Birth control: Can the pill lower your sex drive?

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Fifty years after the birth control pill first emerged, we are still grappling with how it has impacted society — and our private lives. A new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that women on oral contraceptives may experience lower sex drive than those not taking the pill, adding to a varied body of research exploring the pill’s impact on women’s sexual desire.

As Catherine Elton reports for TIME, the new study led by researchers at the Center of Women’s Health at the University Hospital of Tübingen in Germany found a correlation between lower libido and oral contraceptive use, even after controlling for other potentially contributing factors such as stress. Researchers of women’s sexual dysfunction say that the findings contribute to evidence dating back to the late 1970s suggesting that hormonal-based contraception dulls the normal libido lift that women experience mid-menstrual cycle.

Yet, Elton points out, there are several factors that may undermine the findings. To begin with, she writes, the study was observational — meaning that women weren’t randomly assigned to try different forms of birth control, and there could have been some self-selecting bias influencing which women chose to use birth control over other methods. (Women in long-term relationships are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction and are more likely to use oral contraception, but that doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other.)

What’s more, as with many investigations of female sexual dysfunction, there are those who wonder if researchers — and pharmaceutical companies working on a ladies’ answer to Viagra — are looking for answers in the wrong place. Elton writes:

“As drug companies race to find treatments for problems like low sexual desire, researchers hotly debate whether such conditions should be considered a medical disorder at all, or whether low desire is really just a relational issue.”

Authors of the recent study are working on a larger-scale inquiry into the impact of oral contraception on women’s sex drive, hoping to recruit enough women that they can consider factors such as relationship status and pill dosage.

Read the full TIME story here.