women should know this, please share.

  9. Hannah says:

    I think about these issues often with the hormonal birth control I use. I’m SOOO looking forward to getting off of it, but after two VERY unplanned, highly improbable pregnancies, and having a family to support, I just can’t be getting pregnant again. My sex drive has definitely taken a hit and I know the hormones affect much more than that in my body. I’m into the nutrition and acupuncture and aroma therapy and all of that, and I don’t know how else to describe my experience with hormonal birth control other than it feels wrong for me. I’m allergic to latex and the latex-free condoms don’t come with many options so neither my husband nor I enjoy using them. We feel so stuck. I especially worry because we want to have one more baby some day. :(

  10. Hannah says:

    I was on the pill for 4 years when I was younger but became fed up with the changes it caused in my body and mood, along with other side effects. Generally, I feel that women are not aware of the long list of side effects – of every kind – that go along with taking hormones, and I believe that doctors do not treat birth control as they would other medications. I enjoyed very much reading your viewpoint and could not agree more. I'm glad to see the ideas you presented here taking hold among more and more women! Thank you :)

  11. Claudia says:

    Can you suggest any other ways for treating acne that are on par with the effects of the pill?

  12. Natasha says:

    This is a great article that I was hoping someone would write about! I have never been on the pill, since it's not a cultural norm in my country. However, living in the USA for 10 years showed me that almost every American woman (Western Europeans too) are on the pill and that too since their teens! I found this completely insane because you have to wonder what effects the chemicals/synthetic hormones are having on a woman's body. I have always had an excellent sex drive and still do at 38 years. I can tell when I'm ovulating without the help of fertility baselines and other tools, because once you know your body well, it tells you when you're ovulating…you feel super gorgeous in the mirror and to other people, if you're in a relationship, watch your man/woman smell the pheromones and come at you…you'll know your ovulating and so will your partner! I did have some PMS issues but that got resolved with a change in diet and quitting alcohol. So just wanted to say again, great article, and I do hope women in the West stop taking the Pill and begin enjoying their amazing womanhood!!!

  13. lisa says:

    there are other non hormonal methods of birth control that are extremely reliable and easy, reversible and can be used long term- IUDs, specifically Paragard. It can be left in for up to ten years, is copper based with no hormones and is much more reliable than the method mentioned in the article…

  14. carolina says:

    awesome article. I got off the pill 7 years ago (when I was about 24) and never looked back. it just felt so wrong on all levels. the first thing I felt after getting off was the sudden aliveness and bubbly energy inside my body which had been suppressed for so many years (8 years of BCP intake total). and I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't gotten off. also, the effects on my libido were remarkable. now I am 31 and I have never been pregnant, I never even once had to do a pregnancy test. I used the fertility awareness method for a while (which worked awesome) and when my relationship ended switched to condoms only. "contraception ist difficult" is a story the pharmaceutical industry tells us to sell BCPs to us. my experience: with common sense it's absolutely not difficult.

  15. Jamie says:

    Great article! I have been off the pill for almost 2 years now and I will never look back. My lack of libido and absolutely crazy rages I would get into around the time I should have been ovulating were the stimulus for trying to find some other method of contraception. I kept asking myself, "If I'm not feeling any libido whatsoever while taking this pill, why am I even taking it?" Searching for an alternative led me to the amazing book by Toni Weschler, MPH, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility," which explained not only exactly how my menstrual cycle truly works, but also how to use the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) as a means to not only prevent pregnancy naturally, but also how to help with conception if I should ever choose to do so. This book put me in touch with my body in a very profound way and I highly recommend it to all women who want to take responsibility for their own reproductive health. I have been using this method for 2 years now as a means of birth control (along with a diaphragm and spermicide during my fertile periods, though that brings up another conversation regarding the possible toxicity of spermicides in the US considering nonoxynol-9 is the only spermicide allowed in this country. Other more natural spermicides are available in Europe & Canada) and I will never go back to hormones again. Anyone wishing to consider FAM should read the book and check out the website where there is a great community of women who support each other whether they are trying to conceive or not. http://www.tcoyf.com/ Thank you for bringing this topic to light!

  16. stacyluhoo says:

    You absolutely hit the nail on the head, Michelle. Well done!

  17. Peaches says:

    Going off the pill and concluding menopause have done wonders for my libido.

  18. Nikki Howard says:

    Hi
    I agree with everything you say, I’m a 39 year old woman who was on the oral contraceptive pill for over 15 years. I am now struggling with a side effect of the pill, a 10.4cm x 9.6cm x 8cm benign tumour on my liver, it’s called Focular Nodular Hyperplasia and never becomes cancerous. One in nine women on the pill get these tumours, and the majority are 1cm – 4cm in size. The rare one (approximately one in nine) are over 4cm, they are usually found accidentally by ultrasound or other scans for unrelated issues. These lucky women won’t even know they have got them. Mine however is very painful, vascular and large, it has caused a 1cm -2cm lump to stick out the front of my chest, and it squashes my gallbladder and has reduced my liver function dramatically. I recently underwent a liver embolism to cut of the blood flow to the tumour and kill it. So I now have a 10cm tumour in my chest that is dying, it’s very unpleasant indeed. My advice to anyone would be to think twice about the oral contraceptive pill, research other alternatives and don’t always take the easy way out. Make wise choices ladies I wish I had.

  19. Ashley Kay Hartman says:

    The Fertility Awareness Method for birth control is an amazing way to prevent pregnancy and get to know your body. I'm a certified FAM educator and have also been using the method myself since 2011!

    Just be careful calling it The Rhythm Method, though. Rhythm Method is based on past cycles, and the method can be inaccurate and lead to pregnancy. The best way to prevent pregnancy naturally, like you said, is to chart your cervical fluid and body temperature.

    It's a semantics thing, but Fertility Awareness actually isn't the Rhythm Method! Just wanted to let your readers know in case they wanted to look up information for themselves. Definitely, definitely, definitely, use Fertility Awareness over the Rhythm Method.

  20. Annie says:

    Like a few other commentors, this was hard for me to read. I believe strongly in living naturally, homeopathic remedies, being in tune with one’s body/mind, etc, but I’ve been on the pill for the past year because I feel it to be my only good option. I’ve always had debilitating symptoms accompany my periods; insane PMS, and cramps that made me vomit from the pain and kept me home from school/work. My diet and exercise are both very healthful (though not perfect). I tried the copper IUD first (no hormones, yay!) but my symptoms got even worse, and I had it removed after three months. As a sexually active college student in a monogamous relationship, an unplanned pregnancy would be a major hindrance to my and my SO’s plans for the future, and the family we hope to build together in time, and so I resorted to the pill. The first brand made me suicidal (I wish I were exaggerating). The one I’m currently on has been better, but I still have lower libido, tend toward depression, and miss the natural rhythm of my body. I’d love to get off the pill, and I know my body well enough that I want to try monitoring my fertility, but I can’t risk an unintended pregnancy and my PMS and cramps have been a thousand times easier to manage while on the pill. What’s a girl to do? :/

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