Hormonal Birth Control Increases Female Sexual Dysfunction

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Taking hormonal birth control can relieve worries about getting pregnant, but it also increases the risk of developing low sex drive and other forms of female sexual dysfunction. This finding held true for women who took either oral or non-oral types of hormonal birth control, according to a new German study.

Occasional problems with sexual function are common, but when they persist, they are typically classified as female sexual dysfunction. Lack of sexual desire is the main problem that women report, along with lack orgasm, an inability to become aroused, and painful intercourse. More than one factor may contribute to female sexual dysfunction, including presence of a physical condition (e.g., diabetes, nerve disorders, hormone imbalances, heart disease), use of certain medications, depression, anxiety, and a history of sexual trauma.

Researchers at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Tuebingen, Germany, explored the possible role of hormonal contraception in female sexual dysfunction. They questioned 1,086 female medical students about sexual function and lifestyle factors, such as their desire to have children, pregnancy, smoking habits, level of sexual activity, and contraceptive use.

Results of the questionnaires showed that 87.4 percent had used some form of contraception in the last six months, and 97.3 percent had been sexually active within the last four weeks. After the researchers eliminated any women who had not been sexually active recently or who used more than one form of birth control, 1,046 participants remained in the study.

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Of the 1,046 women, 32.4 percent were deemed to be at risk for female sexual dysfunction, including 8.7 percent at high risk for orgasm disorder, 5.8 percent for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (very low libido), 2.6 percent for satisfaction difficulties, 1.2 percent for decreased lubrication, 1.1 percent for pain, and 1 percent for arousal disorder.

Women who took non-hormonal birth control were at lowest risk (31.0%) for female sexual dysfunction, even lower than women who did not use any form of contraception (29.5%), followed by women who used an oral hormone method (28.3%) and a non-oral hormone method (27.4%). Thus the use of hormonal birth control places women at greatest risk of female sexual dysfunction.

A study published in 2005 in Urology evaluated 2,095 women ages 30 to 69 and found that the prevalence of sexual dysfunction increased with age. Comparing prevalence of four different sexual problems between women in their 30s with those in their 60s, the researchers found that orgasmic disorder increased from 15.2 percent to 37.2 percent; sexual desire disorder, 27.7 percent to 57.9 percent; arousal disorder, 29.7 percent to 57.9 percent; and lubrication disorder, 12.5 percent to 51.2 percent.

Sexual problems can have a significant negative effect on a woman’s emotional and physical health and well-being. Dr. Lisa-Maria Wallwiener of the University of Heidelberg noted that an estimated 40 percent of women have at least one sexual dysfunction, with the most common one being low sexual desire. Women who use some form of hormonal birth control and who are experiencing sexual difficulties may want to talk to their gynecologist.

SOURCES:
Hisasue S et al. Urology 2005 Jan; 65(1): 143-48
Wallwiener L-M et al. Journal of Sexual Medicine May 2010

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