Why your libido is better off the pill (and hormonal contraceptives)

*Disclaimer: please consult any decisions about using or not using contraceptives and any other medications with your health practitioner and/or family planning clinic. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and is the lived experience and subjective point-of-view of the author, Lauren White*

 

Many moons ago, when hormonal contraceptives (HC’s) came onto the market, legions of women were liberated.

 

Fast-forward to the present day and you can see why there has been a significant movement against using HC’s. Women are ditching them like never before. Waking up to the fact that they just aren’t themselves when they are on them and going back to the wisdom of their menstrual cycle.

 

But wait. What are hormonal contraceptives?

 

Hormonal contraceptives come in a variety of methods such as the pill, mini-pill, vagina ring, implant, injection and intra-uterine device (IUD) and are comprised of synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation and thicken the mucus at your uterine opening to prevent sperm from entering.

 

How HC’s have an impact on your libido is that your otherwise juicy, endogenous (naturally occurring) sex hormones just aren’t switched on for release. Yes, you may still get some but you don’t get the same amount of say Testosterone, which has two nice little peaks a month in an un-medicated menstrual cycle.

 

You also miss out on the endogenous oestrogen that is released throughout the cycle. It makes us feel supple and helps with lubrication. Oh.

 

Now, the reason ovulation feels so good is due to the synergistic effects of Testosterone and Oestrogen having a nice peak. They play nicely together to gently increase your interest and arousal and lubrication.

 

Yummy trifecta, right?

 

When you’re on HC’s, you don’t get that because you don’t ovulate. The whole point is to prevent ovulation via your brain chemistry and this happens because the exogenous (occurring from outside of you) synthetic hormones are creating a different feedback loop. Put more precisely, it is suppressing the natural feedback loop that occurs within your body.

 

No ovulation = no ovulatory phase and hormones.

 

No endogenous sex hormones = less sexual interest and potentially less engorgement and orgasmic capacity.

 

This is not to say that it is black and white like being on HC’s = no libido as that simply isn’t true. You can be on HC’s and have a libido but two of the notorious side effects is that your libido drops and your orgasm may not feel the same.

 

How interesting that something that is made to help us feel free about having sex whenever we want is actually serving as a barrier from it happening altogether.

 

In that regard, HC’s work really well as a contraception.

  

Why I got off the pill at 23

 

In my early 20’s, I was one of those women that thought about their skin ALL the time. I had hormonal acne that dabbled all across my chin and up to my mouth – a classic sign of increased androgens (masculinising hormones) circulating as post-puberty wore on.

 

So, when you’re in a long-term relationship with a man; you aren’t ready to fall pregnant and you have hormonal acne, the best option is to go on the pill apparently.

 

Well, yes and no.

 

I gave a few different pills the go but none of them solved the problem. That’s because you can’t just dampen down some excess androgens with some excess oestrogen and progesterone (but not the good kind – please know the synthetic kind and the endogenous kind are NOT the same and feel completely different).

 

None of this gets to the ROOT of the problem.

 

I have no idea what came over me but one day I held up my pill packet and chucked it in the bin and I said: never again. It was as though it was guided from a voice from down deep. Something wise and sure. It wasn’t the first time I heard her and it wasn’t going to be the last.

 

Once the pill packet was in the bin, I started teaching myself about foods that are good for your skin and, as it turns out, foods that are good for your skin are good for pretty much everything. I picked up a book by skin maestro Dr Perricone and got to be best friends with all of the good fats. In all honesty, I probably could have done with less shitty man made oils and sugary alcoholic drinks and done with some more of what I loved anyway – salmon, avocado, nuts, greens and all the colours of the rainbow. It wasn’t restrictive and it wasn’t a diet. It was a shift and it worked.

 

I ended up getting to the root of the problem on my own and I haven’t had acne since.

 

I’ve also never been on HC’s since that pill-packet-meet-bin day.

 

Over time, I got to know my cycle in general and we did outercourse around the fertile days. We did withdrawal method too but I don’t recommend it. Repeat: I do not recommend it. Our second, very wanted child was the outcome of the withdrawal method so if you don’t want children, don’t do it. You never know. I have heard all the stories of fertility and I truly believe anything is possible.

 

I’ve had my children now so condoms are the way for us and I use them even when I’m 99% sure I’m out of the ovulatory phase cos, you never know and anything is possible if a sperm meets a uterus.

 

As I write this, my husband Ed is due to get the snip so hopefully we have a newfound freedom in our sex life within months from now.

 

If you fear getting pregnant for whatever reason, I want you to know I GET IT. I am so overly pre-cautious now. It feels like something we don’t talk about much – that the fear of getting pregnant can inhibit our sexual interest and arousal but it’s real.

 

I had a client say to me once that she decided to go back on to HC’s because her fear of getting pregnant was inhibiting her interest. She needed to know with far more certainty that pregnancy was less probable and I completely supported that decision. Her libido needed her own version of reassurance.

 

Men, it’s your time

 

If you have a male partner and they say something like: I don’t like condoms or they are uncomfortable for me or they don’t fit (ummm they do, they can go over peoples heads when you blow them up), please talk to them about this:

 

Condoms are there for 7 odd minutes of thrusting but you being on HC’s EVERY day, ALL the time has short and long term effects.

 

It’s mathematics:

 

On HC’s every second of every day with side effects or using a condom for a few minutes?

 

Or:

 

On HC’s for ONE egg to be released ONCE every month

 

Or:

 

Using a condom for a few minutes to prevent 300 million sperm from being released into your uterus cos one egg lives there.

 

Long story short – you and your health matter as a woman and haven’t we been through enough and don’t we go through enough?

 

I’ve been a nurse for almost 20 years and a sexologist for 7 years and a mama for 5 years. My biggest take-away is: do not fuck with your endocrine system and try and change it from doing its job.

 

Hormones are messengers so if something isn’t working, there is a valid reason for it. Get to the root - don’t cover it up.

 

Condoms DO NOT affect health status, cause endocrine disruption or lower libido.

 

In fact, some men could do with some slight desensitisation to prolong their sensation.

 

It’s a win-win.

 

They also provide protection from most STI’s. I suspect crabs/pubic lice would sit outside of this protection as they are transmitted from pubic mound to pubic mound.

 

Taking the time to shop around for your partners preferred condom is a worthwhile endeavour. There are so many different ones out there; designers have worked hard to make them fun and even ethical. I bought Hero condoms and each packet purchased goes back into providing free condoms to developing nations to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. I promise you, purchasing them feels good.

 

Did I mention the success rate of condoms is 99%?

 

No barrier means sperm can still get to the egg and you never know, it could still get released that one time. I know people that have been on HC’s and been breastfeeding (breastfeeding is known for increasing prolactin for milk production and reducing the sex hormones in your menstrual cycle) and fallen pregnant.

 

The best way not to get pregnant

 

The best way not to get pregnant is to not get sperm anywhere near your reproductive tract. Outercourse is always an option if you want to get sexy and can promote variety in your sex life.

 

Barrier methods also provide this assurance.

 

On the note of barrier methods, they are available for women AKA the diaphragm but when I think of using one, I still don’t get why we women are going to the doctor/gynaecologist and getting fitted for something we have to insert before sex and keep in for 6 hours afterwards. It also doesn’t have an impressive success rate of 86%.

 

Why get a diaphragm when you can use a condom?

 

I’ve had two babies vaginally and what my vagina wants is to not have anything else inserted into it unless it’s me choosing penetration or me using my Contiform (a pessary for pelvic floor sustainability). Period.

 

I’m not sure why we are still protecting our men and their pleasure so much and us baring the cost. And by cost, I mean monetary, physical, psychological and spiritual. Not having a menstrual cycle tears us away from our intuition.

 

Your menstrual cycle matters

 

It’s been found that we are less intuitive when we are on HC’s.

 

That scares me a little (a lot).

 

If you’ve ever noticed the seasons and the moon and it’s 4 distinct phases then you’ll start to see that the menstrual cycle is the same.

 

Menstrual – New Moon – Winter

Follicular – Waxing – Spring

Ovulatory – Full Moon – Summer

Luteal – Waning – Autumn

 

Beautiful, isn’t it? And just like the moon, we cycle for about 28/29 days, give or take.

 

Honouring our un-medicated menstrual cycle is an incredible act of power and reclamation. We are seasonal and changeable as women. Not one and the same every single day.

 

For every comment you heard or thought growing up about the dirtiness of your bleeding, knowing your cycle cancels each one out and gets you in full ownership with your femininity.

 

How can you love sex if you don’t love your body?

 

How can you be in tune with your body when you tune it out and act like a man?

 

 

Your mood and libido are intertwined

 

When you get off HC’s, you may notice your mood lifts a little but it may go a little up and down at first as your body recalibrates.

 

Your mood could improve post HC’s because your sensations aren’t dampened anymore by hormonally flat-lining. There’s a lightness that comes in where numbness was.

 

Being off them may also reveal where your mental health or physical health status is these days.

 

I know so many women are on anti-depressants and HC’s for good reasons but –

 

What if the HC’s are making you depressed?

 

Seriously, what if you feeling numb or apathetic or feeling less sensation is making you depressed?

 

I haven’t been on anti-depressants and HC’s at the same time but I have been on them at separate times.

The most recent example I can give you of feeling flat is when I had iron levels of eight. Eight is exceptionally low.

My step-mum thought I was depressed because I was crying so much. I was insistent I wasn’t but from the outside it looked like I was. Being low on iron and energy is fucking depressing but I wasn’t depressed. Being low on energy and gravitating towards bed at 5pm is not sexy and is not the kind of gravitating we want when it comes to sex and libido.

 

For me, correcting the low iron with an infusion corrected the mood component.

 

I can’t help but wonder how many women are trying to correct or improve their mental health when it is the other medication - like HC’s - that is creating the low mood component. It warrants questioning and perhaps a discussion with your prescriber.

 

Your libido is more than what happens in sex.

The vast majority of it is made up of what happens in the daytime when we are going about our daily lives. Us women need to nurture and respect ourselves and our energy in all the ways so that by the time sexual intimacy is a possibility, we are clear headed and happy within our bodies and minds.

 

Honestly, I think a lot of this discussion comes down to:

 

What makes you feel free?

 

And for a lot of women, the answer to that will be:

 

I feel free when I am on hormonal contraceptives. I feel protection from conception.

 

Hormonal contraceptives are an excellent option for women the world over. Melinda Gates is working tirelessly through her foundation to get HC’s into the lives of women who seek it and want this option to disrupt the poverty cycle. Some women express that they can’t ask their partners/husbands to use a condom and that having less children will mean liberation. This always gets my full support and in this instance, HC’s = freedom when other options aren’t available or can’t/won’t be utilised.

 

In my world of complete privilege with resources, access to money and information and the ability to speak candidly and be heard by my male partner, my own definition of freedom is this:

 

I am free when I am unencumbered. I am free when I can make a choice. I am free when I can source the root of my problems. I am free when I can feel my sex hormones naturally peaking and dropping because that is what they are made to do. I am free when I can intuit and go inward and rest and respect my bleed for the clarity it gives me.

 

That’s what my libido is made of and now I want to ask:

 

What is your libido made of?

 

What is it like on and off HC’s?

 

 

*Disclaimer: please consult any decisions about using or not using contraceptives and any other medications with your health practitioner and/or family planning clinic. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and is the lived experience and subjective point-of-view of the author, Lauren White*

 

Lauren xo

 

P.S. Regardless of whether you are on HC’s or not, if it is time to liberate your libido on your terms then consider this – you and me moving through your libido blocks over 3 months through my signature process, Open to Receiving. Read more and book your complimentary private discussion via the buttons on the page.

 

 

Further reading:

 

The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack 

WomanCode by Alisa Vitti

Code Red by Lisa Lister

Beyond the Pill by Jolene Brighten