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.
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?
Editor: Sara McKeown